Poetry Out Loud competition requires courage

Devon Constable

     Watching students standing at the front of their classrooms in front of their peers, sweat dripping down their foreheads and lines of their poem they had to memorize slowly slipping out of their brains, anyone could tell that it is time for Poetry Out Loud.

     Poetry Out Loud, the annual national poetry recitation contest sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation is recited in English classes this time of year and gives students the chance to brush up on their performance skills and eventually advance to the national level and win $20,000. In fact, in the 2009-2010 school year, one of Hereford’s own, then-senior Doug Eber came close and placed second at the state level, which, this year, will be held on March 9, with a national competition date of April 28-30, 2013, in Washington, D.C.

      The competition was brought to Hereford by English teacher Mrs. Lisa Sopher, who believes that it gives students confidence. “It helps them succeed in life, memorizing poetry and performing in groups. In their professional lives they need to speak. The current curriculum doesn’t give enough opportunities for that,” she said.

     Annie Rus (12) said that in her AP English class, she is looking forward to “making amends” from last year’s competition, with her new poem, “Dover Beach,” by Matthew Arnold. “I know I have the ability.”

     For some, reciting poetry in front of classmates is a matter of nerves. Students are judged on physical presence, voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness, level of difficulty, evidence of understanding, and overall performance, and points can be deducted for the simplest mistakes, such as confusing “he” with “she,” or saying “horses” instead of “horse.” However, Patrick Anderson (12), who is currently taking Honors English 12 and has previously done Poetry Out Loud in his AP English 11 class, said that while the stage fright that Poetry Out Loud brings is “at first hard, [it] can be easy to overcome.”

     But some are on board with memorization; Annie said that the memorization “makes you think about [the poem], and it becomes yours.” Mrs. Sopher also believes that the memorization gives students confidence.

     So, if when everyone has to get up in front of their classmates to perform their poems of choice, they remember that Poetry Out Loud boosts confidence and self-esteem, perhaps they will relax.