By Emma Huckins and Anyi Liebler-Bendix
“Since thou art Being and Breath, and what thou art may never be destroyed,” Emily Bronte wrote in her poem, “No Coward Soul is Mine.” Each year, across the country students without a coward’s soul prepare for the Poetry Out Loud competition that started on Dec. 18 2014 at Jamesville-DeWitt High School. This year, two J-DHS students went past the school competition. Sophomore Kristina Bell made it as far as regionals, which were held on Feb. 10, and junior Anna Pluff, went past regionals to states, held on March 9. English teacher Matthew Phillips played an important role in both bringing the opportunity and preparing both the students for the competition.
The Poetry Out Loud competition was brought to Mr. Phillips’s attention three years ago. He started the competition at J-DHS as a trial run with his sophomore English class in 2012, and since then, he has continued to promote and encourage students to get involved. “I’m a big poetry fan,” Mr. Phillips said, which is one of the reasons why he enjoys the Poetry Out Loud competition. He also believes that students should be familiar with public speaking and Poetry Out Loud helps develop those skills.
The Poetry Out Loud competition was held at J-DHS on Dec. 18, where about 14 students from all grades performed three poems in hopes of moving on to regionals. Pluff came in first, and the runner up was Bell. Both the regional and state competitions were held at the Onodoga Community Center. Ten contestants performed in front of three judges and were scored based on their performance. At regionals, everyone competed in three rounds, and at the end, the winner and runner up were announced. At states, everyone recited in rounds one and two, but only the top one-third moved on to round three. “I thought it was a great opportunity, and I really enjoyed performing at OCC,” said Pluff.
“I’ve always loved to perform, and Mr. Phillips told me that it was a great opportunity,” said Bell who has English teacher Joe Goldberg for her sophomore English classes. This was both Bell’s and Pluff’s first poetry competition, but the nerves didn’t stop them from achieving their goal. Pluff has memorized poems before, but she put her skills to the test when she had to recite in front of a panel of judges. The two or three weeks leading up to the competition, Bell and Pluff practiced their poems every night for at least half an hour. Although memorization was important, both performers had to learn how to express and execute their poems to the best of their ability.
Before taking the stage to perform their poems, both competitiors explained how nervous they were. Even though Bell participates in, and is familiar with, theater productions she “was very nervous, (because) I’ve never done something like that before.” Pluff explained that she was nervous, but also very excited at the same time. The girls each picked three poems that they were to recite for the panel of judges and audience. Once they picked their three poems, they had to keep the same poems throughout the entire competition. Having a strong interest in history, Pluff chose to recite “Ode for the American Dead in Asia” by Thomas McGrath. She chose her other two, “Poor Angels” by Edward Hirsch and “Chorus Sacerdotum” by Fulke Greville because she found them interesting and believed they would be well spoken out loud. Bell chose her three poems for diversity and relatability. Her three poems included “Enough” by Suzanne Buffam, “No Coward Soul is Mine” by Emily Bronte, and “April Love” by Earnest Dowson
Bell and Pluff both agree that the poetry competition was a great experience. They overcame the challenge of having to stand in front of an audience and recite poems that they had practiced for weeks. “It helped my confidence and public speaking skills,” Pluff confided. Bell also revealed that she learned great memorization strategies. “I basically just repeated the poems to myself thousands of times,” explained Bell. Bell and Pluff both want to continue reading and performing poetry out loud for future competitions, and are expected to take the stage again next year.