For the love of words
Poetry Out Loud is a special opportunity for students at Marysville Charter Academy for the Arts and high schools throughout the Yuba-Sutter area to combine their passions into one medium. Poetry Out Loud is a national poetry recitation contest that requires contestants to possess both a love of words and the natural inclination to share them and this unique art with their peers as well as their community.
Ruth Atkins, the recitation coach and an English teacher at MCAA, said that the Poetry Out Loud competition also demands "an understanding of the profound, oral nature of poetry."
In the first stage of the contest, students are required to memorize one poem from the Poetry Out Loud selections, which contain classic and modern poetry in a wide variety of styles. This includes pieces by well-known poets such as William Blake, Lewis Carroll and Edgar Allen Poe.
Hundreds of poems can be picked through by participants. However, in order to truly bring the poem to life, a certain connection is required between the words and their reader. Much like a writer, creative or otherwise, to really contribute and portray the poem's message accurately, one must feel empathetic toward the subject and sincere toward the poet's images and language.
"It's enlightening," said Autumn Buck, a senior at MCAA and a third-year participant of the competition. Being able to "appreciate poetry for what it is," is one of the privileges that both the audience and the speakers experience.
Since the judges are focused on the recitation and not the writing, there are some advantages for contestants who have previous experience either in speaking publicly or drama.
Autumn, who has taken part in MCAA's productions since middle school, explained that Poetry Out Loud is "a bit like acting." The reciter's voice is what will show the emotion to the audience; a slight change of inflection can be a vital indication of the meaning and feelings behind the words.
After the first performance, two students from this area are chosen to compete at the state level in Sacramento's Capitol Rotunda in March. At that level, two more poems must be memorized in addition to the first. And from there, the winners will be able to travel to Washington, D.C., to be part of the national competition.
Unlike speech contests, Atkins explained, "the rhetoric of poetry is more subtle." The intentions of the authors are well hidden within the beauty and the tone of the poem, and "the persuasion comes from a more subtle understanding," Atkins said.
Although poetry continues to thrive in the literary world, in high school, it is often nothing more than an English lesson. Participants of the Poetry Out Loud competition are lucky to be able not only to read the poetry without dreading an assignment to go with it, but also gift this poem, by way of their voice and emotions, to an eager audience. "The body has to be the vessel for the words," Atkins said.
The relationship between the writer, speaker and the audience is unique to an event like poetry recitation.
T.J. Scott is a senior at the Marysville Charter Academy for the Arts. Her column appears every six weeks in Education.