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State champion in poetry recitation, Hiba Loukssi, heads to national competition

Hiba Loukssi from Xenia High School has qualified for Nationals in the Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Competition. In May, she heads to Washington D.C. for the 3-day competition and a chance to take home the title and $20,000.
Hiba Loukssi
Hiba Loukssi became the state champion in poetry recitation in March. The Xenia High School senior has qualified for Nationals in the Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Competition and heads to Washington D.C. in May for the 3-day competition and a chance to take home the title and $20,000.

Hiba Loukssi is a senior from Xenia High School. In March she became the state champion in the Poetry Out Loud Competition for poetry recitation. She’s headed to the national competition in May and recently told us about her experience so far, and what she plans to do after graduation.

Jerry Kenney: So, it's poetry recitation. Is this a talent that you have always had, reciting things from memory?

Hiba Louokssi: No, not necessarily. So, I competed in the competition my sophomore year, and then I didn't make it past the regional competition. And then I competed again my junior year, didn't make it past the regional competition. And then finally my senior year, I competed and was able to make it to state. And now I'm competing in the Nationals, which is like a dream of mine. So.

Kenney: So, you're headed to Nationals in May. How has the reaction been from friends and family?

Louokssi: It has been so amazing. Honestly, if you would have told me my sophomore year that I would make it even this far in poetry out loud, I would have not believed you at all. Like it's seriously been such like a spectacular moment to see all of this time that I've spent in memorizing these poems and like working so hard on my confidence and just like, really feeling poetry. It's just it's been amazing, honestly.

Kenney: So how much material do you have to prepare if you're headed for regionals and then for State, can you take the same poems that you've memorized? Can you take them through each stage, or are there requirements for each kind of different competition?

Louokssi; That is an excellent question. So, for me personally, I kind of changed the poems every single year that I competed. So, for poetry aloud, it's a competition where you have to memorize three different poems, and you have to understand, like every single paragraph in word in sentence to really get the feel of the poem. Because you're graded on everything from body language to your eye contact, to just the way that you feel or the way the audience feels when they're listening to you. So, I would say the preparation for poetry a lot is a lot like, for me personally, I was with my teacher, Miss Burgess, every single day after school, looking over the poem, trying to get the pieces together. But that magical moment when the pieces finally click, it's like it just feels like you understand what the poem is trying to say to you. And then when you get that connection, you're able to better explain it to the audience in a way that they can understand through your body language and through the way that you're looking at the audience and just like everything in general.

Kenney: So, it's a lot more than just memorization — it's presentation.

Louokssi: Yes, presentation. And then just honestly, the feeling you get when you read a good poem, that's like how you want your audience to feel every single time you recite your poetry.

Kenney: I know I'm going to put you on the spot, but do you have a favorite piece of poetry that you could recite for us?

Louokssi: I would love to. So, my first competition piece is Author's Prayer by Ilya Kaminsky, and I would absolutely be honored to kind of recite that right now.

Kenney: Please do.

Louokssi: Okay, Perfect. Author's Prayer by Ilya Kaminsky:

If I speak for the dead, I must leave this animal of my body, I must write the same poem over and over, for an empty page is the white flag of their surrender. If I speak for them, I must walk on the edge of myself, I must live as a blind man who runs through rooms without touching the furniture. Yes, I live. I can cross the streets asking “What year is it?” I can dance in my sleep and laugh in front of the mirror. Even sleep is a prayer, Lord, I will praise your madness, and in a language not mine, speak of music that wakes us, music in which we move. For whatever I say is a kind of petition, and the darkest days must I praise.

Kenney: Wonderful.

Louokssi: Thank you. Thank you so much.

Kenney: Such a meaningful poem, and do you find that you have to sit with the poems for some time to absorb the meaning before you can even begin to recite or commit to memory?

Louokssi: Absolutely. For me personally, with our Author's Prayer, I was reading through the poem and at first, I didn't understand it. And then as I was going through every single line and trying to figure out like, what are the connections of to him going through, realizing that he's like giving up everything to wanting to live. And then I brought it back to my personal life, and especially as a Moroccan woman, I feel this kind of pressure to share the stories of my ancestors. And Ilya Kaminsky is a refugee from Ukraine, and he talks about the poem, how he's giving up himself, how he's walking on the edge of himself. And then I kind of realized that he's talking about sharing the stories of the people who've passed and having that kind of pressure of being alive and feeling like he has to give up him being alive, to share the stories of his ancestors.

And I feel, especially for me, I felt that way for such a long time. But he realized throughout the poem that he can live and just by living, he's able to share the stories of the people who have passed and share the stories of his ancestors. And I realized in my daily life that I can continue sharing the stories of the people who have passed and share the stories of the important stories that need to be heard just by being alive. And it's such a special poem and it means so much to me.

Kenney: So, it is a competition, but do you feel competitive against the other students who are reciting poetry, or is there a camaraderie?

Louokssi: The biggest thing about Poetry Out Loud is that camaraderie, and I've never once felt like I have to. It's like it feels like it's a competition, but it really does feel like a family. And that's the kind of family I found through poetry out loud. And it just means so much to me because every single person that I've met has been nothing but kind and nothing but welcoming and just really allowed me to become myself in this space.

Kenney: So, you've got the Nationals in May?

Louokssi: Yes.

Kenney: You're also a senior, so you're graduating.

Louokssi: I am.

Kenney: So, what are your interests? What's next for you after high school?

Louokssi: I would say a public policy is my biggest interest and my main goal is to be the first and youngest Moroccan woman ever elected to the House of Representatives, and just to be able to be in that space and work on creating policy that helps protect and benefit the most vulnerable people of our community. My mother comes from Morocco, and so she's an immigrant as well and I just feel like there are just so many times where policy has failed so many members of my community. I so I've grown up as a low-income Moroccan student as well in and junior high school and I just feel like there are just so many opportunities for our policy to continue to benefit low-income schools and not fail the members of our community.

I just I've seen that happen so many times before where policy has gone into effect has failed so many members of our community or not done what it's supposed to do. And I just think that so much could be said through writing and so much could be said through words and especially policy. And so much change could happen if we all come together and work hard to create this kind of space and create this place where everyone can truly feel the word equal.

Kenney: Hiba, it's been so nice to meet you. Thank you so much. Good luck in May and good luck with your future aspirations. Hiba Loukssi is headed to the Poetry Out Loud national competition in May. Good luck to you.

Louokssi: Thank you so much and thank you all so much for having me. I'm wishing everyone the best day ever and thank you again!

Jerry began volunteering at WYSO in 1991 and hosting Sunday night's Alpha Rhythms in 1992. He joined the YSO staff in 2007 as Morning Edition Host, then All Things Considered. He's hosted Sunday morning's WYSO Weekend since 2008 and produced several radio dramas and specials . In 2009 Jerry received the Best Feature award from Public Radio News Directors Inc., and was named the 2023 winner of the Ohio Associated Press Media Editors Best Anchor/News Host award. His current, heart-felt projects include the occasional series Bulletin Board Diaries, which focuses on local, old-school advertisers and small business owners. He has also returned as the co-host Alpha Rhythms.