Taylour Dickerson, a sophomore at Knox School in St. James, placed first statewide last month in Poetry Out Loud, a recitation competition of the Poetry Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts. She will compete against 50 students at the national level this week in Washington, D.C.

"You can't just recite a poem," said Dickerson, of Islip, who received a $200 prize for her win. "You have to understand it and connect with it. I've mastered that pretty well I think."

To reach the state level Dickerson first won at the school level and regional level, where she beat about 30 tri-state area teens in February. The state level in Albany consisted of 14 students, Dickerson said; they were rated on overall performance, diction and presence.

Dickerson's recited poems were "Kubla Kahn" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "A Psalm of Life" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and "Caged Bird" by Maya Angelou.

"I'm usually able to memorize a poem in two or three days," said Dickerson, noting that she starts by looking up unfamiliar words and analyzing characters and symbolism.

Alena Yang, a senior at Herricks High School, took second place at the state level.

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