Poetry Out Loud (POL) is a nationwide competition in which students participate by reciting poems selected by the Poetry Out Loud website or book. Olympia students also find themselves on the POL stage and working towards the national competition. All competitions begin locally and progress. Students start at the class level (students compete in their English class), then move to whole school, regional/state and finally nationals. Students are scored on the accuracy of their memorization and the dramatic appropriateness of their overall performance. The scoring rubric also accounts for understanding of the poem and physical stage presence.
Audrey Ritter is an Olympia High School student who participated in Poetry Out Loud for an English assignment and ended up advancing to the school competition with another thirty OHS students. Audrey is a cheerleader and completes in track each spring, but she has a knack for reciting poetry. This is her second time entering the school wide poetry competition. Last year as a sophomore, she competed and did not place in the top ten. This did not stop her from trying again in her junior year. She says that she has gained many more public speaking skills that helped her get to the school competition this year. While she was nervous, she also felt a lot more prepared. “I was nervous to perform my first poem because it was long and harder to perform,” Audrey explains.
This year, Audrey’s poems were Quite Frankly by Mark Halliday and Night Nurse by Michael Earl Craig. She stepped up to the small stage in the back of the library and cooly stated the name of her first poem along with the author. Her persona as well as her posture changes as she begins to recite. She used her best acting skills to take on the idea that the author was trying to convey. The other competitors, seated four feet from the stage, listened intently while trying to keep a grasp on their own poems they had yet to recite.
In her poem, Audrey often used a voice that sounded almost as if she was reminiscing on her own life. Her tone changed and she recited each word as if it were her own. Once done, she left the stage with a smile followed by applause as she took in her seat and listened to the rest of the performers.
After an hour and a half, the first round is over. The event organizer, Carolyn Gilman, called for a brief intermission as the judges to decided on the top ten. Students mulled around, practicing their second poems in case they get in to the top ten. Audrey sat in her seat, anxiously awaiting the results.
The judges final agreed on their top ten competitors. The host returned to the stage and thanked all the performers for doing such a wonderful job. The tension kept the crowd quiet as they waited to hear the top ten. Results are reported in reverse alphabetical order and Audrey remained patient. Soon, her name was called and she had made it the second round and she began preparations for her next session on stage. Her second performance again portrayed great emotion and character.
While Audrey did not win the OHS school competition, she was proud of her accomplishment. “I think I did better this year than I did the last because I was more confident in the poems I was reciting,” she said happily. Overall, Poetry Out Loud is a friendly and welcoming competition. “I think Poetry Out Loud is a great way for students at Oly (Olympia High School) to explore a little bit more into the life of literature. It’s cool to see so many people expressing an interest in poetry. Shout to Ms. Gilman for putting the whole thing on.”
To learn more about Poetry Out Loud’s national programs visit them online.