Pick two poems, practice them and recite them in front of judges. These are the steps that are taken by hundreds of students participating in the Poetry Out Loud competition.
Since 2005, students all over the country have participated in this competition. According to the Poetry Foundation, the goal of this program is to, “help students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about their literary heritage.”
Students in grades nine through twelve entered into their school competition, and the best of the best moved on to participate in the County Competition. For Mt. Hebron, the best-performing students were seniors Gabby Greene and Maya Huber, along with junior Esther Lawson-John.
Their recitation of poems wowed the English Department and pushed them forward to the next round of competitive recitation. English teacher Ms. Shannon Milam, who coached and judged the students, said that all three were, “Very engaging.”
In preparation for the event, the young ladies spent hours of time perfecting their delivery and style. It took time, but was worth it for these three students.
“I had a good time,” said Greene, who recited “Invictus” by English Poet William Ernest Henley. “The community was very supportive.”
Participating in this event helps students gain self-confidence, speak better and perform more passionately.
Lawson-John admitted, “I was extremely nervous [on the day of the competition.]” But by the end of the recitation of her second poem, she felt “like I was someone important,” she said.
During the County Competition on Jan. 7, Lawson-John placed second overall. She recited two poems, “Abandoned Farmhouse” by Ted Kooser, and “How many times these low feet staggered” by Emily Dickinson.
Four Howard County high schools participated in the County Competition; Centennial, River Hill and Wilde Lake competed against Mt. Hebron. Even though she will not be moving on to the Regional Competition, the community is incredibly proud of her accomplishments.
“The moment they said my name, I was so awestruck,” said Lawson-John. “I really couldn’t believe I was that good, and I didn’t know what I did right.”
Ms. Milam and Drama teacher Ms. Samantha Duvall coached interested students and helped them prepare for the competition. Between practicing their poems, getting their emotions right and performing in general, coaching these students was a time-consuming but rewarding endeavor.
According to Lawson-John, these two teachers help students, “build up emotion so that the audience has something to look forward to.”
Ms. Milam started Mt. Hebron’s chapter of this competition just this year. Students that participated in Poetry Out Loud this year recommend it to others. “It’s a wonderful way to build your confidence and learn more about poetry,” said Lawson-John.
If you are interested in participating next year or learning more about the competition, talk to Ms. Milam, Ms. Comberiate, and Ms. Duvall, who want to pursue this competition next year.
The guidelines are brief and can be found on the Poetry Out Loud website. In the competition, the recitation of your poem is ranked based on evaluation sheets held by the judges. And plus, there’s a cash prize for state and national winners.
“We hope to get more students involved next year,” said Ms. Milam. The experience overall comes highly recommended from all students who participated, so perhaps Mt. Hebron will have another group of talented students engaged in poetry recitation in the future.