Last Thursday, March 17, I had the great opportunity to be a volunteer for the NH Poetry Out Loud competition held in Representative’s Hall in the State House.
Since my writing focuses on non-fiction and fiction, poetry is exciting for my muse. This particular event is the culmination from several state-wide high school competitions. The contestants select 3 poems from a specific list and present their chosen poems in a way that (hopefully) engages the audience – especially the judges.
There aren’t any props or an official dress code. The teens’ poetry choices are submitted in advance and have to be presented in under four minutes.
The Poetry Out Loud recitation program is supported through the National Endowment for the Arts, the Poetry Foundation, and state arts agencies, which in NH is the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts. Competition starts in the fall at the high school level, moves to state regionals, and then the state finals competition are in the spring. The national competition is at the end of April in Washington, DC.
Poetry Out Loud encourages teens throughout the U.S. to learn about great poetry via memorization and performance. The competition helps with public speaking skills, building self-confidence, and learning about literary and cultural heritage. There isn’t any charge to compete and students from any high school—public, private, parochial, and home schoolers—can compete.
The 12 finalists who participated Thursday night each had 3 poems memorized.
- In the first round, speakers went in alphabetical order and performed their first poem.
- The second round was also all 12 contests in reverse alphabetical order, but with different poems.
- The third round consisted of the top 4 highest-scoring contestants from the combined first two rounds. They were named in alphabetical order, then drew for the order in which they’d perform their third poems.
The Champion of the evening was 14-year-old- freshman Olivia Vordenberg of Souhegan High School, Amherst. She won, among other things, cash for herself and for her school’s library, and an all expense paid trip with a chaperone to the National competition at the end of April.
The variety of poems and how they were presented intrigued my muse. I loved seeing teenagers embracing poetry with a fierce determination. These young people worked hard to memorize several poems over several months and present them in front of audiences of various sizes. If I had had the same opportunity at their age, I believe I would have passed – since standing in front of a crowd for any reason was the last thing I ever wanted to do!
Kudos to these young people for grabbing on to the opportunity to push themselves out of their comfort zones. Maybe some will become writers, since they already love words.
Lisa Jackson is an editor, writer, and chocolate lover. She’s addicted to Sudoku, cafés, and words. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has a blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom where she gets to network with writing professionals on a weekly basis — and you can, too! © Lisa J. Jackson, 2011