Saturday, February 14, 2015
A Poetical Evening
Last night (Friday) I walked up to Western Reserve Academy (where I taught: 1979-81, 2001-2011) to serve as one of the four judges in a poetry recitation contest--called Poetry Out Loud (a national contest for secondary school students--here's a link to more info). The English Department Chair, Matt Peterson, organized the event and invited me. I couldn't think of a way to say "No"--not to something like this. So ... there I was.
Fourteen young men and women had each memorized two poems (from a list provided by POL); here's a link to the list.
One judge did nothing but check for accuracy (points deducted for omissions, changes, etc.); the remaining three (including me) rated each contestant on Physical Appearance, Voice and Articulation, Dramatic Appropriateness, Level of Complexity, Evidence of Understanding, Overall Performance. We did not confer; we filled in our sheets, handed them to another person who tallied the scores.
I actually knew some of the poems--had memorized some of them myself--and so I greatly appreciated what those young men and women had accomplished. Yes, some of them froze now and then and stumbled (a prompter was there, too), but I could tell that all of them had put in quite a bit of time to reach the levels they did.
Who hasn't frozen in public?
One of my most memorable ... 1962 ... my senior class play at Hiram High School (Ever Since Eve), when one of the other performers gave me a cue from a couple of pages back (yes, I'm going to blame someone else!), and I just flat froze. Couldn't remember a damn thing. I walked over to the wings where a character was waiting to come on and told her to come on now! Which she did. Otherwise, I'd still be standing there rambling on about a bird cage, which is exactly what I did that night (and, yes, one was on the stage--I'm not completely daffy).
Anyway, the young folks who had a little trouble last night handled it with far more aplomb that I did (or would have), and the others were very supportive.
I was so impressed, as well, with the patent understanding every contestant exhibited. Although some were better thespians than others, even the quiet and relatively undemonstrative ones just nailed the sense of the verse. Had the poets been in the audience, they would have smiled with gratitude.
I've always loved seeing young people perform--putting themselves "out there" (as we used to say--do we still say it?). My career in public school (1966-1978, 1982-1997) was filled with play productions (I directed/co-directed over 30), and every one of them ended in tears. Mine. (And usually for sentimental rather than rueful reasons!)
And last night--once again--a roomful of young people moved me with their efforts, their accomplishments. Their caring.