Calumet student to compete in Poetry Out Loud

Calumet High School 11th-grader Liisa Ylitalo will compete in the Poetry Out Loud state final against 19 other Michigan high school students next week in Lansing. (Houghton Daily Mining Gazette photo)

CALUMET — A Calumet student is heading to Lansing next week to compete in a state poetry competition.

Liisa Ylitalo, an 11th-grade student at Calumet High School, will join 19 other high-school students from across Michigan at the Poetry Out Loud finals on March 9.

The Michigan Humanities and the Michigan Arts and Culture Council partners with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, intended to help students learn about poetry.

Students are judged on their physical presence, voice and articulation, interpretation, evidence of understanding, overall performance and accuracy.

This is the third straight year Ylitalo has earned a trip to the state finals. But because she had other commitments the past two years, this will be her first trip to states.

“It’s pretty nice to be able to go on a trip to Lansing,” she said.

Ylitalo’s goal for the state competition is “not to mess up.”

Students pick three poems to perform before judges and an auditorium of spectators. The choices come from Poetry Out Loud’s anthology of more than 1,000 classic and contemporary poems. At least one must predate the 20th century, and one must be 25 lines or fewer.

When students sift through the collection, they can choose a randomized pool. Ylitalo chose the second option — looking through genres — to find poems she particularly connected with or found meaningful. One was W.S. Merwin’s “Good People.”

“It asks why people maybe don’t recognize pain in others,” she said. “I feel like I’m a very empathetic person, and it’s important to me to recognize that when it’s there.”

For the pre-20th century poem, Ylitalo picked Emily Dickinson’s “‘Hope’ is the Thing With Feathers,” which she liked for its sweetness and optimism. The shortest work was Edna St. Vincent Millay’s seven-line “Ebb,” which Ylitalo called “a cute little poem.”

Students must have the poems memorized. Ylitalo practiced by first reciting them in parts.

“They say not to memorize it line by line, because it can sound kind of choppy there,” she said. “Just repetition, writing it down, recording myself so I can see what it looks like.”

Through reciting the poems over and over, she finds their meaning; in turn, that shapes how she recites them.

“I don’t know exactly what the poem means until I’ve gotten familiar with it, so I just keep reciting until I understand more about it,” she said.

The competition has given Ylitalo a new appreciation for poetry.

“I didn’t realize that I could learn more meaning from poems than I initially saw or found,” she said. “I think that’s a very valuable thing to see beauty in things.”


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