DeSales senior Monserrat Tlahuel-Flores to compete in national poetry recitation contest
Reciting poems that touched on the complexities of her Mexican-American heritage, a St. Francis DeSales High School senior recently won Ohio's Poetry Out Loud competition and will take part in the national contest in May.
Monserrat Tlahuel-Flores, 18, lives in Columbus' Forest Park East neighborhood. She was named winner of the state contest March 5.
She will represent the Buckeye State at the 2021 Poetry Out Loud National Finals on May 2 and May 27, which will be a virtual competition of video submissions.
"I ultimately feel really proud of myself for getting this far in the competition," Tlahuel-Flores said. "This is my fourth year competing, and I have learned so much along the way.”
Tlahuel-Flores tied for runner-up in DeSales' competition as a sophomore and finished as state runner-up last year.
"I feel really blessed to have so much support and encouragement, not only from my classmates but my teachers and faculty at my school,” she said. “I’m confident in my poems and my ability because of all my years of experience. I know my performances are strong, so I hope to at least rank in the top three."
Poetry Out Loud is a national arts-education program that encourages the study of poetry by offering free educational materials and a recitation competition for high school students nationwide.
The program is a partnership of the National Endowment for the Arts, Poetry Foundation and state and jurisdictional art agencies. It seeks to help students master public-speaking skills, build self-confidence and learn about literary history and contemporary life.
Tlahuel-Flores recited "The True-Blue American," by Delmore Schwartz, "The Only Mexican" by David Tomas Martinez and "And If I Did, What Then?" by George Gascoigne for the state competition. She will present them again for -the national contest.
She said the first two selections, in particular, resonate with her because they express some of the feelings and challenges she has faced growing up as a Mexican-American.
"Finding poems that speak to me is a process in and of itself," she said. "To find poems that I can relate to personally is really important because it’s easier to memorize and it gets me into the character and/or the poet's head space better."
Performing the poems is a significant part of the competition and Tlahuel-Flores said her skills have improved by competing at the school, regional and state levels over the past four years, as well as working in coaching sessions with regional judges.
This year, however, represented a unique challenge because contestants didn't recite their poems in front of an audience due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Rather, they performed at the WOSU Public Media studios in front of a virtual audience, with the competition broadcast through Zoom.
"When it comes to performing it in front of a group of people, everything is in the moment," Tlahuel-Flores said. "There is no time to doubt the performance, and you get a sudden boost of energy from the crowd. It’s easy to live in that single moment where nothing else matters but you and the performance.
"When it comes to performing it for a camera, that special once-in-a-lifetime moment is gone. The adrenaline never rises, the tension never builds and it really takes away from everything that made Poetry Out Loud meaningful to me because Poetry Out Loud is about being in the moment and only having one shot to nail it."
Because the national competition also will take place virtually, Tlahuel-Flores has focused on the personal connections she has to her poetry selections and on showmanship that typically generates responses from live audiences.
Being bilingual, Tlahuel-Flores believes the transitions from English to Spanish in the selections have helped her stand out from other contestants.
"I also think that it’s all in the character you're playing," she said. "I tend to make up specific hand movements. I fluctuate my tone of voice, and I’m always focusing on my facial expressions, whether it be an eye roll or a smile during the performance.
"I feel it’s really easy to differentiate between characters so every performance seems unique."
By winning at the state level, Tlahuel-Flores received $200, and the national champion wins $20,000.
DeSales also received a $500 check to purchase poetry books for its library as part of Tlahuel-Flores' state title.
"I’m so proud of her and the work she has done," said Pam Van Arsdale, DeSales library media specialist and Poetry Out Loud coordinator. "Her state win capped off three years of work.
"She has chosen different poems each year. She does a wonderful job of finding poems that really speak to her personally, speak to her heritage and poems that challenge her memory and recitation skills."
Tlahuel-Flores plans to attend Ohio State University, where she has earned a full scholarship and admission to the Fisher College of Business.
She plans to double major in international business and Spanish, with a minor in philosophy before attending law school.
"Monserrat is an incredibly deserving champion," DeSales Principal Daniel Garrick said. "Her love and compassion for others is clearly evident in her efforts.
"As a junior, she performed extremely well and you could tell she was committed to representing her family and the school as a state champion, and she worked hard to make that dream become a reality,” he said. “There are students that you encounter during your career who display incredible passion for making the world a better place. Monserrat is clearly in that category. St. Francis DeSales High School has been blessed by her efforts."