A Stellar Year for Poetry Out Loud

A Stellar Year for Poetry Out Loud
Suzanne Morrissey

Congratulations to Jade Hall ’22, Tyler Balint ’21, and Alison Ansorg ’21, who came in first, second, and third place, respectively, in Brewster’s 2021 Poetry Out Loud competition. Winners were announced at the February 9, 2021 morning All-School meeting. As the first place winner at Brewster, Hall will move on to the regional competition, with an opportunity to advance to the state and national competitions later this year!

Poetry Out Loud is a recitation program that encourages high school students across the United States to learn great poetry—both from the classic canon and from contemporary poets. Through selecting, learning, memorizing, and performing poems, students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about their literary heritage. Brewster’s eight reciters joined the approximately 365,000 students who participate each year in the U.S.

In New Hampshire, the Poetry Out Loud program, which is funded by The Poetry Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts, any high school—public, private, parochial, or home school groups—is invited to participate at no charge. 

The Brewster Event
After selecting two poems each, Brewster’s Poetry Out Loud participants (Alison Ansorg ’21, Tyler Balint ’21, Jade Hall ’22, Chrissi Pappas ’24, Jaila Richard ’22, Molly Ryan ’24, Zoe Schwartz ’23, and Hannah Yang ’23) studied the meanings and nuances of their chosen pieces, and worked with their teachers to craft their best recitation on video. During Brewster’s All-School meeting, the community viewed these recitations, which are intended to incorporate the dynamic aspects of slam poetry, spoken word, contextual analysis, and even a little theater. The judges panel (Dolph Clinton, Alicia Wingard, Suzanne Morrissey, Alica Childers, Sarah Jeanne Shimer, Cailey Mastrangelo, and Melissa Lawlor) represented a cross section from multiple academic departments and the communications staff. They were tasked with evaluating each recitation on physical presence, voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness, evidence of understanding, and overall performance. Mastrangelo, a member of the world languages faculty, said she was most impressed by the students’ abilities to perform their poems and express such strong emotion virtually. “I still got chills even after watching some of the recordings the first time!” she added.

“There are so many valuable learning experiences at work in this program,” said English faculty member Jen Dumont, who was one of this year’s lead organizers for Brewster. “They are learning presentation and public speaking skills as well as a little bit about performing, though it’s important to note that these are recitations, not performances.” Dumont said she and her English Department colleagues invest time in Poetry Out Loud because it helps their students learn more about poetry as a living, breathing art. “They often learn about the poet themselves, or the time period in which the poem was written,” she added. “They often gravitate toward the poems that reflect their personalities, which is really cool.”

And this year, a certain “Gorman Effect” was in play. “Amanda Gorman’s recitation of her poem, which she of course composed herself, at President Biden's inauguration, was very inspiring this year,” Dumont said. “Many teachers used her poem in their classes, and not just for Poetry Out Loud. This gave the students a real-world example of poetry at work. It was wonderful to be able to show them how poetry is still a living and vibrant art that can take center stage in our history, our culture, and even in our daily lives.”

During a break in the recitations during the All-School meeting, moderator Bret Barnett (who merrily interspersed the recitation videos with “Dad jokes” that earned chuckling groans and good-natured grins!) introduced Frank Wang ’23 from Beijing and Assa Yann Ferell ’22 from Mount Vernon, N.Y. as part of a celebration of Global Poetry. “There are a number of students in our midst who speak two, three, four, and even five languages,” Barnett said, noting that it is important to showcase poetry in other languages and not just reflect on English poetry. Wang then recited his inspirational original piece, “Never Give Up,” in English and Mandarin. In French, Ferell recited “Le Corbeau et le renard” (“The Crow and the Fox”), a poem by Jean de La Fontaine.

Barnett closed the event by announcing the first, second, and third place awards, saying he was very proud of Jade for going on to represent Brewster Academy at the regional level, adding that he thought this was one of the best years for Poetry Out Loud that he has seen.

Building Community
After the meeting, Dumont noted that all Bobcats benefit from this school-wide competition: “Every student in the school has participated in the competition through their English classes, so they know what the presenter is going through as they are speaking, because they have experienced it themselves. I hope that they can better recognize the qualities of a moving recitation having experienced trying to do that themselves.” She added that through this work, the English team hopes to not only engender an appreciation of good poetry, but also to build community and camaraderie through that shared experience. “They root each other on,” she said, “because they have been through the same nervousness and awkwardness.”

And speaking of rooting each other on, Dumont made sure to point out that the Poetry Out Loud program is successful through the combined efforts of all members of the English Department. “Collaboration is the key to success at Brewster, and this has been true for Poetry Out Loud as well!” she said, thanking her fellow English teachers, especially Sarah Hunt who was instrumental in pulling together the final show, and the judges who carefully considered each entry. 

You Can Experience Brewster’s Poetry Out Loud
If you’d like to read the poems that all our student participants recited this year, please click on the links below. And if you’d like to view the All-School video that featured each of the recitations, please see the video below. 

Team Cooper Class of 2024
Molly Ryan: I Felt a Funeral in My Brain by Emily Dickinson and Dead Butterfly by Ellen Bass
Chrissi Pappas: The Albatross by Kate Bass and A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky by Lewis Carroll

Team Cornwell Class of 2023
Hannah Yang: Hedgehog by Paul Muldoon and You, If No One Else by Tino Villanueva

Team Martin Class of 2021
Tyler Balint: Who Burns for the Perfection of Paper by Martín Espada and 300 Goats by Naomi Shibab Nye 

Team Palmer Class of 2022
Jaila Richard: The Secret Garden by Rita Dove and Apollo by Elizabeth Alexander

Team Skelley Class of 2021
Alison Ansorg: Enough by Suzanne  Buffam and Fairy-tale Logic by A.E. Stallings

Team Thomas Class of 2022
Jade Hall: Fairy Tale with Laryngitis and Resignation Letter by Jehanne Dubrow and The Card Tables by Jericho Brown

Team Wingard Class of 2023
Zoe Schwartz: Helen by H.D. and The Dream Play by Derek Mahon



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