Students from Missoula-area schools recited the works of poets including Stephen Crane, Maya Angelou and Brenda Cárdenas during a regional poetry competition held at the University of Montana University Center Theater on Friday.
Poetry Out Loud is a national competition that encourages students to learn about poetry through memorization and recitation. The competition starts at the classroom level with the opportunity for students to advance to a regional, state and national competition.
Fourteen students from Hellgate High School, Sentinel High School and Thompson Falls High School participated in the regional competition Friday, with six Missoula students qualifying for the state competition.
Students Claire Parsons, Karma May, Clara Hahn, Zach Wyland, Chase Knoyle and Chance Lockwood will all advance to the Poetry Out Loud Montana State Finals competition in Helena on March 2.
Parsons, a senior at Hellgate, took home first place in the regional competition after reciting “The Light of Stars” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and ['Often rebuked, yet always back returning'] by Emily Bronte.
“I had been doing more modern ones but I thought older ones would be more exciting and challenging with the language so I did both pre-20th century poems,” Parsons said, adding that she liked the themes of strength and nature that each poem contained.
Parsons is a veteran to the competition. She placed second in the 2017 Montana Poetry Out Loud competition and third in 2018.
She’s also an up-and-coming poet who recently finished her first book that’s currently being typeset.
“I had submitted some poems and one won first place in an anthology called New Montana Voices,” Parsons said. “The founder of that project offered to publish a book of my poetry.”
Writing and reciting poetry is second nature for Parsons, but for other students, Poetry Out Loud is an opportunity to gain an appreciation for poetry.
“Some students do it for the sheer experience of the public speaking pressure and then others like Claire are lifelong lovers of poetry,” said Monica Smith Grable, the arts education director for the Montana Arts Council.
Grable facilitated the five regional Poetry Out Loud competitions throughout Montana and helped select the 21 students who will come together to compete to be the state champion.
Grable said that in addition to introducing students to a variety of contemporary and historical poets, Poetry Out Loud helps students build confidence and develop public speaking skills.
The students took turns reciting poems they selected from an anthology containing more than 900 poems by more than 600 poets.
Emmaline Derry, a freshman at Hellgate, recited “Planetarium” by Adrienne Rich and “Sheltered Garden” by H.D., pausing to emphasize certain parts of each poem and raising and lowering her voice.
Derry said she chose the poem by Rich for its feminist theme and focus on Caroline Herschel, the first woman to receive recognition for her discoveries in the field of astronomy.
“I have been standing all my life in the direct path of a battery of signals the most accurately transmitted most untranslatable language in the universe,” Derry recited as she scanned the crowd. “I am a galactic cloud so deep so involuted that a light wave could take 15 years to travel through me.”
Derry maintained a strong stage presence throughout her performances despite it being her first year competing in Poetry Out Loud.
She performed alongside her friends and Hellgate classmates Rainy McRaw and Cara Wright, who were among a handful of freshmen trying their hand at the competition.
The three girls are among more than 3.6 million students who have participated in Poetry Out Loud since it was started in 2005.
Schools can participate in the program or obtain online curriculum materials such as the poetry anthology by contacting their state arts agency.