Louisiana state poetry champ guns for national title

Louisiana state poetry champ guns for national title
Kyla Bates with Phil Boggan, Head of the Office of Cultural Development (Source: Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge)
Kyla Bates with Phil Boggan, Head of the Office of Cultural Development (Source: Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge)

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Kyla Bates, a senior at Zachary High School, heads back to Washington, DC this May to tear into another Poetry Out Loud national championship.

"Last year, I was champion (of Louisiana)," Bates said. "And last year, I learned a lot. I grew as a poet, as a performer, I've gained so much more poise. My whole recitation style has matured. It just was a great experience to see others, and see how they captured the moment."

So watching the national competition prepares her for this upcoming one.

Bates is state champ at recitation of poetry. You may have seen Poetry Slam competitions because Baton Rouge is a hotbed of poetry, but those contests feature poems written by the poet. This one is different, and equally demanding.

"It's a recitation competition where you pick a poem that's 25 lines or fewer. You also perform one written before the 20th century. And a third one," Kyla said.

I asked if last year's run at the national prize informed the poems she chose this year.

"This year I did something different. I wanted to try, risk and prosper. Those were my encouragement words this season," she said. "On the website, there was a poem icon called 'random poems,' so I said, 'Why not?' Because I could be cursoring and cursoring through the selections and not pick the right one, so I let the randomness help me."

Bates said her love of poetry dates back to elementary school.

"My first poem was in 5th grade. It was Maya Angelou's 'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings'. I had to be about 10 at the time. That's the first time I really got into poetry. She is my all-time favorite poet. I performed it last year, and placed third in the state, at the Bonnie Borden competition at Southeastern."

Bates said memorizing the lengthy poems has never been a problem for her, that it just takes hard work.

"It's not hard at all. It's not about your ability, but your availability. So that you can sit down and realize what the poet is trying to say. So you can learn what she's saying and tell it in the words she uses. It makes it so easy to say."

Kyla has a patchwork family, four brothers and two sisters, the blending of her mother and father's previous families. Her one sister from her mother and father lives with Kyla and their grandmother.

"I had to become a mom at 13," Bates said. "This one little sister has been under my wing since Mom died of a heart attack."

Bates said she's looking forward to the national competition this spring. She's checked the list and knows of two or three teen poets from other states who will return. As for her plans after graduation, Bates said she plans to attend LSU, majoring in administration and minoring in business.

"That's arts administration. I want to start an arts program where I can provide arts programs for less fortunate kids so I can provide scholarships for them to enjoy this," Bates said.

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