Poetry Out Loud National Finals




Lewiston High School student Joao Victor competes in national poetry finals

Joao Rodrigues Victor was one of nine finalists to read poetry Wednesday night at Washington University in Washington, D.C.


Joao Rodrigues Victor walked onto the stage in a burgundy tuxedo and his customary bow tie. Hands tucked behind his back, he began to recite.

“Dead friends coming back to life,” he said, gazing out upon the hundreds who attended the Poetry Out Loud final competition Wednesday night. “Dead family, speaking languages living and dead, their minds retentive, their five senses intact. …”

Victor recited “Bright Copper Kettles” clearly and confidently, as though there was no pressure at all to get it exactly right — it was only the Poetry Out Loud final competition, after all, and he was just one of nine contestants left.

By about any standard, Victor nailed it. And while it was not enough to score him the championship, he still took home a finalist medal and looked delighted to be under the dazzling lights in Washington, D.C.

In an onstage interview, Victor was quick to give a shout out to Lewiston High School and to several of his teachers. He bantered with the event host, 2018 National Book Award winner Elizabeth Acevedo, describing his favorite childhood book and explaining exactly how his name is pronounced.

At the end of the show, three finalists were named and Victor was not among them. The contest was ultimately won by Isabella Callery, a high school student from Minnesota.

Nobody would argue it was an impressive run for Victor, 18, who came to the United States three years ago from Angola. He won the State of Maine Poetry Out Loud contest March 11 against nine other students.

On Tuesday, Victor won a spot in the national finals by defeating 14 students from the East, Central and Northeast regions in the semifinals. Victor, from a field of more than 275,000 students who participated in the contest nationwide, was one of nine students who competed in the finals.

After the show, Victor said while he was disappointed he did not make it all the way, he enjoyed the competition from start to finish.

“It was a good experience,” he said. “It taught me how to listen and how to talk well in front of people.”

He is expected to return to Lewiston later this week.

According to the Poetry Out Loud website, the national finals will award a total of $50,000 in scholarships and school stipends, with a $20,000 college scholarship provided to the Poetry Out Loud national champion.

The three poems students recite in the competition had to be chosen from the national Poetry Out Loud anthology. One of the poems had to be 25 lines or fewer, and one had to have been written before the 20th century.