Poetry Out Loud an ‘experience’

Sat, 03/11/2017 - 7:15am
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The Poetry Out Loud state competition is now behind me.

I did not advance, nor did I even make the top five. I recited “After a Rainstorm” by Robert Wrigley and “Cartoon Physics, Part One,” by Nick Flynn. I also had memorized “Novel,” by Arthur Rimbaud, translated by Wallace Fowlie, for round three, but I was eliminated before then. 

However, I learned a great many things, and I enjoyed the experience more than I ever thought possible. There were 14 other competitors there, each from a different school. Every single one of them was an artist in his or her own right; I was surprised by the depth of their interpretation of poems. There was a vast breadth of different poems recited, and the tonal differences between them was more than I could have imagined. The personality of each competitor shined through during each performance, and their different poem interpretations were fascinating; they had a wealth of character and were a delight to watch. All these factors made for some fierce competition. The judges had a very difficult job to do. 

I use the word “competition,” but it was not at all a competitive atmosphere. Far from it. Vanessa Gilbert, the Poetry Out Loud artist in residence who coached and guided us, was there to support us the whole time, and there was a wonderful camaraderie between all of the competitors. Every student that I met was easy to get along with. Almost no one was nervous. I found it to be a great environment. 

I learned some of the finer points of recitation. For example, poem choice is immensely important, even more so than I thought. Not only does the reciter have to like the poem and fit its character, but some poems are simply better for recitation than others. You have to spend time finding a good one. It has to be appropriate for the audience and judges. I heard some poems at the state competition that were very entertaining, including one from the point of view of a dog. Fun and creative poems like that are the most fun to watch. 

There were many different aspects of performing at the state competition than at school, like being under the bright spotlight, onstage in front of a crowd of strangers. However, the change that tripped me up was the microphone. At the school competition, there was no microphone. Because of this, I was not at all used to dealing with one. I found it to be a pain in the neck. It restricted my movement and felt unnatural. But, I guess that’s just something you get used to. 

I had a great time competing in Poetry Out Loud. It was a positive experience all around. It helped me foster my appreciation for good poetry and improve my skills in performing for an audience, and I met some cool people along the way. I would definitely recommend it to any high school students who are given the chance. You have nothing to lose. 

The state champion gets an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington D.C, and the national champion gets tens of thousands of dollars in scholarships and stipends, but it’s about the love of poetry, right?