Poetry Out Loud: One Mass. High School’s Participation

Here are the facts: This weekend (March 2 and 3) the regional contests for the Poetry Out Loud program will be held in Boston, Framingham, Springfield and South Yarmouth. The winners of the regional contests will meet the following weekend (March 10) to determine who will represent Massachusetts in the nation-wide contest, held in Washington, D.C.  on April 29-30. The Massachusetts division of the contest is sponsored by the Poetry Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Huntington Theater, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

Last year's national winner

Last year’s national winner

Here is the thrill of the contest: Nothing can revive a flagging interest in poetry like watching a group of teenagers recite poetry in a Poetry Out Loud contest. Back on January I had the pleasure – along with Regie Gibson, Susan Richmond, Lynne O’Hara, and Tim Cremin –  to judge one of those contests at the Groton-Dunstable Regional High School where Kelly Cook organized the program for the school.

As judges we were seeing the crème-de-la-crème. Cook explains that all 850 or so students from the school participated in Poetry Out Loud contests. Two winners were selected from each English class, and these winners then competed to come up with two winners from each period of the day.  These winners then vied against each other in a third contest, which the above mentioned judges rated, to represent the school in a regional competition.

This third group recited in a large room of the high school with all their followers cheering them on. The whole room rustled with excitement, and it was then we knew that it isn’t just football that can bring out rabid fans.

After each recitation, each judge rated the performance on confidence, engagement, articulation, and conveying a poem’s sense with its language. There was also someone who checked to make sure the poems were accurately recited. And the winners and the poets they recited were:

  • First Place: Devon Flanagan (2013) reciting, “These Poems, She Said” by Robert Bringhurst and “Memory as a Hearing Aid” by Tony Hoagland.This just in — Devon is a finalist and will be competing for the state championship on March 10. Congratulations, Devon!
  Devon Flanaganphoto by Sarah Burk

Devon Flanagan
photo by Sarah Burk

Second Place: Victoria Gibbs

        (2015): reciting “Strange Meeting” by Wilfred Owen and “Alone” by Edgar Allan Poe.
    Victoria Gibbsphoto by Sarah Burk

Victoria Gibbs
photo by Sarah Burk

  • Third Place: Roger Murray (2016): reciting “Piute Creek” by Gary Snyder and “Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night” by Walt Whitman.

        Roger J Murrayphoto by Sarah Burk

    Roger J Murray
    photo by Sarah Burk

Note that the second and third place winners have the opportunity to participate in other Poetry Out Loud contests before they graduate from high school.

The National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation have partnered with U.S. state arts agencies to support Poetry Out Loud, a contest that encourages the nation’s youth to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation. This program helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about their literary heritage.

After successful pilot programs in Washington, DC, and Chicago, Poetry Out Loud was launched in high schools nationwide in the spring of 2006 with tens of thousands of students participating. POL has grown every year with over 365,000 students competing in 2011-2012.

Congratulations to all three Groton-Dunstable winners, and Devon, those who heard your enthusiasm for poetry will be cheering for you to win! The statewide winner will receiver $200 and a trip to Washington for herself and a chaperon.

Also a note of thanks to dedicated teachers like Kelly Cook, who take on the responsibility of running a program like this is their high schools.