NEA Arts Magazine

ELIJAH ORENGO

2008 Georgia State Champion

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Photo by James Kegley

Elijah Orengo won the 2008 Georgia Poetry Out Loud competition when he was just a sophomore at Westlake High School. Fast-forward four years, and Orengo is now a sophomore at the University of West Georgia, and also works as a business development representative at Nissan. He credits Poetry Out Loud for opening a lot of doors in the last few years: "Poetry Out Loud helped me accomplish all of this, meeting people that are in my life, at school and work…. Poetry Out Loud helped me be able to express myself in a way people can see my true intelligence."

NEA:  What lessons have you learned from your experience with Poetry Out Loud?

ELIJAH ORENGO: There are a ton of lessons I've learned from Poetry Out Loud, so many that I couldn't possibly get through them all. The most unexpected and rewarding lesson I learned was becoming more humble. As I arrived into the District of Columbia I was overwhelmed with anxiety. When I finally began to meet the other contestants I learned that it's all about being humble and being relaxed, whether you win or lose you'll take something from these moments! 

NEA: What was the highlight of your experience?

ORENGO:  The highlight of my experience wasn't the contest or the recitations, it was the joy I felt when I got a chance to meet different students like myself with the same passion for poetry I had. Seeing, hearing, and understanding their views shaped my opinion of literature so much. Being around students from all around the nation brought new light to the meaning of poetry and the arts in general. I wouldn't change my experience with the states of kings!

NEA: What advice would you give future participants?

ORENGO: Be confident, be humble, and enjoy yourself. Take this experience as an opportunity to learn more about the art of poetry whether you win or lose. And always remember be able to dust yourself off and try again.

NEA: Do you still remember your poems?

ORENGO: Oh yes! They were "Preludes" by T.S. Elliot, "The Princess: Now sleeps the crimson petal" by Lord Alfred Tennyson, "The Mammoth" by Elizabeth Bishop, Sonnet 29 by William Shakespeare, "Beauty" by Tony Hoagland, and "Sentimental" by Albert Goldbarth.