Poetry in Voice is an annual recitation contest for Canadian high schoolers. Pearl Zaki is a grade 11 student from Etobicoke, Ontario who joined other poetry-loving students from all over the country at the competition. Students chose poems that spoke to them and performed them on stage, and they also participated in workshops with Canadian poets and writers! Pearl spoke to us about poets who inspire her and what she learned from the competition.
SDTCT: Tell us about the poems you chose, and what it was like to perform the poems.
PZ: The poems I performed in the competition were Mean Drunk Poem and The Men That Don’t Fit. Mean Drunk Poem was my favourite of the three, and that’s because it had a very strong female voice to it and I felt I could convey that. The poem itself is multi-layered and sends out a trenchant message about women in society, which I really appreciated. This was also the poem that I had the most fun performing because it required a variety of emotions so I could play around with it quite a bit. On the other hand, The Men That Don’t Fit is a war poem with a bold male voice. This poem, I thought, was about living life differently from the status quo and enjoying it and taking pride in it. I tried to portray that in my recitation as best I could and it was also interesting because I had the chance to step into the shoes of these men for a while. The contrast of the two poems made my recitations really fun to do for me.
SDTCT: Who are some poets, or any people or artists, who inspire you?
PZ: Though I am really inspired by the works of famous poets like Sylvia Plath and Oscar Wilde, I also really appreciate young poets who publish their works online. Firstly, I think it’s really brave of them to share their personal work on such a large platform. Also, these poems written by people who are of similar age are just phenomenal and this acts as a huge inspiration to write for many teenagers with an interest in poetry like myself. I also get a lot of inspiration from the music I listen to; my favourite part of a song are the lyrics. So bands like Arctic Monkeys, The Kooks, The Strokes and Death Cab for Cutie have been tremendously inspirational for me through their music and particularly their lyrics.
SDTCT: What was the competition like? Why would you recommend other young poets get involved?
PZ: The competition was, in all honesty, an experience of a lifetime! I was able to challenge myself in a completely new way and learn a lot more about poetry through the act of reciting it. I am now able to see how much detail and how many different levels exist in a single poem which has resulted in an exponential growth in my appreciation for poetry. The competition was also a chance to meet people from all over the country. We know that Canada is the second largest country in the world, but after meeting so many different and wonderful people from a variety places was I able to truly understand the expanse of this nation. Poetry in Voice organized workshops for all the contestants as well, which included working with Canadian poet, Stuart Ross, and meeting and speaking to Margaret Atwood. In the end, I’ve come out not only more experienced in performing and writing poetry but also with fantastic new friends from coast to coast to coast. I would recommend everyone who is up for a challenge with a passion for poetry and adventure to take part in Poetry In Voice. It provides an incredible opportunity to learn and experience new things and meet new people and whether you win in the competition or not, it is definitely worth being a part of at the end of the day.
SDTCT: Give some advice to yourself a year ago. What else would you tell young poets?
PZ: The advice I would give to myself is to not be nervous or shy. I remember feeling very anxious before I was about the go on stage to recite, but once I had started, the nervousness disappeared and I was enjoying myself. The idea of entering a competition that students all over the country take part in may seem slightly daunting, but it’s a worthwhile challenge. And if you’re already interested in getting involved with poetry, this is the perfect way to do so. You’re able to push yourself, test your limits and learn from others just like you. Exposing yourself to experiences like this will help you grow and achieve all sorts of new things, and this competition has done just that for me. All in all, just follow your passion and though you might hit some bumps on the way, you will get to where you want to go.