On January 25, twenty-six Chamblee students participated in the tenth annual Poetry Out Loud contest. Junior Erin Kistenberg took the gold and will be advancing to the regional competition.
Poetry Out Loud is a national poetry recitation contest. It was founded in 2005 and since then has spread to all fifty states, Washington D.C., Puerto and the Virgin Islands.
Christine Holland started the Poetry Out Loud competitions at Chamblee in 2007. Each year, Holland reaches out to teachers in the English department about the competition and asks them to spread the word to their students. Teachers can send between five and ten students to the competition.
“People who are interested come see me for further information and perform in front of me for entrance into the contest,” said Holland. “They have to be able to memorize their poem and I have to make sure they picked it from the anthology on the website.”
After a student wins the school wide competition, they go to regionals, then state, and then nationals if they continue to win. The winner and runner-up at state can earn money for themselves and their school, and the winner will receive an all expense paid trip to Washington D.C. to compete in the national competition.
This year, reciters performed in the auditorium in front of their peers, other competitors, and a panel of three judges.
“I have judges that are professional poets and writers and they judge according to a rubric, with about six different categories, and when they judge there is no bias concern,” said Holland. “They don’t know [the students] personally. That’s why we don’t have teachers judging.”
To find judges, Holland contacted the Atlanta History Center and was given a person to contact. Through her initial contact, she was able to reach out to other professionals and generate a pool of personnel she can get in touch with each year.
Judges tally up the points and the competitor with the highest score wins. At this year’s competition, Kistenberg won first place, freshmen Keren Sahar won second, and sophomore Isabel Bradford won third.
Bradford was disappointed by the loss, but was happy she performed and placed.
“The people that did win were both really amazing, so I’m super glad they won,” said Bradford. “Mostly I was just happy to be there and just listen to everyone.”
Bradford was nervous and hoped she did not forget her poem, but she claims she did well and wants to perform next year.
“I really like poetry and reciting it, too, and putting feeling into my poems,” said Bradford. “I like how a ton of people can come together and say a poem and all just enjoy the art of poetry together.”
Sahar was also happy with winning second place.
“I was excited and I was happy because I had worked really hard to memorize [my poem] and understand it and it was really nice to see that hard work pay off,” said Sahar.
However, Sahar was frustrated because she did lose to Kistenberg by one point.
Sahar describes her experience as intense. She claims she got lost in the “powerful and passionate” words of the poem. She hopes to come back next year to relive the experience and earn a victory.
Kistenberg claims that when she competed, she did not think she would win.
“I honestly didn’t think I had a chance at winning once I’d seen everyone compete. Everyone did such an incredible job; I was completely blown away by the incredible poetry,” said Kistenberg. “When they announced first place and said my name, I was completely shocked. I didn’t think I had any chance at winning and I was just so happy at being given the opportunity to share a part of my soul with the world through art.”
Kistenberg competed because of a musical theatre requirement and her love of poetry. For her, performing in front of other is a nerve-wracking experience, but practice makes perfect.
“When I first got up on the stage, I was nervous, but once I got up and started, it felt like there was no audience, it was just me and the poem,” she said.
She says she is planning to participate next year because this year was a “great experience” and is looking forward to competing at the regional competition.