It seemed silly at the time-the idea of reading someone else’s work to an audience. I knew as much about poetry as the average teenager. Not much. It was in my sophomore English class that an invitation to participate in Poetry Out Loud would come my way. How I worked up the courage to actually participate in it is still beyond me to this day.
Poetry Out Loud is a competition in which high school students are encouraged to memorize a poem and recite it. Competitors are graded on a couple of different aspects of recitation; appropriate dramaticness, correct recitation, annunciation, etc. The judges use a numerical grading sheet and the student with the highest score wins and then moves onto a higher state level competition outside of the high school.
For nights leading up to the day of recitation, I would practice in my bedroom reading this poem I grew incredibly sick of. I felt ridiculous, but as time went on, I understood the importance of the event more and more. Forcing myself to remember each and every word and choose how to best accentuate each word was an interesting challenge for myself. This showed me how words can come alive and what it takes to keep artforms like this alive. It also taught me a new perspective of understanding words on a page in a different light and getting more in the author’s head.
When the day finally came, it was much more intense than I had ever expected. The stage lights were blinding, I still felt sort of weird reading poetry in front of others, and for the time I was up there reading it felt as though I was in auto-pilot. The words were so natural to me at this point it felt mechanical or routined. I somehow placed in second, which was more than I could have ever really asked for. After this experience, I went on to continue reading at different events put on by the school or outside the school.
In retrospect, I am immensely grateful for this experience and the doors it would later open for me. As time went on, I grew more comfortable with the idea of recitation and reading my own work. Poetry has brought a new understanding of literature to my life and forced me to step out of my comfort zone in both a unique and fulfilling way.