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Butte High student poet takes top spot in Montana’s Poetry Out Loud competition

Poet Molly Ogan
Posted at 9:12 AM, May 12, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-13 16:17:26-04

BUTTE — Montana is full of writers and poets, and the state can add one more name to that list of creatives after Butte High School junior Molly Ogan recently competed in the National Endowment for the Arts national Poetry Out Loud competition.

"What’s important about poetry is that it’s stories and, I mean, I think stories are the most important thing to humanity. It’s what makes us human," says Molly Ogan, a junior at Butte High.

Ogan studies all the core classes like math, English, history—but she also takes a music class where she is used to taking the stage with an instrument, but this year’s honors English class led her to the stage using just words and her voice.

After months of practice, she says reciting poetry to an audience gives her the opportunity to connect with others.

"It just touches what’s human in all of us. It’s what it is. I mean, it’s been around forever," says Ogan.

Poetry has been a part of Ogan's life for what may feel like forever for a high schooler.

"I remember being really little and I think the first poem I ever memorized was a Shel Silverstein poem and I thought I was really cool for being able to recite that for kindergarten show-and-tell," says Ogan.

Recently she took the top spot in Montana’s Poetry Out Loud competition, earning a ticket to Washington D.C. to compete with 50 other high school students from across the nation, but this isn’t the first time Butte High has sent a poet to the NEA’s national competition.

"I know that I push them; you know, I have higher expectations which I think translates into them being successful. But ultimately, they’re the ones who are putting in the many hours and the hard work," says Scott Cooney, the Honors 3 English teacher at Butte High.

Cooney says his students have participated in the competition since its inception 19 years ago. His students spend months working with poetry and recitation, which may be why Butte is a leader in the state with four kids capturing spots in the top ten this year alone.

"It was an amazing year and I give credit to the kids because they’re the ones that really put in the hard work and the many hours of, you know, reciting, practicing, reciting, practicing," says Cooney.

With all that reciting and practicing you might think the kids would be burned out by the process, but Ogan says the opposite is true and she’s even inspired to write her own poems.

But, what is it exactly that she likes about poetry?

"I mean, it connects me to myself and to everyone, you know, alive right now—people who aren’t anymore. It’s just, it’s a universal thing. I mean, there’s no way to really describe it except it’s everything which sounds hyperbolic but it’s true. It’s everything—it's in everything," says Ogan.

In just a few weeks she will end her junior year and become a senior, but she's already looking forward to college where she hopes to attend the University of Montana where she wants study English and work to become a teacher because, she says, literature is important.