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Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016 12:11 am

The sweet flow of Poetry Out Loud

Local high school student places first in regional poetry contest

Mariah Brooks. Photo by William Richards.
Troy Roark is amazed at how much talent is “hiding” in local schools.

Roark, Springfield Area Arts Council board president, is referring to the group of 17 high school students who competed in the regional Poetry Out Loud contest on Feb. 10, demonstrating their ability to recite poems concisely, but with flare.

Mariah Brooks, a junior at Southeast High School in Springfield, and Aleeya Reed, a sophomore at Eisenhower High School in Decatur, won the central Illinois regional competitions last week. These young women will move on to compete statewide in March at the Hoogland Center for the Arts in Springfield, with the opportunity to compete at the national level in May in Washington, D.C.

Poetry Out Loud is a national recitation competition that allows high school students all across the United States to fulfill their interest in poetry and spoken word. In Illinois, there are a total of eight regions.

This year, there were nine participating schools and approximately 1,400 students in the central Illinois region vying for the regional championship. The central Illinois contest was hosted by the Springfield Area Arts Council in conjunction with the Illinois Arts Council Agency.

There were two rounds of recitation with 35-second intervals for judges to take score. Saxophonist and flutist Virgil Rhodes filled the time between recitations with music.

After the first round, Illinois Times spoke with students about why they got involved in the competition.

Mariah Brooks, this year’s regional first place winner, said she started competing during her freshman year.

“To me, this is a form of expression and this is an opportunity for me to continue to grow and recite poems that have deeper meanings than what you may hear on the surface,” she said.

The evaluation criteria are based on physical appearance, voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness, evidence of understanding, accuracy and overall performance.

Poetry Out Loud provides a curriculum for teachers who want to get their students involved. Two major components of the curriculum are the poem anthology and the judging criterion.

The poem anthology, a collection of poems pre-approved by Poetry Out Loud administrators, is where students go to select the poems they want to recite at any level throughout the competition. There are two rounds, so students typically learn three poems in case their top choices are not available.

Adam Reed, a senior at Lutheran High School, says he chose the poem “The Lamb,” by William Blake, because “it kind of reminds you how the innocence of a child can inspire everyone when need be.”

Prior to reaching the regional competition, first- and second-place winners are selected by teachers and administrators who acted as judges.

“The same criteria is used at classroom contests as is used at the national level, and it is thorough and fair,” says Sheila Walk, program assistant to the Springfield Area Arts Council.

Jenna Dietrich, a sophomore at Eureka High School near Peoria, said the competition is a great opportunity to practice public speaking.

“It helps me to get out of my little box,” she said.

Contact Brittany Hilderbrand at intern@illinoistimes.com.

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