Poetry and Performance

“The 2006 State Champions of the Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest” / James Kegley / Public Domain

“The 2006 State Champions of the Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest” / James Kegley / Public Domain

Brigham Larson, Reporter

Poetry has a common reputation amongst students for being boring and convoluted. This is likely due to years and years of being taught depressing poetry that supposedly has more hidden meanings to it than stars in the sky. Just as Billy Collins wrote, “[…] all they want to do/is tie the/poem to a chair with rope/and torture a confession out of it./They begin beating it with a hose/to find out what it really means.”

The Poetry Out Loud program aims to change that by providing a plethora of poems, new and old, to appeal to anyone’s tastes. The main element of this program is its national poetry recitation competition, in which students will select, memorize, and perform two poems from their extensive database. The hope is that participants, whether they win or they lose, will leave with a greater appreciation of the art form that is poetry.

Highland has been a longtime participant in this competition. English teacher Mrs. Nenning has coordinated the school’s branch of the competition for several years. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Highland did not participate last year, although the competition was still held virtually. This year, Highland is ready to re-enter with a vengeance, with the informational meeting for the event being held on October 14.

To compete, students browse the website’s database of more than 1,100 poems and select two to recite (later on, students will select a third one to use in the event of a tie). One has to be 25 words or less, and the other has to have been written before the 20th century. The database contains eerie poems, humorous poems, wartime poems, and so much more. The students must then memorize their poem, as well as add an element of performance to it through the use of inflection and gestures. Participants are judged on how well they performed the poem from memory, as well as the quality of their performance. This makes it perfect for those who enjoy poetry and theatre.

The structure of the competition is similar to the spelling bee. It starts with a school competition, which will be held shortly after Fall Break. It will then move on to a district and later state competition. These winners will then move onto the televised national competition, where they compete for the $20,000 grand prize.

There is also a companion competition to Poetry Out Loud called Poetry Ourselves, which allows students to submit and perform original poems. Last year, Tessa Kresch, a student from Puerto Rico, won the competition with her original poem “I Wonder What Will Happen Tomorrow,” about the uncertainty of living through the pandemic.

The Poetry Out Loud competition is currently open for registration. Should you wish to compete, talk to Mrs. Nenning, and she could sign you up for it. You would need to act quick, as she needs the names of the contestants before the 31st of October. Whether you are a lover of poetry, performance, or simply want a gateway into either of these hobbies, this contest is a challenging and fun way to express your creativity.