Jamestown High School students continue to make poetry their own by memorizing poems and then reciting them in front of an independent panel of judges. On December 14, twenty students stood on the JHS stage, in a spotlight, reciting poetry, not for a class, but as part of the National Poetry Out Loud competition. Sophomore, Grace McMillan, who recited “What the Oracle Said” by Shara McCallum, won the school-level contest.
“It was a new experience for me because I originally thought that poetry was boring and lame. But after choosing a poem that I really connected with, poetry turned into a cool way to describe life,” said Grace. “The competition was fierce; everybody had practiced and did a phenomenal job.”
Poetry Out Loud is definitely different from a poetry slam because the students are breathing new life into someone else’s words and must use only their voices to make meaning of the words. JHS junior, Sarah Russo, recited “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold, and she will accompany Grace to the next round of competition. Competing for the second year in a row, Sarah commented, “This experience really honed my public speaking skills and boosted my confidence. I’m really excited to travel to the next round of competition and immerse myself in more poetry.”
JHS students are participating in the Poetry Out Loud for the seventh year in a row as part of an exciting resurgence in poetry as an oral art form. The contest, which is open to all JHS students, requires the competitors to memorize a poem from an authorized list. They are evaluated on physical presence, voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness, evidence of understanding, and overall performance and accuracy. This year’s judges were Simone Sellstrom, John Kinder, and John Twinam.
“Poetry Out Loud helps students master public speaking skills and build self-confidence while analyzing the themes, tone, and diction of a wide range of poems,” said JHS English Department Chair, Barbi Price. “Studying a poem, making it your own, and then reciting it as a gift to the audience is a richly rewarding experience. The contestants this year interpreted their individual selections in a way that was uniquely heartfelt and poignant. ”
Grace and Sarah are currently memorizing two more poems each before they travel to SUNY Brockport on February 7 to compete against other winners from schools across Western New York. The top two finishers of that Regional competition will advance to the New York State finals in Syracuse, and ultimately, to the National Poetry Out Loud competition in Washington DC.
The Poetry Foundation and The National Endowment fund Poetry Out Loud for the Arts.