By Mackenzie Condon
An overflow crowd of teachers, parents, and students gathered last Thursday night in the school’s library–which had been transformed into a poetry cafe. About 20 students recited a poem of their choosing in during the school’s 4th annual Poetry Out Loud recitation contest.
The contest starts in several of the high schools English classes where students select a poem of their choosing from the list of poems on the Poetry Out Loud website. Students then had to memorize and perform them in front of the class, where one or two students were chosen to compete in the school-wide competition.
“I picked a piece that I fully understood and one with themes that I completely agreed with. It took me two days to memorize it, but it took a week to really play with it and learn how to read it,” said ninth grader Bella Giordano, who won third place with her recitation of “Cartoon Physics, part 1,” by Nick Flynn.
The Poetry Out Loud recitation competition is a national competition that has been around since 2005. It has grown to reach more than 3 million students and 50,000 teachers from 10,000 schools in every state, Washington, DC, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, according to the organization’s website.
English teachers Christine Ferrone, Spencer D’Agostino, and Kate Hennigan helped to organize the event.
“The poetry-out loud competition encourages students to interpret language and understand its nuance to create something out of it that is authentic to them and also to the poem,” said Mrs. Ferrone. “It allows students to do more with a poem besides the common school practice of just reading and analyzing poetry. It allows students to embody a poem and truly feel the poem’s message.”
Bella said, “When listening to so many students recite their poems, I really thought about how different poetry can be read and interpreted. It was an enriching environment with every participant reciting something in their own unique way.”
Ninth grader Rose Herman, who also participated in the competition, agreed. “I really focused on the themes of my poem when I was deciding how to perform it. It was an uncomfortable experience for me at first because I’ve never done spoken poetry before. But I realized how much more there is to poetry when you are performing it, not just reading it in your head during an English class. There is rhythm and tone that is always of paramount importance to the piece but can be lost sometimes. The competition gave everyone a chance to experience the magnificence of those aspects of poetry,” she said.
Mrs. Ferrone said, “The value of having something memorized can seem lost sometimes because we don’t always need to know much of anything when we have all our memories collected on phones and other devices. The exercise of not only memorizing a piece that you’ve really fallen in love with, but also interpreting it through performance is an empowering opportunity that the competition offers.”
Senior Danielle Hopkins took first place after reciting “The Obligation of Being Happy,” by Linda Pastan. Ninth grader Anne Culbert earned second place with “Ode to the Hotel Near the Children’s Hospital.” The first place winner is given the chance to move on to the regional competition where a winning performance can allow them to proceed to the state, and then national levels.