A Glance From the Outside: Poetry Out Loud

By Hanna Duenkel

On Wednesday, December 10th, a handful of Tuscarora’s brightest English students gathered in the library for the annual Poetry Out Loud competition.  Out of the 25 eligible poets, 17 competed in the first round of the school-wide competition.  The second round was comprised of the top 8 performances from round one, as judged by Mrs. Purvis, Mrs. Moussaoui, Mrs. Pellicano, Mr. Daniel, and Mrs. Hausman.  Several National English Honor Society members volunteered at the event, and four artist guitarists provided background music between performances.

“It started out in the classroom level with students picking out a poem and reciting it,” said Ms. Hartless, the coordinator for Tuscarora’s Poetry Out Loud competition.  “Only the top student [from each participating English class] moved up in the competition.”

Each qualifying student had to memorize two poems for the school-wide competition, one for the preliminary round and another for the possible second round.  The students performed a large variety of poems, from “Or,” by Thomas Sayers Ellis, recounted by junior Kyle Copeland, to “Ovation,” by Carol Muske-Dukes, recited by senior Danielle Matta, and they all added their own flair to their selected verse.  Some performers would get louder or softer throughout the stanza, or used thoughtful pauses as if they were in a conversation with the audience. Matta performed “Ovation” with an admiring tone, speaking as if she were talking to her hero instead of the audience, and acting as if she were actually scattering the ashes of a lost friend. Senior Ryan Phillips’ performance was clever, causing the audience, and even himself, to chuckle a few times throughout the rendition of “The Way It Sometimes Is” by Henry Taylor.  He made the performance sound like a guided meditation or a long explanation, keeping the tone lighthearted and happy until the very end.

Round two was formed by the eight highest scoring performers from the first round, who were freshmen Shiki Anderson,  Gillian Bishop,  Bertem Demirtas, Justin Yang, Melody Jackson, junior James Smith, Matta and Phillips.  Each student performed as if they were acting out a role, becoming dismal or elated when necessary and letting their emotion overflow into the space in front of them.

The overall winner was Smith, who had performed “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” by John Keats in the first round and “An Apology for Her Poetry” by Margaret Cavendish in the final round.  Smith’s first performance was very intense, because of how his performance dripped emotion but he didn’t move around or make arm movements.  His second poem was more acted out, with his vast array of facial expressions amid long, deep pauses.  This is his second straight year winning the Poetry Out Loud competition at the school-level.

“[Last year], I did fairly well.  I only got second in the state because I missed a line and I had a long pause in the middle of my poem because nerves got to me and I didn’t study,” said Smith.  “This time, I expect to go on to nationals.”

Smith has gone on to compete in Poetry Out Loud’s regional competition, representing Tuscarora High School on February 5th at the State Theatre in Culpeper, Va.