“At any time, I always wish that there was somewhere, anywhere else, but here,” Amelia Rury (‘25) said as she finished the final lines of “Happy Hour” by Lee Ann Roripaugh on the evening of February 3rd in the ORHS library.
Rury, who recited both Roripaugh’s poem and “The Conqueror Worm” by Edgar Allan Poe, was declared the winner of Oyster River’s Annual Poetry Out Loud competition. Poetry Out Loud is a poetry recitation competition that takes place across the country. The program is partnered with the National Endowment for the Arts and The Poetry Foundation, and it consists of local, regional, state, and national competitions to get students to learn and appreciate poetry. Rury will move on to the virtual regional competition set to take place in late February or early March.
Rury, as well as five other students who initially performed well in their Essentials of English classes, recited two poems in front of a panel of judges. Each student was judged on criteria relating to the effectiveness of their performance, including clarity, articulation, accuracy, and expressiveness. Their scores were then tallied for each category, and the highest scorer won the competition.
Assistant Principal Mark Milliken, who has judged the competition for eight years, said that he always takes into account other aspects of the performance that aren’t necessarily outlined on the rubric, such as how meaningful the poem is to the contestant. “Some people can memorize [a poem] and put in articulation and emphasis, but not really feel the words. I’m looking for someone who has really internalized the words. I like it if I can tell that the person has a connection to the poem,” said Milliken.
Each aspect of the performance that is critiqued can be challenging, but contestants believe the memorization component was the hardest part for them to accomplish. Rury said, “I think it’s a lot of pressure to be in front of people, especially with something that you’ve had to memorize. If you mess up even a little bit, that [takes] points off, so you have to make sure that you’ve got everything down exactly right.”
Another contestant, Kate Martin (‘25), agreed, saying it can become difficult when contestants are required to memorize two poems, especially when one of them must be written in the 19th century or earlier and likely includes archaic words and phrases. Martin said, “if you’re doing two poems, you get some aspects of one confused with the other and they get all mixed up in your mind. It just gets pretty hard.”
Contestants weren’t given a breakdown of their scores, meaning both Rury and Martin don’t know what they did well on. That being said, Rury thinks that the delivery of both poems may have contributed to her win. “The part I was most confident about was my delivery. I practiced a lot and found what felt right in the tones of my voice and expressions of the poem,” she said.
Despite the difficulty in the competition, contestants, judges, and English teachers believe that Poetry Out Loud and learning about poetry in school can hold a lot of value. “When I’m sitting here hearing the poem, maybe for the first time, I should understand the meaning of the poem better, if they’ve done their job, right,” said English teacher, Kara Sullivan. “It’s really important because it helps with analysis of poetry, and then it helps with being able to convey that meaning to other people.”
Meanwhile, Martin believes that the value comes from trying to learn the poem and understand its history. “Poems are basically just like history trapped in words, so you can tell what was going on in that time and which era of literature it’s based in. I think it’s important to study poetry in school because some people may not get it and others might, but you’ll feel really accomplished when you finally understand,” she said.
In the 16 years that ORHS has participated in the program, two students have made it to the national competition in Washington D.C: Arturo Jaras Watts in 2010 and Dan Belshaw in 2013. Rury, who initially did Poetry Out Loud just for fun, was surprised that she even made it to regionals, but she’s excited at the chance to represent Oyster River and continue the competition. “I’d love to be able to make it to states and beyond, but I’ve just been taking everything one step at a time,” said Rury.
To learn more about Poetry Out Loud, and what Rury has to do to make it to nationals, visit NH’s Poetry Out Loud Website.