Four GSB Upper Schoolers competed in the national Poetry Out Loud competition on Thursday, January 5, to master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and dig deeper into literary history.
Sophia Mariano ’23, Gabby Schmidt ’25, Mary Young ’25, and Erin Crickenberger ’26 joined faculty advisor Mr. Brendan Flanagan in the PACC to perform a series of classical and contemporary works spanning from Robert Frost and D.H. Lawrence to Jamaal May and Rita Dove. The competition consisted of three rounds in which each student’s recitations were assessed on a series of criteria that included memorization, voice, body language, and dramatic performance.
As a national education program, Poetry Out Loud encourages the study of great poetry by offering free educational materials and a dynamic recitation competition for high schoolers across the country. Poetry Out Loud is a partnership of the National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Foundation and the state art agencies. Since 2005, Poetry Out Loud has grown to reach more than 4.1 million students and 68,000 teachers from 17,000 schools and organizations in every state, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
While this was the first year Gill had participated in the Poetry Out Loud competition, Mr. Flanagan believed the event was an enormous success thanks to the dedication each student put into their recitation.
“There's always a certain level of nerves with a new program, but the event itself went very smoothly,” said Mr. Flanagan.
“Poetry Out Loud connects to all five of our core values at Gill St. Bernard’s. The performances obviously require students to hold themselves to a high standard of excellence, but the students also show incredible integrity towards the work of their chosen poet and the interpretation of that work.
Although it is an individual competition, we train as a team with each reciter having prepared in front of the entire club and having delivered a recitation in front of the entire school during Assemblies. Through this, students learn to respect each other as competitors and teammates, and they show compassion toward each other, celebrating each other's triumphs as well as setbacks.
Most importantly, it takes serious courage to recite in Poetry Out Loud. These students chose to memorize and interpret three poems each and to deliver them publicly, conquering a fear—public speaking—consistently ranked as one of the biggest terrors among adult Americans.
Their bravery is exemplary and is a testament to how GSB engenders the core value of courage in its students.”
After the three rounds of competition had ended, students rejoined the stage at which point Sophia was crowned this year’s school champion. As the winner, Sophia will compete in the Regional Competition on February 15 at the Mayo Performing Arts Center against fellow local champions from Hunterdon, Morris, Somerset, Sussex, and Warren Counties. The competition continues in the State Finals in March followed by the National Championships held in Washington, D.C., on May 8-10.
“Competing in Poetry Out Loud was exciting, if incredibly nerve wracking,” commented Sophia.
“I mostly prepared by practicing and asking Mr. Flanagan and others for advice to make my performance even better. Memorization was probably the hardest part of practicing and the thing I was most concerned about for the performance. I'm so excited—if nervous—to compete in the regionals and to make my performances even better. I hope I'm able to do the best I can.”