Students at Valley Stream North High School became spoken word poets at the school’s annual Poetry Out Loud competition on January 6. It was a chance for the students to express themselves through the written word and brush up on their public speaking skills to boot. Poetry Out Loud is a national program that encourages the study of poetry by offering free educational materials and a recitation competition for high school students across the country.
One by one, the students took to the stage with works of poetry they selected and memorized while a panel of judges assessed their performances. The recitations were graded based on certain criteria including physical presence, voice and articulation, and how well they expressed the dramatic content of the poem through inflections.
Jada Alleyne won first place in the competition for her recitation of Chidiock Tichborne’s My Prime of Youth is but a Frost of Cares. She said the poem spoke to her own personal experience as a twelfth grader. “With poetry, you can really get to the depth of yourself through other people’s words,” she said. “As a graduating senior, I feel like my youth is slipping away from me…that’s what drew me to the poem.”
Second-place winner, Alicja Paruch, said she was initially drawn to poetry through her older sister who keeps a large volume of poems in her room. “We’re best friends, and she helps me with everything I do,” she said. She recited Semi-Splendid by Tracy K. Smith. Paruch has had her own work published in the American Library of Poetry and said the medium offers her a special emotional outlet. “It’s easier to put my feelings on paper than to express them elsewhere,” she said. “So, I first put them on paper, and when I’m here at Poetry Out Loud, I can say what I mean and in the way I want to.”
Eleventh grader Kaitlin Barry, who recited The Kiss by Robert Graves, said this was her second time competing in North’s Poetry Out Loud competition. She said that while people often think about music or dance as a means of expression, they rarely see poetry the same way. “Written word is a way we communicate in our everyday lives, so I think [poetry is] a really interesting and unique way to express ourselves,” she said.
Ninth grader Evo Yu Alipio read Serenade by Mary Weston Fordham, and said he has been reciting poetry since he was a child in elementary school in the Philippines. Although he was nervous about performing in front of an audience, he said it was a good exercise in public speaking. “It’s about getting used to it over time,” he said. “I just need to pull up my sleeves and try it again.”
North English teacher and Poetry Out Loud Coordinator Sofia Owen has been organizing poetry competitions at the school for the past four years. Poetry Out Loud, she said, offers an avenue for expression that students might miss out on otherwise.
“One of the things I like the most about this program in particular is that it gives students of all backgrounds a chance to express themselves,” Owen’s said. “It brings everyone together, as well as the opportunity to express who they are as individuals.”
Students first began their preparations in December with a three-session workshop led by Poetry Out Loud teaching assistant Breezy Janae. The first and second place winners will head to the regional Poetry Out Loud competition to face off against other students across Long Island in February.