The Hippo


May 31, 2020








New Hampshire Poetry Out Loud Final

Where: Statehouse, 107 N. Main St., Concord
When: Friday, March 13, at 5:30 p.m.
Details: Virginia Prescott will serve as master of ceremonies, and the top three semi-finalists from each competition will compete.

Say it out loud
Poetry competition moves on to state finals

By Kelly Sennott

The New Hampshire Institute of Art’s French Building auditorium was a flurry of activity during last week’s Poetry Out Loud semi-final.

Through the doors, parents and teachers trickled to their audience seats, while the 10 high school champions went to the stage for a sound check, and then to the green room — complete with water bottles, cough drops and refreshments — to psych themselves up to recite world-famous poetry.
It was one of four POL semi-final events in New Hampshire that week. School competition winners also competed at Jean’s Playhouse in Lincoln March 2, Southern New Hampshire University on March 5 and New England College on March 9, but the institute had really “rolled out the red carpet” for this year’s program, said Catherine O’Brian of the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts.
The college offered a renewable $10,000 scholarship for all high school winners/alternates who would go on to attend NHIA. The auditorium, decorated with letter-pressed poems, was dressed the part, and so were the students. Boys wore button-up shirts and slacks and girls sported skirts and heels. Between recitations, sister-brother team Liz and Dan Faiella played music while New Hampshire Public Radio’s Brady Carlson emceed.
Nationally, it’s Poetry Out Loud’s 10th anniversary, and it’s grown a great deal, both across the country and in New Hampshire; this year, about 10,000 students participated in 37 high schools by memorizing and performing work selected from the Poetry Out Loud anthology.
At the NHIA event, judges scored based on performance and accuracy. 
“We have a set of criteria we’re looking for,” said POL semi-final judge and New Hampshire poet S Stephanie. “We’ve all gone through all the poems several times ourselves. … A good recital of poetry not only gets all the words right, but also shows an understanding of the poem, and gets that across to the audience.”
Top three semi-finalists from each round move on to the 2015 Poetry Out Loud Championship at the Statehouse Friday, March 13, at 5:30 p.m., where Virginia Prescott, host of NHPR’s “Word of Mouth,” serves as master of ceremonies. That winner competes in the Poetry Out Loud national finals in D.C. at the end of April.
Some kids were nervous, while others, like Grace Roy of Dover High School, were calm and poised enough for interviews before the competition began. Roy got involved with the event through an English class assignment.
“We had an in-class competition first. I had a lot of fun with the whole process and I thought it would be fun to continue and go on to the school competition,” she said. 
She’d only learned her three poems — “There Are Birds Here” by Jamaal May, “Cartoon Physics, part 1” by Nick Flynn and “Echo” by Christina Rossetti — weeks before the event by practicing in front of the mirror and finding storylines throughout the works.
Teachers like the program because it helps kids develop important life skills. 
“It’s fantastic for public speaking skills,” said Anne Persechino, a teacher from Winnacunnet High School. 
Her student, Sarah Coffen, is a junior and old POL pro, having been named school champion the past two years. 
“[Students] usually experience a tremendous amount of anxiety but are so proud of themselves when they get it done,” Persechino said. “And they’re developing an appreciation for poetry. They’re picking out a poem that speaks to them and doing work with it to really understand what’s going on and what it means.”
Brei Famulari, a teacher at Spaulding High School, agreed. 
“We’ve had a vast array of different kinds of student champions, from scholar athletes to theater kids,” Famulari said. “I love the public speaking aspect. … Any job they’re going to have will require getting up to speak in front of people.”
Stephanie said she looks forward to POL every year.
“I think it’s one of the best programs in the state,” Stephanie said. “These guys are really fine. Some of them mess up, but God bless them for trying. I mean, when was the last time you tried to memorize a poem? You know? … [The enthusiasm] is one of the joys for me, because I’m a poet, and I’m excited that they’re excited, not only to be reading poetry themselves, but to be memorizing it and feeling that it’s a worthwhile thing to get involved in.” 
As seen in the March 12, 2015 issue of the Hippo.

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