Maiss Hussein took home the Poetry Out Loud crown in 2023 and 2024.

Get to know Delaware’s 2x poetry queen, Maiss Hussein

Jarek RutzEducation, Headlines

Maiss Hussein took home the Poetry Out Loud crown in 2023 and 2024.

Maiss Hussein took home the Poetry Out Loud crown in 2023 and 2024.

The back-to-back scholastic poetry champion won her most recent crown with a poem she says was way out of her comfort zone, but served as the perfect finale.

A proud Palestinian, a powerful performer and a hopeful dentist with blooming curiosity, Hodgson Vo-Tech senior Maiss Hussein’s victory this year in the state Poetry Out Loud competition was just as sweet as her first-place finish in 2023. 

2024 WIN: Hodgson’s Maiss Hussein repeats as Delaware Poetry Out Loud champ

Hussein’s third-round – and final – poem in this year’s contest was “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers’ by Emily Dickinson, which captures the theme of hope metaphorically inside a strong bird that lives within the human soul. 

“When I was first reading through it, it just was a feeling that I knew this is the one, that if I were to make it to the third round, that’s how I would want to end it off,” she said. “It put the icing on the cake and it talks about hope, and what hope is supposed to feel like, and even when you don’t ask for hope, it’s just always there in the air, and I really resonated with that.”

Her round one poem was “​​Things You May Find Hidden in My Ear” by Mosab Abu Toha, and her round two poem was “If They Should Come for Us” by Fatimah Asghar.

“Dickinson’s poem took both of the ideas of poem one and two, and I thought it kind of mixed them together and said ‘This is what my poems are, and this is what they mean to me,’” Hussein said, “and that’s why I absolutely love that poem by Emily Dickinson. She really rounded it off and put it to a nice ending with the other two.”

Mosab Abu Toha (photo from the Poetry Foundation)

Mosab Abu Toha (photo from the Poetry Foundation)

“​​Things You May Find Hidden in My Ear” is about what is lost in war and what is preserved, both tangible and intangible. Its author, Mosab Abu Toha, is Hussein’s favorite poet.

“If They Should Come for Us” is a celebration of culture while also embodying its salvation and resistance to those who try to take it away. 

Both years, Hussein beat out 11 other competitors from across the state, who had advanced through school competitions, choosing works from an anthology of more than 1,200 poems.

All were judged on their physical presence, eye contact and body language, pace, rhythm, punctuation, dramatic appropriateness, articulation and evidence of understanding.

“Shocked isn’t even the word,” Hussein said. “I was really surprised to win this year seeing a lot of the same competitors in the same environment.”

She moved on to the national competition in the nation’s capital May 1-2 where she’ll face 54 other poets for a chance to win $20,000. The runner-up will get a $10,000 price and third place will bring home $5,000.

2023 WIN: Hodgson’s Maiss Hussein wins 2023 Poetry Out Loud contest

It was definitely a coming-back-home type of feeling, she said. 

“I was excited and I was also shocked at the same time,” she said. “The first time winning was amazing in itself, and then getting to know the other poets and to get that experience again, it was indescribable.”

Meaning of poetry

To Hussein, poetry is like putting somebody onto a song, but letting them listen to her lyrics.

“I’m giving you the tune, I’m giving you the beat, I’m giving you the rhythm while I perform,” she said, “but I’m also leaning into part of my identity and who I am and sharing that with other people, especially since poetry is in itself, a way of expression.”

When first getting to know somebody, she said, there’s natural curiosity about what they feel so passionate or so strong about, and poetry is a lens into that passion. 

“Especially in those first two poems that I had recited, it was definitely about where I’m from and my heritage and taking pride in it,” she said, “and so to me, poetry has always been a sense of pride and expression for who I am.”

Hussein’s future

Her school principal, Christine Colihan, praised Hussein – who hopes to attend the University of New Haven in Connecticut in the fall to pursue a bachelor’s in dental hygiene.

Christine Colihan

Christine Colihan

“Maiss stands out as an outstanding student, and her remarkable accomplishments both at Hodgson and within the community fill us with immense pride,” Colihan said.  “Beyond being an eloquent speaker and captivating poetry presenter, Maiss has earned the prestigious title of Hodgson’s Secretary of Education Scholar, a distinction bestowed upon only two students.”

Paul M. Hodgson Vocational Technical High School is part of the New Castle County Vocational Technical School District.

Colihan was excited to run down the list of Hussein’s accomplishments, some of which will be celebrated later this month at a dinner attended by Gov. John Carney. 

“Maiss recently clinched the gold medal in the HOSA Dental Science competition,” she said. “Her classmates have voted her most likely to succeed. Maiss is an exceptional student and as she embarks on her journey to Washington D.C. to compete in the Poetry Out Loud competition, we extend our heartfelt wishes for her success.”

Christina Hampton-Shoemate, Hussein’s dental assisting instructor at Hodgson Vo-Tech, said Hussein’s passion for poetry is palpable as she pours her heart and soul into every word she writes. 

“Her dedication to honing her craft and pushing herself beyond her limits is truly inspiring,” Hampton-Shoemate said. “As her CTE [career and technical education] instructor, I am beyond proud of her relentless hard work and her unwavering commitment to excellence.”

She again touted Hussein’s first place win in Dental Science at the Delaware HOSA Spring Leadership conference, saying she showcases not only her poetic prowess but also her remarkable ability to excel in diverse arenas. 

In her free time, Hussein said poetry is simply always on her mind.

She’s always reading a book or watching something just to stay curious. 

While she admits it might be a little odd for a 17-year-old, she consistently looks around and dives into random information about dentistry, trying to learn as much as possible before pursuing that world once she graduates.

Friends, music and trying to stay tapped into her artistic side are also staples of her life.

And a future focusing on teeth doesn’t mean an absence of poetry for Hussein.

She wants poetry to be a part of her life as she pursues a career in the dental field.

“I still have that inkling where I want to keep going forward with poetry even if it’s just on the side,” she said, “and as I get older to help out the youth who will soon be in my position.”

In between studying, classes, seminars and the whole college experience, she said she wants to be able to dive into poetry performances and share her passions with other people. 

“I definitely still see it as something that’s always there for me on the side,” she said. 

Share this Post