B.I. School senior headed to poetry finals

Thu, 03/07/2019 - 4:45pm

Block Island School senior Mary Conant is headed to the state finals in the Poetry Out Loud contest, marking another in a long line of Block Island students who have participated in the state finals in the past few years.

To make it to the finals, Conant passed the first hurdle in English teacher Nancy Greenaway’s class.

“Mrs. Greenaway asked if anyone was interested, and it was me, Fiona Crawford, Ruby Crawford, Julia Gasner, and Maya Veldman-Wilson,” said Conant, “You pick two poems from a list that they provide on the Poetry Out Loud website.”

Conant picked two poems: “The Ocean,” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and “The Arrow and the Song,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

“The Ocean,” she said, has “been one of my favorites for a while. I did that poem as one of my options last year.” The other poem is ‘The Arrow and the Song,’ which is one that Block Island students know because “that’s the poem Miss Flaherty famously has her eighth grade class recite every year.”

The poems are then practiced in front of the class. The local competition was held in Mrs. Greenaway’s class on Jan 10 before a panel of judges that included Lisa Sprague, teacher Shannon Cotter-Marsella, teacher Michael Petrik and Eileen Miller.

(Previous students who made the finals are Conant’s sister Missy Conant, Ryan McGarry, and Maya Veldman-Wilson.)

Conant called the contest at the school “pretty casual. There’s snacks and refreshments and we recite the poems.”

The four judges had five separate criteria by which they evaluated performances: physical presence, voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness, evidence of understanding, and overall performance. The ratings ranged from weak to outstanding.

Conant found out the next morning she was headed to the finals.

There’s one significant difference between the school contest and the state finals.

“You have to have three poems for the state competitions. People will go with the same poems, but I picked two new ones,” she said.

First, she picked 10 poems from the Poetry Out Loud site and tried them out in front of the class and gauged reaction from the students and teacher.

“I kept ‘The Ocean’ by Hawthorne, and also chose ‘Try to Praise the Mutilated World’ by Adam Zagajewski., she said. “I wasn’t familiar with that before, but I really liked this one when I read it.” The final poem will be “In Praise of My Bed” by Meredith Holmes. (According to the Poetry Out Loud guidelines, the poems must be 25 lines or fewer and not written before the 19th century.)

In the finals, Conant said, each participant will only get to read the third poem if they make it to the final phase of the contest.

She’ll recite “In Praise of My Bed” first to lighten the mood, then “Try to Praise the Mutilated World” because it is optimistic, and then “The Ocean” because she knows it so well.

“It would be a strong finish,” she said.

Although Conant said she expected her nerves to kick in a little bit before taking the stage, she’s had plenty of performing experience over the years, including André Boudreau’s Drama 911 group, and other school and community productions.

She said she’s received some advice about how to present the poems, some of it contradictory, but in the end Conant said she’ll find her own way.

The finals will take place on Sunday, March 10 at 12 p.m. at the Rhode Island School of Design Auditorium in Providence.