In the past month, you may have found yourself browsing the Poetry Out Loud website, searching for the perfect poem to present to your English class. However, for many students, these late-night rehearsals had much higher stakes.
Each spring, high school students from across the country compete in Poetry Out Loud. The contest begins within schools and then moves to the regional, state, and national levels. To compete, students must memorize poems from the Poetry Out Loud website and deliver them with confidence and passion in order to progress.
Upper school English teacher Ms. Taylor Smith-Kan has witnessed our success as the organizer of the competition for the past eight years.
“I think our success comes from the fact that we’re a really competitive school, and any kind of competition we throw at kids, they’re gonna take on,” Ms. Smith-Kan said. “When they get up there it’s like they’ve competed before; they’ve been in front of adults and been judged before, so I think we’re good at rising to the occasion of something like this.”
This sense of competition was evident in the school-wide competition on January 13, when five students competed for a chance to represent the school at the regional level.
Sixth Former Jasir Plumer-Butler won the faculty judges over with his composed and passionate performance.
“It’s my way of expressing emotion”Jasir Plumber-butler
“It didn’t take me that long to memorize the poems, but it was stressful for me to get it all down and make sure I was delivering it the way I wanted to,” Plumer-Butler said. “In the end, I think it really just came down to my confidence and asking myself, ‘Can I do this? Am I able to deliver this poem the right way?’”
Plumer-Butler’s passion for poetry played a large role in his decision to compete.
“It’s my way of expressing emotion,” Plumer-Butler said. “Even if it’s not my own work, it’s still expressing emotion, and I think [writing] is a very important aspect of communication with everyone and yourself.”
According to Ms. Smith-Kan, having this personal connection to the words is the only way to succeed.
“This year, Jasir chose some cool and funky poems that he could also connect to,” Ms. Smith-Kan said. “I think that is a prerequisite and it definitely has been true for all of the kids who have won.”
Competing in the Poetry Out Loud Contest is bigger than a personal accomplishment. Competing can benefit the community in many ways.
“What I love about it as an English teacher is that rarely are we able to show what we do in an English classroom because people aren’t going to sit down and read your analytical essays. But they can see and hear this,” Ms. Smith-Kan said. “It’s a visible, tangible way of showing what we do in an English class.”
The contest also reveals talents that many students and faculty members might not be aware of.
“It’s showing a diversity of skills,” Ms. Smith-Kan said. “There have been kids over the years on stage who were total athletes and not known for their academic prowess and ended up doing really well. How cool is that, that you show yourself and others you can do something that you didn’t know you could do?”
Plumer-Butler echoed these beliefs and expressed a desire for the whole community to get involved in the contest and share their skills.
“It’s fun, and for other people, I’d say just it’s something new,” Plumer-Butler said. “Especially if you’re doing it with other people. It can be really fun to do with friends.”
Ms. Smith-Kan believes that getting out of your comfort zone is what makes competing worth it.
“If I had to do this in high school, it would terrify me because I don’t love speaking in front of people,” Ms. Smith Kan said. “I think that is the reason why everyone should do it. It’s such a good skill to be able to stand up in front of people and present something that you’re proud of.”
To Plumer-Butler, reading poetry is about more than just reciting words, and he stresses the importance of this art form.
“Poetry can be anything: thoughts, just a story, but it’s just really important that we have these outlets of communicating because they can help us display emotions to other people. They can help us figure out how we’re feeling,” Plumer-Butler said. “I think it’s good to have that outlet.”
Plumer-Butler carries his passion for poetry into regionals and hopes to stand out with his authenticity.
“I’m gonna just get up there and think, ‘Let me just do my thing’, you know?”