"I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul."
These words, the last line of a poem written by poet William Ernest Henley, earned Bradwell senior Nathan Wallace first place in a recent Poetry Out Loud contest, which seeks to inspire students through poetry.
Poetry Out Loud is a national recitation competition.
Eight local students, five from Bradwell and three from Liberty County High School, walked across the stage at the Performing Arts Center Jan. 17 for round two of the competition. They recited poems that resonated with them in front of judges and spectators.
Bradwell student Nina Hunter won second. LCHS’s Nicolas Scott placed third.
Only two students, one representing each school, moved on to the regional competition, which will be Feb. 18 at the Telfair Center of the Arts in Savannah. Wallace and Scott qualified.
This was Bradwell’s second year competing and Liberty’s first.
Twonzetta Samuel, LCHS English teacher, said students chose a poem they like from the Poetry Out Loud website to memorize. Judges were area residents, retired teachers and school personnel.
Students were obviously excited and nervous as they waited to speak.
"I think it’s an incredible opportunity to expose them to the arts beyond the classroom and I’m really excited about the opportunity to do that," Samuel said.
Marilyn Hampton, BI English teacher, said the students have been waiting for the night and, if they advance in the competition, have the chance to win scholarships. First place is $20,000, second is $15,000 and third $10,000.
Competitor Alyxander Jackson, a LCHS senior, was ready to recite and meet new people.
"I’ve always wanted to branch out and do different things and I feel poetry can be one of those things," he said. "I always look for poetry that has voice and I always want to match the voice, and I like poetry with meaning and meaning that I can relate to in a way."
For BI sophomore Kyra Barney, it was her first time doing something like the contest.
"I’ve always been a sports girl. It gives me a change of pace," she said.
Wallace described the contest as "intense." He knew the competition would be tough, especially going against Hunter.
Wallace said he had to find a poem that fit him and looked up the author to understand his life.
"I used to write poetry when I was little," Wallace said. "I listen to hip hop, so it just came a little bit natural. When they told me you can win awards for doing poetry I had to give it a shot because I like being on stage."
His mother, Lucinda Johnson-Wallace, said she was proud of her son. She said she was "sweating bullets" during the contest.
"We do drill team at church, so when we do drill team at church I’m very critical also, and he’s on my drill team," she said. "So when we’re reciting poems or Bible verses, I tell him that he has to be on the money. Your deliverance has to be on point because your audience will be your grader."
Wallace said he will be working hard for regional and noticed some things that needed tweaking.
"I have to be perfect," he said.