For the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic, family and friends were able to gather in the Oyster River High School (ORHS) library to watch the 16th annual Poetry Out Loud schoolwide recitation competition.
Last Thursday, January 26th, six freshmen competed in the Poetry Out Loud recitation contest where they will have the chance to continue on to regional, statewide, and even the national Poetry Out Loud recitation competition in Washington DC. Poetry Out Loud is a national program that encourages students to engage with poetry through analysis, memorization, and performance. This year’s winner was Juliana Kun (‘26) and the alternate was Brenna Clough (‘26).
During the competition, each competitor recites two poems which they’ve prepared by analyzing to find where they should adjust their voice, tone, volume, and movement. While upperclassmen do have the option to participate in the school Poetry Out Loud competition, this year’s performers were all freshmen: Brenna Clough, Isabelle Fenton, K.K. Flanagan, Juliana Kun, Alex Mathis, and Lauren Pang. The winner, Kun, prepared the two poems “After working sixty hours again for what reason” by Bob Hicok and “Rabbits and Fire” by Alberto Rios. The alternate, Clough, prepared “Past-Lives Therapy” by Charles Simic and “Free Radical” by Alison C. Rollins. Both used vital recitation skills like volume control and movement to best portray the energy of their poems. These poems and more information about the contest can be found on the Poetry Out Loud website here.
During and after each performance, competitors were judged and the scores were sent to be totaled, but results remained final and confidential. One of the judges, Laura Braley, a teaching intern at ORHS, explained that the categories judged were physical performance, volume, use of voice, understanding of the poem, and accuracy. “As someone who loves English and was an English major, I love poetry and I think it is meant to be performed. It was really cool to hear the artistry of it like the rhythm, the cadence, and the flow. People added emphasis and you could hear sound imagery that you might not have noticed while reading,” she said.
Both Kun and Clough did not really know about Poetry Out Loud until they were chosen to move on after their respective class wide competitions. Clough shared, “I wasn’t expecting [to compete], but I do love poetry and think I would’ve jumped on the chance anyways if I knew about it immediately.”
Marjke Yatsevitch did most of the organizing for the event along with help from the ORHS English department, janitorial staff, and library staff. She feels that Poetry Out Loud and poetry in general are very valuable parts of the English curriculum. “I think a lot about how important it is for us to make observations and to look at the world in a detailed way. A lot of times our world goes so fast that we don’t have that opportunity to really look at something small or look at something that is a core memory, idea, or emotion and actually just investigate it for its own worth,” she said in regard to the importance of poetry in the curriculum.
Kun grew up listening to, reading, and memorizing poems for fun and feels the same way as Yatsevitch. “I really enjoy how intimate [poetry] feels. I really enjoy how much emotion is projected into poems. It’s such an interesting way of telling a story,” said Kun. “It presents so many different skills in ways that you wouldn’t expect. It helps with public speaking. It does a great job helping with analyzing works of literature, and there are plenty of skills that can be transferred into the real world from that,” she continued.
“The skill of reading something closely comes in here as well,” added Yatsevitch. “Really understanding the syntax of language, the way words relate to each other, like complex elements of our critical thinking while reading by engaging with these short pieces of text but doing it on an intensive level.” The poetry unit addresses many of the English competencies at ORHS like the presentation and reading competencies.
Clough reflected on the competition and public speaking aspects of Poetry Out Loud. She shared that the competition aspect was very new and as someone who struggles with stage fright it was a bit daunting. “I’ve had stage fright since I was four years old, so it was a little bit of a challenge to get over that. I think the nerves definitely helped me to be more prepared in the sense that I really went over my poems.” She continued, “there were a lot of good people here today and I’m just glad that I did well. I really enjoyed it. Public speaking isn’t always the best, but it was great tonight.”
What stood out to Yatsevitch about the competition this year was “bravery. I was really struck by how all of the participants every year, but this year in particular, did such an amazing job arriving, standing up there and being a little bit fragile, a little bit available.” Kun will continue on to the semi-final competition in Rochester, NH on February 23rd.