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The City Journals

Taylorsville seventh grader receives national award for poem

Jun 07, 2021 01:08PM ● By Hannah LaFond

Johnson (middle) poses with an $800 check presented by PTA for his poem. (Photos courtesy Joshua Johnson)

By Hannah LaFond | [email protected]

On May 3, a Taylorsville seventh-grader, Joshua Johnson, was surprised to win the National Award of Outstanding Interpretation in the National PTA’s Reflection program for his poem about the hardships he witnessed in 2020.  

PTA Reflections are an art competition with over 300,000 contestants from Pre-K through 12th grade each year. Of these students, the PTA selects seven to receive national recognition, as Johnson did. 

All the participants create original artwork around a selected theme. The 2020-2021 theme was “I matter because….”

With that topic in mind, Johnson created his poem, “The Voice In My Head.” Working after school each night, he created the first draft in a week. Then took another three weeks to refine the poem. According to Johnson, he wanted to make sure every word was the right one to capture the feeling he was expressing. 

“I have been a distance learner this year because my sister was high risk, and my parents were worried she might get COVID. So it was tough being at home trying to learn on my own. I felt overwhelmed by all the things happening around me, things my friends were going through, and the things I saw on the news,” Johnson told the City Journals. “I wanted to write something that would help me and others who read the poem feel hope.”

Throughout his poem, Johnson addresses lofty issues that would be hard for many adults to discuss. Stanza, by stanza, he tackles watching his family and the world facing the pandemic, earthquakes, wildfires, racial injustice, and financial instability. 

While being honest about his anxiety during the turbulent year, Johnson manages to put a positive note at the end of each stanza. Instead of giving up, the “voice in his head” encourages him and the reader to keep going.

As he states beautifully at the end of the fifth stanza, “But the voice in my head boldly rebutes ‘I cannot, I will not, I won’t quit today!’ It whispers, ‘I matter because I have hope.’”

Although Johnson is just finishing seventh grade, he’s not new to poetry writing or even to PTA Reflections. He’s actually been entering poems in the competition since third grade, and while this is his first time winning nationally, he’s won at the state level four times. 

Johnson credits his early interest in poetry to his love for reading and his third grade teacher, Mrs. Jennings. She encouraged his passion for writing and suggested that he enter in Reflections. 

“She gave me the idea, and she gave me a dictionary the summer before fourth grade to help me understand the words I was reading in books several grade levels higher,” Johnson said. 

Clearly, that passion has only grown, with more work probably expected from him in the future. Johnson loves using writing to express himself and process through difficult experiences like the ones he had during 2020. 

“I like the imagery you can create with words in a poem. I love the sounds alliterations make, the visual picture a good metaphor creates, or the powerful connection repetition can have in a great poem,” Johnson said. “Reading is my favorite thing to do. I think poetry can be like small short stories, and since I am not great at painting or drawing, I thought I’d try to create art with words.”

While he’s received recognition for his poetry in the past, Johnson said he didn’t expect his poem to win nationally. The school invited him to read his poem to his English class on Monday May 3, but he didn’t know he would be presented with the award. 

“I was completely caught off guard when I saw the mayor of Taylorsville, our county councilwoman, the superintendent, the school board president, my principal, and a bunch of students and teachers there ready to listen to the poem,” Johnson said. “After I read it and they announced I won first place at nationals, I was stunned. I am still pinching myself and wondering if it really happened!”