Annie Helmes, a junior, and Jessica Leff, a freshman, will represent John Jay High School at the regional level of the Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest at Purchase College on February 6, 2017.
Helmes and Leff are two of forty-four John Jay High School students who participated in the school’s Poetry Out Loud contest on January 10. Annie Helmes, a junior, received the highest score for her recitation of “Dear Reader,” by Rita Mae Reese. Jessica Leff, a freshman, had the second highest score for her recitation of “Personal” by Tony Hoagland.
This is the third year English teachers Chandler Lewis and Jeanetta Bryant have organized JJHS’s participation in the Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest. “It’s an exciting way for students to hone their public oration skills, and celebrate poetic language,” said Lewis.
Students select their poems from the Poetry Out Loud anthology of more than 800 poems ranging from William Shakespeare to Maya Angelou, and work on memorization, delivery, and enunciation in English class. Winners of classroom competitions move to the school-wide contest held in the high school auditorium—over two hours of vivid and passionate recitations in front of a panel of five judges and approximately one hundred peers at any given time.
This year’s judges were Moira-Jo Trachtenberg-Thielking, co-president of the Katonah Poetry Series; Gil Cass, recently retired administrator at JJHS; William Friedman, JJHS drama teacher, Lauren Carrigan, JJHS librarian and media specialist, and Matthew Knittel, Latin teacher at JJHS and appointed accuracy judge whose job was to read along with each poem and grade the presentations for precision.
“The accuracy of the recitations is astounding,” said Knittel.
“Each person gets up there and brings a poem to life,” said Trachtenberg-Thielking. “It’s really a challenge to be a judge.”
“What I like most about this event is seeing kids work together,” said Cass. “Even the students in the audience; the way they interplay. The exchanges are just wonderful. The work that goes into this is great for the brain and great for self-esteem. This is just wonderful stuff.”
Poetry Out Loud: National Recitation Contest is a partnership with the Teachers and Writers Collaborative, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Poetry Foundation that encourages high school students to learn about great poetry through memorization, performance, and competition. Beginning at the classroom level, winners advance to a school-wide competition, then to the regional competition, then state, and ultimately to the National Finals on April 25–26, 2017 in Washington, DC, where $50,000 in awards and school stipends will be distributed.
In the 2014-15 school year, Poetry Out Loud celebrated its tenth anniversary, reaching nearly 2.5 million students at more than 7300 schools nationwide in the past decade.