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Poetry Out Loud

Suzanne Dewey
Experiential Learning Via Public Speaking

For almost a decade, Holderness School has been participating in the national Poetry Out Loud recitation contest. Every year the students' passion for poetry builds and the recitations stick with us long after the contest is over.
The other day a colleague voiced a wish that she should have taken a public speaking course—or at least had more opportunities to practice. It seems in today’s world, the ability to present ideas is often a public endeavor. Short of taking that public speaking course or a theater class, where does such practice occur?
 
At Holderness, experiential learning comes in many forms.  Just this last week, the Poetry Out Loud finals answered the question of where does public speaking practice occur, at least at Holderness—in front of the entire school community, on a stage, and reciting poetry.
 
Eight students shared their poetic recitations for the community in the school’s final Poetry Out Loud competition. The winner will perform at a regional competition, and because Poetry Out Loud is a national program, state and national competitions follow.
 
The participation in this experience employed many other students beyond the eight finalists. Initiated nine years ago by English teacher and Dean of Academics Peter Durnan, English teachers hold class-level competitions. The students selected from each class then recite their poems in a semi-final round.  Pete Durnan states, “It is in the semi round where things really happen and you see amazing passion and great effort. Many kids surprise you with their recitations.  It’s really fun.”
 
For the final round, eight finalists present two poems in front of the gathered school community. The students select and memorize their poems from a Poetry Out Loud chosen canon. Four judges evaluate physical presence, voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness, evidence of understanding and overall performance.  An accuracy judge also scores the presentations.
 
Poems ranged from Jane Kenyon’s “Happiness,” to Nikki Giovanni’s “Mothers” and “Tarantulas on the Lifebuoy” by Thomas Lux.  A Poetry Out Loud edict advises that the presenter should be a “vessel for the poem” and over-dramatic presentations will suffer in scoring. There is a fine line between serving as a vessel while providing a powerful conveyance of meaning that incorporates irony, tone and other nuances. Certainly an excellent endeavor in public speaking: an interpretation that informs meaning, honors the poem, and captivates the audience.
 
While only the winner(s) will go on to the regional competition, all of the other participants walked away with greater self-knowledge, a presentation feather in their caps, and hands-on experience with developing and communicating a point of view—increasingly valuable skills for a fast-moving world. A teacher on the Poetry Out Loud website summarizes the competition’s import this way:
 
“The recitation of poems forces students to engage with the subtleties and
nuances of language.  I love that this program empowers young voices.”
 
Videos and photos saluting many of the students who participated in Poetry Out Loud can be found on our SmugMug site:
We also celebrate the finalists with their recitation videos:
 
There was a tie for first place with Perry and Eleni delivering excellent presentations. Next stop is the regional competition later this month in Lincoln, NH. Congratulations to all!
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Holderness School
33 Chapel Lane, Holderness NH, 03245
mail P.O Box 1879 Plymouth, NH 03264-1879
phone (603) 536-1257