By Taylor Bistany, contributing writer
On January 13, 2022, students of Nantucket High School took and submitted videos of their recitations of poems for Poetry Out Loud. These teenagers choose a single poem out of a list of more than 1,000 total, consisting of a wide range of poems; anything from dance and music to social justice and equality.
Poetry Out Loud is not just on Nantucket island; it is a nationwide program where students in grades 9th through 12th can participate, with an exception made for 8th-grade students enrolled in a high school level English course. The anti-discrimination statement states that students will not be excluded from Poetry Out Loud due to religion, race, sexual orientation, color, sex, national origin, or disability. Homeschooled students may participate by joining a school in their district or with other homeschooled students. However, these students may need to contact their state coordinator for more information.
All poems that were recited had to be chosen from the Poetry Out Loud website before January of 2022 and after September 2021, to allow ample time for the website to be updated over the summer, and to give students time to fully explore the extents of the Poetry Out Loud catalog.
After a student submits a poem to their local high school, submissions are judged and a winner is chosen, along with a runner-up and three honorable mentions. The winner goes on to regionals. From there, each regional winner competes at the state level. At the state or national finals, the winners must memorize 3 poems. One will be 25 lines or fewer, one of the poems must be a poem written before the 20th century, and one that is both 25 lines or under and written before the 20th century. One can see if a poem meets these criteria by looking at the poem via the website and viewing the purple-blue box above the poem’s title, which includes such information. Having to prepare 3 different poems means that these levels contain 3 rounds. The order that the students recite their poems is up to them, although once this is submitted to the competition’s organizer, it cannot be changed.
Nantucket High School’s 2022 winner is Freshman Gabriella Fee. Fee is part of the Nantucket Whalers swim team and Nantucket community dance school. She stated that her older sister was the person to convince her to sign up for Poetry Out Loud. The poem she chose was, “the name before the name before mine,” written by Jay Besemer. Fee described that she “fell in love with this poem”. She added how she is “beyond grateful” for the support from her family and school to move to the next stage of the competition.
In case the winner does not want to or can not go to regionals, judges choose a “runner-up”. This year’s runner-up is junior Ella Scott, who performed William Wordsworth’s poem “Lines Written in Early Spring.” Judges also chose a few honorable mentions. These include Kipper Buccino, Anna Popnikolova, and Allie Sweeny. Buccino, junior, recited “Requiem,” by Camille T. Dungy. Sophomore Popnikolova submitted her recitation of Craig Arnold’s “Very Large Moth.” And Allie Sweeny chose “Another Antipostral,” written by Vievee Francis.
The judges this year were Leslie Malcolm, Ms. Phaneuf, Mr. Norton, Mrs. Hickman, and Mrs. Surprenant. Malcolm is the head of Weezie Library for Children at the Nantucket Atheneum. Phaneuf is a teacher at NHS; this year she is teaching sophomore ELA, journalism, and AP English Literature. Norton teaches both senior and junior ELA. Hickman taught ELA at CPS for years, but changed paths, and has been the CPS librarian for four years now. Surprenant is the NHS librarian.
In normal years, the competition would have been live. The students performing would recite their memorized poem in front of the judges and multiple spectators. Most spectators would be friends, family, and other peers. Only this year, due to covid restrictions, it was virtual. Recently the Poetry Out Loud program announced that both the state and national levels are going to be virtual as well.
The Poetry Out Loud program is an important opportunity for many high school students. Many aspects of this program can help teens grow. As Surprenant explained, “This program helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about literary history and contemporary life.”
James Kuratek, high school English teacher, added that “Poetry Out Loud introduces students to thousands of different poems from diverse perspectives. It encourages discovery and helps students make connections to ideas they may not encounter in their normal lives.”
This program also gets students involved with poetry itself. Cecilia Wendelken, freshman, stated that “poetry is important because it can help us to understand the world.” Some unfortunately do not understand the beauty that poetry can hold. Popniklova, sophomore, described poetry as “an art style”, and added that she thinks “all art styles are important.” Friendly competition, the exhilaration of performance, and the beauty of poetry combine in this program to bring joy into the lives of students.