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Joshua Furtado, a recent Tucson High graduate, made it all the way to the National Poetry Out Loud finals in Washington D.C. this past May, where he represented the state of Arizona. Poetry Out Loud is a contest that encourages the nation's youth to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation. This program helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about their literary heritage. Josh graciously agreed to an interview with Wordplay to discuss his Poetry Out Loud experience.
When/how did you first hear about the Poetry Out Loud program? Who were your teachers that got you involved in POL?
The first time I was exposed to Poetry Out Loud was during my sophomore year. I competed in Kurt Garbe's class (the POL program director at Tucson High School), but didn't make it past the class level. Then, senior year, I had Merle McPheeters for English, who pushed me through to the school-wide competition.
Do you have a history/background with performance? Does performance come naturally to you?
I'd always wanted to be a performer, but didn't get over my stage fright until the summer before my freshman year. I've been pursuing acting very seriously ever since, performing on stage and in student films. Thankfully, performing comes naturally to me now.
From the in-class competition, to the school competition, to the semi-finals, to the state finals, to nationals--what kind of preparation did you have along the way for your Poetry Out Loud performances?
Other than my own instincts, I related very much to Annabel Lee. I really liked the poem. My preparation was memorization. I felt like the more I memorized the poems, the more comfortable I felt, and the more I could play with them. Before I went to nationals, I was also coached by two very nice people, (Thank you Jamie and Alex!) who were judges at State.
I've talked with several pepole who were thoroughly impressed by your rendition of Annabel Lee. Could you talk more about the decisions you made for this performance/how you chose to interpret it? Also, could you talk about the other poems you selected, and what inspired you to choose them?
Well, I have to thank David Dudash, my freshman English teacher. He's a big fan of Poe, so we spent a lot of time with his work. I had a great understanding of Poe's life and writing style. I just went with my first impression of the poem. I read the last couple lines, which I believe summarize the mood of the piece. Then I just gave it some levels! My other poems, however, are a much sadder story. I didn't have much time to pick them, so I focused more on easy to learn poems. I was still able to relate really well, and had a lot of fun with them. But they really hurt me when I went to Nationals. Everyone there had poems the size of all three of mine combined! I didn't really stand a chance.
Over the course of the various competitions, how do you feel your performance/recitations improved? What kind of tips did you find most helpful?
My first performance at the school-wide competition was very nerve-racking. I'd never performed poetry before, so I was a little out of my element. I was very nervous. But after each consecutive level of the competition, I grew more and more relaxed with my performances. I found it best to take my time and break the poems into beats.
Could you describe your whirlwind experience at Nationals at D.C.? What all did you do? What was the overall experience like?
D.C. was amazing! I loved being in the big city, with all the magnificent architecture. Seeing all the monuments was unreal to say the least. Since I was out of the competition early, I was able to spend more time away from the competition, and we took great advantage of it! We saw everything there was to see in two days. It was very depressing coming back to Tucson.
Any advice for future Poetry Out Loud competitors?
If you're serious about this competition, you have to be prepared. It's like the Olympics. I'd recommend having three poems, which are quite lengthy and difficult, before you even start the competition. Have fun with the poems and relate to the audience! And enjoy the journey.
What's next for Josh Furtado? What are your plans for the future?
I'm going to save up for a year and move to L.A. Simply put, I'll try my hardest to break into show business. Hopefully you'll see me on the silver screen soon.