POL Winner: Emma Lubinger!


Michael Aeschbacher, Website/Print Editor

This week I had the honor of being a participant in PVHS’s Poetry Out Loud competition!

If you’re unfamiliar with Poetry Out Loud, it’s a national competition dedicated to the art of reciting poetry. The competition is structured much like a spelling bee; winning students will advance through class, school, county, and state levels before reaching the national level. Finalists will then have a crack at becoming the national champion and taking home a $20,000 cash prize!

The competition was a great avenue to showcase the talent here at Pinole Valley. Our diverse group of participants brought an equally diverse set of poems and styles to the table. The judges made note that, with so many high scorers, we were a particularly difficult bunch to choose a winner from.  However, a winner ultimately had to be decided, and none other than junior Emma Lubinger earned the spot for our school champion!

I’ve known Emma since the fourth grade; she’s now one of my very oldest friends, as well as an awesome person in general. On competition day, she had delivered a stunning performance of “The Obligation To Be Happy” by Linda Pastan. I was able to catch up with her the day after her victory for a quick interview:


First off, congratulations! The judges had mentioned the large amount of great competition on display, making it even harder to stand out. What did winning feel like?

Honestly, it was pretty intense. I kind of expected Natalie [Elischer] to win, if I’m totally honest with you. I thought I’d forgotten a line once I got up there; I was kind of overwhelmed with everything. It was really emotional because [my poem] was a poem that I really connect with, and then it was like whoosh. I was really surprised; I thought Natalie was going to win. Aaaand speak of the devil, there she is!

At this moment, Natalie and a few of our other friends drop by and decide to listen in on the interview.

How were you practicing for the event?

Well, I did a lot of practicing that wasn’t really conventional; a lot of people present in front of their families, but everything’s kind of a disaster at home so I can’t really practice in front of them. So I was just kind of practicing in front of a mirror a little bit, or just standing in my room and reciting it to my bookshelf.

For almost everyone, overcoming the anxiety that stems from public speaking is one of the hardest parts of reciting a poem. How did you feel going into the competition? What helped you mentally prepare yourself for the event?

I was terrified, if I’m totally honest. There’s this weird technique thing that’s gonna sound so weird, but there’s this thing I do where I basically say the words, “You got this,” but…

[at this point she starts laughing a little hysterically]

… wherever you [physically] feel the words, you put your hand there, and then you say it in your head and it resonates and you, like, breathe out all the bad vibes… I know I sound like such a hippie but honestly it works! Right before going into it, I could feel my heart racing, but once I got up to the microphone it just sort of went a way a little bit.

If someone were to get acquainted with you, it wouldn’t take them long to figure out that you’ve always been crazy about books. What got you so invested in literature in the first place?

Well, my mom always read to me when I was little. And I would look at books even though I couldn’t read them. And then –this sounds bad– in the second grade, my teacher Mrs. Cabral would –

[she passes a quick glance at Natalie before she starts laughing again]

-she would give us a Redvine for every book we read, and I really liked Redvines. So I was reading books like crazy; it was an incentive. And then I just kept reading after that, and I just got really into it.

It’s also pretty obvious that poetry is a big part of your love for literature. For you, what makes poetry so special?

I don’t even know what got me into it. One day, I just started writing poetry, and it was just a way for me to express my thoughts about everything that was going on in my personal life and get away from the actual world; a way to put it into art and express myself. And it was just a beautiful way to do that. It was a way to take harsh reality and make it into something that was a little more beautiful and sugarcoated.

Off the top of your head, who’s your all-time favorite poet?

That’s a hard question. I dunno; I really like Erin Hanson. She influenced a lot of my work. She’s really young, and I think that’s part of why I like her so much. Her poetry is really beautiful; almost every single poem hits home with me. They have a lot of connection to nature, which I really like. I played with [rhyme scheme] a lot in my own poetry after I read a couple of her books. I like the idea that such a young person could have such an influence over so many people’s lives.

What about your favorite poem (from any author)?

I don’t really know about a favorite poem… I mean, there’s a lot. I like “Garden of Love” by Blake; there’s “She Dwelt  among the Untrodden Ways” (I think that’s Wordsworth), then there’s just so many by Erin Hanson…

To cap off the interview, would you like to say anything to people who are just getting into poetry? Or maybe folks who “just don’t get it”?

Poetry is weird! And it’s kind of hard to understand, especially at first, but it’s not just about the surface stuff. It really isn’t. It’s not about the “tree” in the poem; you have to look at it and really read it over and over and over again. Like, I won’t just read a poem once; I read it four or five times; I’ll read it out loud, I’ll whisper it to myself… I mean, my parents think I’m kinda crazy because I have this giant book of poetry and I will sit on my bed and read it out loud to myself. There’s something just sort of beautiful about it, and you just have to try and find it. And if you can, it’s one of the most beautiful things in the whole world.



Emma will soon be moving on to another round of Poetry Out Loud, this time at the county level. All of us Spartans will be rooting for her; you’ve got this, Emma!