Senior Grace Cai Wins Texas Poetry Out Loud Competition

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Poetry. We read it. We speak it. We recite it. We even write it. But not like senior Grace Cai. On Feb. 24, Cai was the winner of the Texas Poetry Out Loud Competition. Not only will Cai advance to the national competition in late April, but Cai also made history as Hockaday’s first student to advance to the national round.

In late January, Cai participated in the Hockaday round of the competition. Judged by several English teachers, including Upper School English Teacher Sarah Traphagen, Cai was selected to be the Hockaday representative at the state level competition in Austin.

Traphagen, who accompanied Cai to Austin, said that it was Cai who put in all of the hard word.

“It was all Grace. Her natural talent, her theatrical background and just her general enthusiasm in the poems and the way that she was able to capture the thematic qualities of the poems,” Traphagen said, who has been involved with Poetry Out Loud at Hockaday since last school year.

As for preparation, Cai said that she prepared the same poems for both the school round and state level of the competition.

“My first one is called “The Gift” by Li Young Lee. The second one is “What It Looks Like to Us and the Words we Use” by Ada Limón,” Cai said.  “For the third round, only the five finalist get to recite their third poem, so not everyone gets to do it. Mine was “On the Death of Ann Bronte” by Charlotte Bronte,:

After competing for two rounds, Cai advanced to the final round where she ultimately won.

“She received $200 in prize money. She received a prize for the school, $500 for poetry books for our library,” Traphagen said.

As for preparation, Cai said that she kept it simple.

“It just consisted of me kind of finding areas when I was alone and kind of running through my poems and looking and printing out my poems and having a physical copy. Accuracy is a very big factor in your score so I had to make sure every word was right, every line was good, and that I wasn’t forgetting or messing up,” Cai said. “So I would just run through and sometimes I would work to figure out a line or two that I was not happy with and work to see what I wanted to do with that.:

Traphagen said that Cai’s enthusiasm for poetry could be felt by not only by herself, but also by the judges at the competition, many of whom are seasoned poets themselves.

“One of the judges who is also a poet came up to Grace afterwards with tears in his eyes and he said ‘You are the soul of poetry.’ And so Grace was able to show that in her poems, the souls of her poems. That is really what poetry out loud is all about,” Traphagen said.

From April 24 through the 26, Cai and Traphagen will travel to Washington D.C. where Cai will compete against 49 other high school students, in hopes of taking the national title.

And, the stakes are high.

“If she wins in DC, she receives a $20,000 scholarship,” Traphagen said.


– Mary Claire Wilson – Sports & Health Editor –