Jillian McDonald performs as Tate Aldrich hosts Poetry Out Loud at the Wayfarer Coffee Roasters. (Michael Kitch/Laconia Daily Sun)
By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Students, parents and teachers filled Wayfarer Coffee Roasters on Thursday evening to listen as nine young women from Laconia High School recited poetry for the Poetry Out Loud competition.
"It was beautiful," said Tate Aldrich, head of the English Department and New Hampshire Teacher of the Year, who added "I'm so proud of what we accomplished tonight, to see so many people gathered here to enjoy this event."
Now in its 13th year, Poetry Out Loud encourages high school students to appreciate fine poetry by performing it in a competitive setting. The students selected two poems from a prescribed anthology of more than 900 poems written by more than 500 poets ranging from Queen Elizabeth I, John Donne and Edmund Spencer through John Keats, Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley to more contemporary and familiar poets like Donald Hall, Jane Kenyon and Charles Simic, all three from New Hampshire. They recite their choice before an audience and panel of judges, who score them on the presence, voice, drama and understanding they bring to their performance as well as the accuracy of their recitation.
Nine seniors — Allyssa Miner, Morgan Gammons, Nikki Fain, Colleen O'Brien, Gabrijela (Gabby) Djuric, Emily Baird, Jillian McDonald, Gladiana Spitz and Kate Persson —stepped onto the windowsill stage before a black curtain garlanded with lights for two rounds of recitations. The crowd fell silent as each young woman recited, then burst into applause when they closed. Recitations ranged in length from "Immortal Sails," a sonnet of 14 lines by Alfred Noyes, to the 39 lines of heroic couplets of William Butler Yeats's "Adam's Curse," both recited by Gabby Djuric.
Likewise, each poem bore a mood, captured by the performances. Dennis O'Driscoll's "Tomorrow," slowly and gently recited by Emily Baird, cautions against foregoing the rewards of the present for the hopes of the future. "Numbers" by Mary Cornish, recited by Jillian McDonald, whimsically translates the abstract results of mathematical functions into real things like fish, sparrows and fortune cookies. Kate Persson's bold rendering expressed the passion of Maya Angelou's "Kin," her remembrance of her brother.
The students posed a challenging task for the judges — Pat Kelly of WLNH, Randy Brough of the Laconia Public Library, Shannon Siegler of Laconia Middle School and Eric Adams of the Laconia Police Department. When the scores were tallied, Colleen O'Brien was the winner. O'Brien recited "The New Colossus," written by Emma Lazarus in 1883 to raise funds to construct the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty, where her poem is engraved on a bronze plaque, and "Happiness," by the late Jane Kenyon of Wilmot, New Hampshire, which closed by remarking that happiness comes even "to the wineglass, weary of holding wine."
Surrounded by her fellow competitors, O'Brien said she doesn't really know how she became interested in poetry. "In my creative writing class I never felt I was any good at writing poetry," she said.
O'Brien most enjoyed writing short stories about real life. She said she developed a greater appreciation for poetry as a senior and decided to enter the competition. A member of the high school band, she said that she intends to prepare for a career in music education after graduation.
O'Brien will represent Laconia High School in the regional competition in Lincoln next month and, if successful, will proceed to the state finals at the State House in Concord in March, which will be followed by the national championship in Washington in April.
Aldrich was thrilled by the success of the event and credited Angel Burke, academic coordinator of teaching and learning at the high school, for her role in arranging it. "This is a first," he said, "and I'm excited about seeing it continue."