Youssef Biaz is a 16-year-old senior at Auburn High School in Auburn, Alabama who moved to the United States from Morocco when he was seven years old. He was named 2011 Poetry Out Loud National Champion at the Poetry Out Loud National Finals in Washington, DC, on Friday, April 29. Biaz was introduced to poetry through his English teacher, Davis Thompson, who brought the Poetry Out Loud program to students at Auburn High School last year—the first year that Biaz served as Alabama State Champion and became a national finalist. We took a moment to catch up with Biaz after the competition on Friday:
What’s the most exciting part of being this year’s Poetry Out Loud National Champion?
It hasn’t really hit me yet. I’d have to say that being in the top three—and doing my third poem [“Filling Station” by Elizabeth Bishop]—was my favorite part. It was my favorite poem, and definitely my English teacher’s favorite. I liked the challenge of presenting a poem in a female voice.
What’s your relationship to poetry? Do you have favorite poets? Do you share poetry with your friends or family?
Last year, my English teacher concentrated on getting us to respond to poetry, and be comfortable with it. He definitely succeeded with me. I’d have to say my favorite poet is Sharon Olds. I don’t really share poetry with my friends or family—only when I’m very encouraged. I like them to come to the competitions and be surprised.
What will being named champion do for your future?
It’s very important for me. I plan to pursue a career in the performing arts, and I’m heading in the direction of film.
What would you tell students interested in Poetry Out Loud that may not have participated?
I would encourage them even if they don’t have an interest in poetry. Public speaking is a wonderful skill, and it’s a wonderful feeling to be able to communicate a message to an audience.
How long do you think these poems or your interest in poetry will stay with you?
I could never stop reading poetry. I think it would be a tremendous loss if I did. I remember the poems I recited for last year’s competition, in particular John Keats’s “When I have Fears that I May Cease to Be.”