Mead High School's Jordan Mattox won the state's Poetry Out Loud competition, but COVID-19 stole her chance at the national championship

It started as just another assignment as a freshman: Mead High School English classes require students to take part in the national poetry-recitation competition known as Poetry Out Loud.

Competing came naturally. After all, Jordan Mattox lettered in varsity soccer, track and basketball before she was even done with her first year. And she'd always liked poetry.

"One of my favorite authors is J.R.R. Tolkien, and he has a lot of poetry in his writing. I like Shakespeare, too," Mattox says. "Once you find a poem that resonates with you, it sticks with you."

As a freshman, Mattox won her class Poetry Out Loud competition and continued to perform poetry until this year when, as a junior, she won the Eastern Washington regional in Spokane. On March 4, her family drove to Tacoma's Museum of Glass — "before the whole lockdown situation" — and she ended up winning the statewide Poetry Out Loud competition.

Her reward should be a trip to Washington, D.C., in late April to compete for the Poetry Out Loud national title. Instead, she's holed up like the state's other students, trying to stay busy alongside her older brother — home early from his sophomore year at WSU — and two younger siblings.

"I'm really disappointed, but I know it's a safety thing," Mattox says.

She's still training in case somehow the high school track season happens in some form, but mostly she's at home, doing a lot of reading. "It's been really weird," she says. "Usually I'd go out and meet with a few friends to study together." Her parents, though, are adamant about social distancing, since "they know that's all we can do."

Perhaps Mattox's favorite poem — "It Couldn't Be Done" by Edgar Albert Guest, which she recites in her competitions — can serve as inspiration right now. It reads, in part:

"There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,

There are thousands to prophesy failure,

There are thousands to point out to you one by one,

The dangers that wait to assail you.

But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,

Just take off your coat and go to it;

Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing

That 'cannot be done' and you'll do it."

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About The Author

Dan Nailen

Dan Nailen is the managing editor of the Inlander, where he oversees coverage of arts and culture. He's previously written and edited for The Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City Weekly, Missoula Independent, Salt Lake Magazine, The Oregonian and KUER-FM. He grew up seeing the country in an Air Force family and studied...