Nine high school students from Columbia, Jefferson City, Boonville and Osage Beach competed in this year’s central Missouri regional Poetry Out Loud competition at the Daniel Boone Regional Library last week.
Hickman High School student Shakira Cross recited the poem “Grief” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning as she gestures freely with her hands and arms.
Her words flowed smoothly and expressively, with perfectly timed pauses and calculated emphasis.
“I love hearing poetry, and I write my own poetry as well. So I thought it would just be different if I recited someone else's poetry,” Cross said.
Poetry Out Loud started as a national competition in 2006. High schools host their own competitions, then the winners’ moves on to regionals, state and finally a national competition at the end of April in Washington D.C. The program was started to encourage students to study poetry, as well as practice public speaking and build self-confidence.
Senior Rachel Briner from Columbia Independent School and one of the competitors said many of her peers struggle with public speaking.
“It's good to be able to get a taste of public speaking,” Briner said. “You're going to have to do that in college, you're going to have to do that in your job, whether it's speaking to somebody or whether it's getting up and giving a presentation. So performing poetry is a good opportunity to at least try that out and to get that practice in.”
And her mother, Jennifer Briner agrees. She said she supports Rachel’s participation in the competition because it helps her daughter build self-confidence.
“Something that's really important for our family is that our kids feel comfortable in their skin and that they can present themselves well,” Briner said. “I think that this is a great place and opportunity for her to carry herself in all situations with variety of people and atmospheres.”
Regional Coordinator for the competition Sarah Dresser said Poetry Out Loud also provides teachers with another opportunity to incorporate poetry into their curriculum.
“So they get an opportunity to explore what they might connect with poetry and also there's the element of performance and memorization and getting up there and reciting it,” Dresser said. “So not just studying the poems, but being able to recite and perform them from memory kind of in the original intent in which poems were meant to be experienced.”
Rock Bridge High School student Neil Cathro who recited ‘Novel’ by Arthur Rimbaud won the Central regional competition.
“I'm so excited. I did not think that I would win,” Cathro said. “Everyone else was so good. It was just really cool to win.”
Cathro said he’s excited to move on to the state competition in March.