Students earn slots in recent poetry slam

Peet freshman Hannah Batterson earned state spot in the Poetry Out Loud competition on Dec. 8.

Sixteen student poets filled the Hearst Center for the Arts in Cedar Falls on Dec. 8 for the Poetry Out Loud competition. Ten of the 16 students at the competition were either from the Cedar Falls High School, Holmes or Peet Junior High. Only one person from each school could go to State., and this year Peet freshman Ella Hertz and Leah Takes both received state runners-up. Peet freshman Hannah Batterson is going to state. 

Several years ago, Cedar Falls’ junior highs and the high school participated in the competition,  then for a while participation fell, but just last year they picked the competition up again and are now sending people to State. 

Hertz was encouraged to join the competition by her school librarian Abby Hendrickson. “I did an enrichment with my friend on black out poetry, and I organized that, and the teacher was like, ‘Oh, these girls are into poetry.’ There were posters around the school, but we didn’t really pay attention to that,” Hertz said. “The librarian Mrs. Hendrickson came up to us and was like, ‘Do you want to do poetry out loud?’ She told us to think about it, and we came back and said, ‘Yeah, we’ll do it.’”

Hertz recited the poems, including “How to Triumph Like a Girl.”

This was sophomore Leah Takes’ second time participating in this competition. Last year she was the district representative and went to State, and this year she was state runner up. Takes also plans on participating next year. 

“Reading these poems and getting to read them in front of a crowd and getting to capture everyone’s attention, it’s just a feeling I can’t really explain to just have everyone’s attention on you and they’re really listening to what you say, and you can just say it however you want, get your message across, and just kind of blow them away, I guess,” she said. 

Poetry Out Loud is a nationwide poetry recitation competition that encourages high school students to improve analytical skills through reading and interpretation of a variety of poems, and creates lifelong lovers of creative literature.

For this competition, students are asked to prepare two poems, one poem from before the 19th century and one that is 25 lines or less. At the competition there are two rounds, and students perform one poem for each.

The Poetry Out Loud competition does not stop at the Hearst Center for the Arts. It continues to a state and national level, and the winner of the national level receives $20,000.

Hertz said she had a lot of fun this year and she’ll do the competition next year. “It’s more like just being able to see that there are other people out there who enjoy what I like,” she said. “I was in a community of other people and they were really encouraging.”  

Takes’ inspiration to start exploring poetry was from her family. “My dad always turns me toward books he thinks I might find interesting. Sometimes they’re poetry books; sometimes they’re not. My sister has always been into poetry as well, so she has introduced me to some books she has really liked. My mom has always encouraged me to not be afraid to stand in front of a crowd and speak,” she said.”

Holmes English teacher Leesa Talbot inspired Takes to do this competition. “Memorizing poems is always beneficial; it trains the brain for more memorizing, plus it’s a powerful way to understand language and build confidence,” she said. “It’s a great test of the nerves; if you can recite a memorized poem with good eye contact and expression in front of a group of strangers—you can do anything. A District and/or a State win looks nice on a college resume, shows that you are well-rounded and into the arts.”

Although Takes’ has had practice participating in the competition, she still gets nervous as well, but embraces her nerves. “I would say I feel nervous. When you’re up there everyone is looking at you. It’s just complete silence until you start talking, but a lot of times I try to use my nerves to give myself energy when I’m up there and give myself confidence,” she said.  

Holmes freshman Joe Kangas also participated in this competition. He said practicing is one of the most important aspects. “Practice. Practice. Practice. So many points are taken off if you need help in your poems,” he said. 

Kangas said this competition interests him because he is “able to recite poetry that hasn’t been heard or has been but not in a while.” 

Reading someone else’s work requires work, but Takes’ advises poets to be themselves on the stage. “Make sure you don’t read your poems like you’re trying to be someone else. Read it like you’re you reading it to someone you know really well. Just don’t become a character,” she said. 

As a teacher, Talbot said her favorite part of the experience is watching students experience the thrill of the competition. “Natural adrenaline pushes the students’ good  performances into the realm of exceptional performances,” she said. “Poetry is magical; a well-interpreted poem can be breath-taking.”

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