Thirteen high school students breathed life into the words penned by notable poets through the centuries at a Poetry Out Loud regional competition held Thursday at Flathead Valley Community College.
Flathead and Polson high schools, along with and Chrysalis School in Eureka, brought participants who advanced from classroom and school-level competitions.
Following each recitation, people in the audience waved their hands in the air in silent applause while a pianist played music, giving judges time to contemplate each performance.
Students recited two different poems in two rounds and were judged on physical presence, voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness, evidence of understanding and overall presence.
After the last word had been said, Monica Grable, the arts education director for the Montana Arts Council, announced the top four students who advance to state.
When Flathead freshman Isabella Shinn’s name was announced for first place, her mouth dropped open in surprise before turning into a smile. Shinn recited “The Arrow and the Song,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” by Kevin Young.
Second place went to the 2018 Montana Poetry Out Loud champion Anna Hedinger, a Flathead senior, for her recitations of “There Are Birds Here,” by Jamaal May and “Happy Hour,” by Lee Ann Roripaugh.
In third place was Polson junior Joseph McDonald for his recitations of “Self-Inquiry Before the Job Interview,” by Gary Soto, and “The Glories of Our Blood and State,” by James Shirley.
Although there was a tie for fourth place, Polson junior Josie Salois’ scores came out ahead for her recitations of “I Have a Time Machine,” by Brenda Shaughnessy and “And If I Did, What Then?” by George Gascoigne.
Competitors selected poems from an anthology of more than 900, which can seem daunting, but eventually a poem will stand out.
For Shinn, she had fun with the rhyme of the first poem she recited, while the second poem, she said, “just kind of hit me. The words were powerful.”
Hedinger was inspired to select her first poem after meeting the author at last year’s national Poetry Out Loud competition. The second poem she chose resonated with her on a personal level as she will soon head off to college.
For some participants, memorization is the most challenging part of recitation, but this wasn’t the case for Shinn, who said she didn’t learn about the competition until late in the game and worked on the poems the day before. She thought her memorization skills may have been developed when she was younger.
“My mom used to have us memorize Bible verses so I guess that helped,” Shinn said.
Hedinger’s process from memorization to performance involves recording herself to work on things such as inflection or volume to impart her interpretation of a poem to an audience.
Is reciting poetry a lost art?
Shinn and Hedinger both nodded.
So why is it important to continue reciting poetry?
“I think it’s a cool thing to do to be able to pull from your memory,” Shinn said.
Polson High School English teacher Katrina Venters is one teacher who continues the tradition of having students memorize poems as part of their grade. Competing in Poetry Out Loud is a bonus.
“I think it’s another way to get them to engage with poetry and experience it just as a fun art rather than something where you have to clap out the syllables and analyze the meter and things like that.
“It’s a way to help them fall in love with poetry,” Venters said.
A total of 21 regional winners from around Montana will convene in Helena to compete in the Poetry Out Loud state finals at 10 a.m. March 2.
The state winner will receive $200 and an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., to compete at nationals, while the champion’s school receives $500 for the purchase of poetry books.
Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or email@example.com.