At Poetry Out Loud, A Range of Voices, Walks, and Words

by 10th grader Aneli

Poetry Out Loud is an annual event where all Meridian students recite a poem for the whole community. And every year, this process begins with a choice. Some students decide on a poem that expresses something that they can relate to or something that they find particularly interesting. Some pick long, tongue-twisting poems for a challenge, while others pick the first poem that they see.

After picking their poems, students practice them in class, at home, on the train or bus, or anywhere they like. When the morning finally comes, the students, teachers, and parents flood into Parish Hall, taking their places in the metal folding chairs distributed throughout the space.

The audience is mostly made up of the performers themselves. They talk, laugh, and look around the room, filling it with a cloud of noise as they wait for the event to begin. When Catherine begins to walk up to the microphone, the cloud of noise din gets softer and softer, until she is met with complete silence. Catherine introduces the judges, who smile awkwardly toward the audience, and describes how to adjust the microphone for our wide range of heights. Many students are only half listening as they await their walk to the microphone, going over their poems in their heads.

Then, starting with the 6th and 7th grade students, the recitations begin. Everyone has a different way of walking to the microphone. Some walk slowly, hoping that time could follow the pace of their steps, while others walk faster than normal, sometimes tripping on a stray cord or wire. Others walk evenly, taking deep breaths. Everyone, at some point, gets to the microphone on the stand at the front of the room.

The styles in which they recite are no more similar than their walks: hurried, calm, strained, soft, and for some, almost too loud for the microphone. As each student recites, one can feel the depth of their understanding, the drawn out phrases, the tone of voice, and the carefully placed pauses that leave the audience hanging on tight to their last words. A recitation that I personally enjoyed was one that Theo Shapiro recited called “Domestic Situation” by Ernest Hilbert. When I was searching for a poem on the Poetry Out Loud website, I considered choosing that poem, because I think that it really captures the title—a life that many people in this world are living, which I think is important. The poem that I picked was called “To Myself” by a poet named Franz Wright, which also details everyday life.

Some students end their poem recitations with a “Thank you” to the audience, while others turn from the microphone and walk away, followed by the noise of clapping hands.