Poetry Out Loud

By Mia Potamianos and Jenna Vespi

Poetry Out Loud is a comepition that strives to “encourage students to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation,” according to their website. Students who want to participate at Jamesville-DeWitt High School’s school level are asked to select two poems from the Poetry Out Loud website to memorize and perform. From there, English teacher Matt Philips and his pannel of judges, comprised of J-DHS teachers, select two top students to move on to the regional level.

This is the 12th year the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation has partnered with the New York State Council of the Arts to put on the Poetry Out Loud 2017 Competition in New York. This is also the fifth year English teacher Matthew Phillips has organized the contest at J-DHS. On Jan. 5, five J-DHS students partook at the school level. Sophomore Sofia Liaw and junior Rebecca Teitelbaum earned first and second place, and will perform at Regionals at 6 p.m. on Feb. 10, at Onondaga Community College.

All of the students who participated had different backgrounds and reasons for their participation. “My sister [senior Melissa Gao] did it last year and it sounded like a fun event,” said sophomore Alan Gao. Teitelbaum, who won second place, approached Poetry Out Loud with a Shakespearean background. “I did the Shakespeare [monologue] competition last year and this was in my mind as a sort of continuation in the same spirit of things.” Liaw, who won first place, said she’s “enjoyed reading and writing poetry since sixth grade and recently became interested in the world of spoken world. Competing in Poetry Out Loud seemed like an opportunity I didn’t want to miss.”   

An element of the competition that caused anxiety for some was choosing which poems to recite from the Poetry Out Loud print or online anthology. “I tend to dislike older poetry, at least for the purpose of performance, because the archaic words don’t fit naturally in my mouth and the word order throws me off sometimes. So I just searched through websites until I found two I felt like I would have written, in terms of subject matter or word choice,” said Liaw. On the other hand, Teitelbaum’s method relied on luck. “I just went on the website and hit random until I found two that I liked.” Another component of the competition is that the order of the poems has to be determined beforehand. Sophomore Jo Womack used this to her advantage; “I picked two I already knew that would work well against each other.”

On the day of the competition, many participants were nervous. For Teitelbaum, “the nerves settled down after chatting with everyone.” Both she and Liaw knew each other from last year’s drama show were happy to see a friendly face. Liaw was more worried; “when we were waiting to be called, my heart must have been pounding at 120 beats per minute.” She ended up being first for both rounds of competition.

Whoever thinks Poetry Out Loud relies solely on having the poem memorized and being able to use expression would be wrong, at least as far as Teitelbaum is concerned. Her second poem, “Mirror,” by James Merrill was 44 lines long, and she performed it twice. During the middle of her recitation, the sounds of clapping and cheering could be heard from the library. “I had to sort of stop myself from laughing just out of distraction mostly,” Teitelbaum admitted. After this Teitelbaum had a few other distractions as well, but she kept going. “I was already in the zone, and I just tried to keep focus on the poem lines and try not to pay attention,” said Teitelbaum. The judges offered to allow Teitelbaum to recite the poem sans interruption this time, and she opted to do so.

Ultimately, all of the participants agreed that Poetry Out Loud was a wonderful experience and would consider doing it next year. For Regionals, Teitelbaum and Liaw are required to recite three poems at OCC.