Poetry Out Loud teaches courage, literary reverence

The Southerner

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BY JASMINE BURNETT

Feet stopped shuffling and voices hushed as senior Khadijah Brown took the stage as the first participant of Grady’s annual Poetry Out Loud competition. Brown, who won the event, competed against eight other students on Feb. 13.
For the event, each student memorized and performed a work from the competition’s catalog of poems.
Grady librarian Lisa Taft organized the event.
“It’s something the [literature] teachers were doing before I got here,” Taft said. “I sort of stepped in and said, ‘Well if you want me to coordinate the school competition, I’m happy to do it.’ So each year I send out an email saying what’s going on.”
Taft said she believes Poetry Out Loud is a great program. She said the purpose of the program is to promote an appreciation for and an understanding of poetry.
“I feel like a lost component of literacy is listening and speaking and recitation,” Taft said. “ Just the spoken word is so beautiful, and it really comes alive, and I think it’s a great experience.”
Some literature teachers held classroom competitions before the schoolwide one and selected the best performer of each class period to advance to the next level.
Literature teacher Deedee Abbott chose sophomore Zoie Cushing to move on to the schoolwide event. Cushing said it wasn’t hard for her to prepare.
“I’m pretty good at memorizing stuff, so I don’t think it was very hard,” Cushing said.
She said she was more nervous to be judged on her performance than to perform in front of her peers.
“I didn’t know there were judges until today,” Cushing said on the day of the competition.
Seniors Brown and Jahra Gholston, sophomores Kyle Cobb and Zoie Cushing and freshmen Molly Gray, Billie Lavine, Karrington Moore, Caitlin Sims and Cailen Williams all competed in the event. The competition was judged by writing center coordinator Riki Bolster, writing center volunteer Salimah LaForce and Tosha Bussey, the youth services librarian at the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library. The three judges named Brown the winner of the event, advancing her to the district-level competition.
Brown, who recited “I’m a Fool to Love You” by Cornelius Eady, said she participated in the event for three years but never made it this far. She credited her involvement on the debate team for helping her prepare for Poetry Out Loud.
“The worst thing about this is being in front of people speaking,” Brown said. “That is the hardest thing to do, and I feel like when you do debate it gives you an outlet to become more confident and comfortable in front of people. So that kind of made this a little bit better.”
Brown said she is nervous for the districtwide performance.
“I’m very nervous, and on top of this I have to go to debate for state, and I don’t really have my piece for [Poetry Out Loud],” Brown said. “It’s going to be some hard work.”
Bolster, who has judged the competition for the past two years, said she believes those who participate in Poetry Out Loud gain a lot from the experience.
“They will gain confidence,” Bolster said. “They will learn about poetry [and] about understanding different styles of poetry. We had, what, five to six different styles of poetry out here? It was just from one end to the other fantastic.”
LaForce said she enjoyed being involved and hopes to continue her support of the program.
“This is the first time I’ve participated in this, and I love it,” LaForce said. “I love poetry, and after this experience I’d love to do it every year and maybe get involved in the district [level].”
Although the event only attracted a small audience, senior Tene Lewis attended and enjoyed watching the many poetry performances.
“It was really good,” Lewis said. “Each year it’s good, but it’s better when more people show up. It wasn’t like last year because last year people came to view the performance, [and] it wasn’t just [the] people performing.”
She also said the level of difficulty of the poetry didn’t seem as demanding.
“The people that were there [did] not necessarily [choose] the hardest poem,” Lewis said. “They just seemed like they chose it to pass. It wasn’t like they wanted to be there.”
She said she hopes the competition continues next year.
“I’m hoping Poetry Out Loud doesn’t die off with the seniors who performed this year,” Lewis said. “I hope it builds more excitement around it.”

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