For the third year in a row, Phaedra Plank was named the winner of the Nantucket High School Poetry Out Loud competition after a hard-fought contest at the High School Auditorium on January 10th. Plank has emerged victorious in the competition all three years she has competed, this time winning for her recitation of the poem “Through a Glass Eye, Lightly” by Carolyn Kizer. Tori Dixon, the second place winner, recited “Love of My Flesh, Living Death.” by Lorna Dee Cervantes.
“It’s been a wonderful experience participating in Poetry Out Loud these past few years,” Plank said. “It’s a special program that I really hope we continue embracing at NHS.” Plank will now advance to the regional round, and potentially the state or even national level.
Poetry Out Loud is a national poetry recitation contest, created by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, working with State Arts Agencies in all 50 states, Washington D.C, the U.S Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. State winners receive 200 dollars, along with another 500 dollars for their schools, and runners up are given 100 dollars and 200 dollars for their schools. The state final will be held on March 10th. The national semifinals will occur on April 30th, and the tournament will conclude with the national finals on May 1st. Both the national semifinals and the national finals are hosted in Washington, D.C.
Students competing in the state finals, national finals and semifinals will be judged by the same criteria as they were judged by on the school level. While this includes accuracy, correctly remembering all of the words is only a part of a successful recitation. Students are also graded on voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness, evidence of understanding of the poem’s material, and overall performance. There is more complexity to the higher levels of the competition, however. Students will, of course, be performing at larger venues in front of larger crowds. More than that, however, they will have to have multiple poems memorized. Both the state and national finals require that the competitors have three poems committed to memory, at least one of which is under twenty-five lines, and at least one of which was written before the twentieth century, though the same poem can fulfill both requirements. They will then have to recite all three of these poems, to provide judges for a wider frame of reference from which to judge the contestants. At the school level, students only need to memorize and recite a single poem.
The contest actually begins at a classroom level, with students memorizing poems to recite in the classroom, in keeping with the rules given by Poetry Out Loud. This way, students could judge whether they would want to recite their poems in front of a crowd beforehand, and they would have experience with the poem and a better understanding of it. Then, the students chosen to move on to the school wide contest have more time to continue memorization and work on their performances before the contest.
A total of 26 students recited poems that night on January 10th, which lasted from six in the evening to just after seven, bravely taking the stage and performing under a spotlight in front of the darkened auditorium. Aside from the microphone at the center of the stage, students were not allowed any props and had to command the attention of the audience with just their voices and the poems they were reciting. This audience was a mix of parents and students, with a handful of teachers in the mix, totaling around 50 people. All four grade levels were represented among the contestants, though freshman had the largest contingent, perhaps signaling a bright future for the event.
Organizer and English teacher James Kuratek was excited about the event from the beginning, and about its future, saying “I think it’s going to be a great success… we were very impressed with the performance last year and we are anticipating an even better performance this year.” He was proven right, as the competition went off without a hitch.
The competition was judged by a variety of teachers. Cyrus Peirce Middle School teacher Deanna Avery, Stephen Sheppard, and Rebecca Hickman scored the participants, while Nantucket High School teachers Robert Norton kept track of accuracy, Page Martineau prompted, and Elissa Gilgen emceed. NHS english teacher Stacey Edzwald tallied the scores to determine the winner at the end of the performances. While Edzwald calculated, sophomore JohnCarl McGrady recited “Jabberwocky,” by Lewis Carroll.
It was after this that Plank was named the school champion, and Dixon was awarded second place. They shook a few hands on stage and the event concluded.
After the event, Plank had a few words of advice for prospective competitors. “I think the key to doing well is picking a poem that really connects with you. If you feel passion for your poem, it will be easier to put emotion and meaning into your performance, and you’ll get more from memorizing and analyzing. The other key is to try to ignore self-consciousness and doubt; you have to put your all into the poem, and the chances are good that no one’s laughing at you.”
By JohnCarl McGrady