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by Hedgebrook Guest

On March 7th, 2015 at about 2:00 in the afternoon, I made my way up to the stage and took a deep breath. “There Are Birds Here, by Jamaal May” I said, and began. I was performing at the Washington State Poetry Out Loud final competition, as one of the thirteen state finalists from different regions competing for a chance to travel to Washington DC for the national competition. Now in its 10th year as a nationwide program, Poetry Out Loud provides teenagers all over the country the chance to understand and appreciate poetry through recitation. High school students compete at the school, regional and statewide level reciting a wide range of poems. Each of the students participating in the competition puts tremendous work into memorizing their poems, interpreting the meaning behind them and developing their own way of presenting to the audience so that the words of the poet come across to an audience in a way that is true and authentic.

Starting in the fall preparing for my school competition and continuing all the way through to the state competition this month, I frequently practiced my poems in all the ways I could think of: For my parents, friends, and teachers; in front of the mirror in my bedroom late at night; mumbling the words as I walked the halls at school; even yelling loudly into the woods around my house. As a longtime lover of the arts and of acting, poetry recitation has been an exciting way to have fun and challenge myself. I loved the process of reading through poems and then memorizing them, but the best part was what followed that: figuring out how to present them and add emotion.

As an actress, projecting and articulating my poems was not a problem. Acting also helped me express what the poems meant. I learned early on that poetry recitation and theater are different in some very important ways, however. In poetry, eye contact with the audience is very important. It was challenging at first for me to look into the audience, because I am used to avoiding that in theater. But with poetry, the goal is for performer and audience to share a connection the poem, which is made all the more real through eye contact. The second, very important difference between acting and poetry recitation is that poetry is not meant to be acted out. It is meant to be felt, and known, as the poet wrote it. When reciting poetry, one is not a character or even a person, but instead a vessel for the poem. These discoveries and wonderful feedback from teachers and friends helped me to win my school competition and become one of the two finalists in my region to compete at state.

Before each of the two rounds at state in which I presented my two, wildly different poems, I thought of the criteria I would be judged on: physical presence, voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness, complexity of the poem, evidence of understanding, accuracy….the list was overwhelming. As I settled into my seat, though, and began listening to the beautiful poetry presented by the other performers, I forgot about being judged and winning or losing, because that isn’t what Poetry Out Loud is about. It is about poetry, about the beauty of it, the feeling and the sounds and the truth of a poem. Although I didn’t win the competition, I can very truthfully say that I didn’t care. I was as thrilled as anyone else at the end, because not only did I meet wonderful and like-minded people, I was also exposed to some great poetry. Poetry, which before this year seemed to me to be beautiful but confusing, has become much more accessible to me. The whole experience has inspired me to try new things, read more poems, and maybe even write some of my own.


About the Author:

Chloe HoodChloe Hood is a sixteen year old who lives in Langley, Washington. A sophomore at South Whidbey High School, she has frequently participated over the years in productions at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, Whidbey Children’s Theater and Island Shakespeare Festival. Chloe participated for the first time this year in the Washington Poetry Out Loud competition. She also plays piano in the South Whidbey High School jazz band.







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Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily representative of the opinions of Hedgebrook, its staff or board members.

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