Recitations focus of high school competition

Roxy Sprowl, center, a freshman at Marquette Senior High School, is the winner of this year’s Poetry Out Loud competition. Sophomore Rebecca Yates, left, finished third, while senior Rebecca McNamee placed second. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — Standing in a spotlight and reciting a poem from memory in front of your peers is daunting enough.

Try doing that in front of judges as well.

However, eight brave Marquette Senior High School students did just that in Wednesday’s Poetry Out Loud competition, with freshman Roxy Sprowl coming out on top.

She was positively giddy afterward.

“Really excited,” Sprowl said of winning. “I didn’t really think I was going to at first, before I came into it, because I watched so many videos of other people doing it, and I was like, ‘Gotta step up my game.’ So then I practiced really hard and I wrote down my poems everywhere.”

Poetry Out Loud, according its website, poetryoutloud.org, encourages students to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation. The program helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence and learn about literary history and contemporary life.

Since 2005, Poetry Out Loud has reached more than 3 million students and 50,000 teachers from 10,000 schools in every state; Washington, D.C.; the U.S. Virgin Islands; and Puerto Rico.

Coordinating the event this year at MSHS was Melissa Beckman, who teaches sophomore English.

Diction skills and poetry comprehension are important, of course, but so is simply getting up in front of a crowd and reciting words that deal with topics like a person’s bleeding heart — figuratively speaking — or the “bliss of solitude.”

High schoolers might not have the life experiences to fully understand the meaning of their poems, but the Poetry Out Loud competition might help them grasp these literary complexities as they mature.

“I believe anyone can be enriched by poetry,” Beckman said. “However, it helps them memorize things later in life.”

Eight contestants took part in two rounds of competition, with language arts instructor Eric Hammerstrom acting as prompter.

Fortunately, it was infrequent when a competitor needed a prompt — or clue to the next line — and each poem was met with applause from a supportive student audience.

Poems like “Fire and Ice” by Robert Frost and “Candles” by Carl Dennis were recited by the contestants, with pauses, facial expressions and gestures adding to their performances.

Hammerstrom said the competition is his favorite event of the school year.

“It’s about becoming the poem, really,” Hammerstrom said.

The judges were Thomas Hyslop, retired English professor at Northern Michigan University; Russell Thorburn, former Upper Peninsula Poet Laureate; and Matt Hoffman of MSHS’s English Learning Center.

Competitors were judged on performance as well as accuracy — being true to the text, Hammerstrom said.

Taking second place Wednesday was Rebecca McNamee, a senior who won the 2016 contest. Sophomore Rebecca Yates finished third.

The event was sponsored by the Poetry Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Michigan Humanities Council.

Sprowl advances to the state finals in Lansing in March. The national competition takes place in April in Washington, D.C., where the winner will be awarded with a $20,000 college scholarship.

“It’s a big deal,” Hammerstrom said. “There’s a lot of support for this.”

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal .net.