Poetry Out Loud returns, in reduced form

Poetry Out Loud performances took place in Ball Auditorium, January 13, 2022 – Mr. Thomas Stambaugh

With support from English Department members to maintain a recent campus tradition, Poetry Out Loud returned to Haverford this year, attracting contestants within the school community. 

“Poetry Out Loud is this national competition, where students memorize poems and then recite them with their whole full presence,” upper school English teacher Ms. Taylor Smith-Kan said. “Starting from the school level, winners progress to the regional competition, and then from there, to states and the national event.” 

Though participant scope was limited due to the quarter schedule, contestants who performed at the competition achieved fruitful results.

“This year, I was impressed with the students’ performances. Though some accuracy issues may have kept certain people from getting further, they all seem to understand their poems, which made them confident and believable, ” Ms. Smith-Kan said.

In her seven years directing the school’s Poetry Out Loud program, Ms. Smith-Kan has witnessed the community’s continued excellence at this event, where top students consistently made progress at regionals. Continuing the trend this year, Sixth Former Quinn Luong qualified for runner-up at the regional event. 

“Every English class had Poetry Out Loud, so I got introduced to it since freshman year. In my first two years, I did not qualify at all,” Luong said. “This year, at the school level, I recited ‘Caged Bird’ by Maya Angelou, which I also performed my freshman year. I did it well this time and won the school competition.”

Luong explained his connections with the piece.

“‘Caged Bird’ talks about a bird being trapped within a box. All my life I felt like I’ve been trapped within the box: this bubble on the Main Line. The bird is longing for the outside, yelling for freedom, but is stuck. It’s a very sorrowful poem, but a bit hopeful at the end. That summarizes my life, and why it resonated with me so much,” Luong said.

Moving into regionals, Luong made further preparations to put up a skillful performance.

“At the regional competition, I recited three poems with a story arc. First I recited ‘Revenge’ by Letitia Elizabeth Landon, which was deep, dark, and in [a formal rhyme scheme]. Then I proceeded to a calmer tone with Li-Young Lee’s ‘Eating Together,’ which was about Chinese culture and the joy of eating with your family. Lastly, I ended my performance with ‘Caged Bird,’ which was a hopeful conversation about oppression and social justice,” Luong said.

“Despite memorizing and perfecting every single line, I was still extremely nervous before the performance. I think we are all scared of going on stage and being by ourselves.”

Quinn Luong ’22

Luong shared his experience managing his emotions before the performance.

“Despite memorizing and perfecting every single line, I was still extremely nervous before the performance. I think we are all scared of going on stage and being by ourselves,” Luong said. “What got me so far is how I was able to be confident and tell myself, ‘You know, this is your moment.’” 

Finishing second at the school event, Sixth Former Will Rubin also made great gains at the competition.

“I picked ‘Beautiful Wreckage’ by W.D. Ehrhart,” Rubin said. “It is a reconciliation with the horrors of the Vietnam War and the final realization that what happened was wrong. As the second to last line of the poem reads ‘Would the wreckage be suddenly beautiful?’ Ehrhart doubts if we can repaint history and turn wreckage into something beautiful.”

Though it was his first time at Poetry Out Loud, Sixth Former Damian Ferraro put up a great performance and placed third at the school event. 

“I structured the performance in a way where I was talking to myself: a conversation between me and my brain.” 

Damian Ferraro ’22

“I performed ‘Thoughtless Cruelty’ by Charles Lamb,”  Ferraro said.  “From the performer’s perspective, I’m addressing this guy named Robert who just haphazardly killed a fly. The poem took a deep dive into the small deeds that we do every day, like killing a fly.”

“I loved the execution of the poem, which addresses someone who seems to be egotistical and brings him back to reality,” Ferraro said. “I structured the performance in a way where I was talking to myself: a conversation between me and my brain.” 

Beyond the scope of the competition, Ms. Smith-Kan applauds the achievements of students in Poetry Out Loud as a testament to the open and inclusive nature of the community, which nurtures boys who are comfortable to share their emotions, vulnerabilities, and challenge common gender biases on the subject of poetry.

“Poetry is the language of our culture. It’s great to have Poetry Out Loud at Haverford because poetry, English, and disciplines tend to be feminized in our society. A lot of people have the bias that women are better at talking about their thoughts and emotions,” Ms. Smith-Kan said. “Yet this is an all-boys school, and we have dominated poetry competitions. It’s a testament to the well-roundedness of the education at Haverford and how we make it a safe place for boys to recite emotional poems and not feel embarrassed or ashamed.”

Author: Jingyuan Chen '23

Jingyuan Chen has written for The Index since 2019. His news piece “Inside the middle school construction project” and his opinion “What can the U.S. learn from Chinese media censorship?” each earned a Silver Key from the 2020 Philadelphia-area Writing Awards.