PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Poetry, like many art forms, allows people to express themselves in ways that they usually wouldn’t through typical writing or spoken word. And even though anyone can perform poetry, deaf people aren’t always presented with the opportunity to do so.

But on Saturday, Oregon School for the Deaf junior Kari Morgan won the state’s Poetry Out Loud competition in Salem, after delivering a powerful performance through American Sign Language that left judges “transfixed.”

Poetry Out Loud is the national arts education program behind the national competition of the same name, which encourages high school students to memorize and recite poems.

Before Morgan made it to the state’s Poetry Out Loud contest organized by the Oregon Arts Commission, she won her school competition and regionals.

She says there were some poems she didn’t choose for the contest because she couldn’t fully express them in ASL, but the three that she did choose — “Self-Portrait” by Chase Twichell, “Ways of Talking” by Ha Jin and “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley — are really special to her.

“[Self Portrait] really felt the most like me because we all talk about that inner child and they’re so scared and they’re always so sad,” she told KOIN 6 through interpreter Trani Morgan. “They’re hidden, and it just felt like with Self Portrait, I was taking it out and I’m like, ‘This is her. This is who I am. She’s out here.’”

According to the Oregon Arts Commission, this is the second consecutive year that an Oregon School for the Deaf student has one the poetry competition. In 2022, recent OSD graduate Trayshun Holmes-Gournaris took the title.

Morgan says that hearing people will often choose other hearing people for performances over deaf people or those that are hearing-impaired, but deaf people want equality and can also express themselves — with facial expressions instead of changing their voice octaves.

She added that she was shocked when the judges announced her as this year’s winner, but she’s happy that she can be a role model for future OSD students.

“If you think that you can’t do it or people are telling you that you can’t, just remember that you’ve got to do it and you’ve got to try it and you can,” she said. “Because I did it and I didn’t think that I was going to win, but I did. There were people that had some opinions about it and I proved them all wrong.”

The state champion’s next stop is Washington, D.C., for the national Poetry Out Loud competition slated for Monday, May 8 to Wednesday, May 11.

Morgan says she’s nervous to be away from her family across the country, but she’s hopeful that other deaf people will see her ‘do her thing’ up on the stage.