The Teachers and Writers Collaborative held one of the regional legs of their annual Poetry Out Loud competition at the Charles B. Wang Center Theater on Feb. 15 at 6 p.m..
Sponsored by both The National Endowment for the Arts and The Poetry Foundation, Poetry Out Loud is a contest that has encouraged students to learn established poetry through memorization and recitation. Regional participants are the winners of their classroom and subsequent school-wide competition. The winner of the state finals receives $200 and an all-expenses paid trip with an adult chaperone to compete in Washington D.C. for the national championship, as well as a $500 stipend for the winner’s school to spend on poetry books.
12 students from local high schools across Long Island competed for a chance to advance to the state finals. Each student was given two rounds to recite a chosen and rehearsed poem. The authors of these poems ranged from renowned poets like William Shakespeare to lesser knowns, such as Gary Soto. After two rounds, only five students from the group advanced to the final round, and two finalists were chosen to attend the state finals in Syracuse.
“My leg was shaking on stage, but once I got into it I relaxed,” Rebeca Oliveira, a senior at St. Francis Prep in Queens, said. “I really have a love affair with poetry.”
Oliveira said she hopes to attend Purchase College in Westchester County, NY, to study poetry and journalism.
As each student walked up to the center of the stage, four judges sat directly below, ready to rate the students on their performance. The judges made notes on each contestant based on criteria such as delivery, cadence and annunciation. At the end of each poem recital, the participant was greeted by support from their fellow competitors and family members.
“It was certainly an exhilarating experience, with the lights and seeing everybody’s faces in the audience,” Molly Schwartz, a junior at Jericho High School in Nassau County, said. “I think with the adrenaline, I kind of forgot what happened.”
At the end of the second round, the judges took a 10 minute break to decide the five finalists for the third round. During this break, the young competitors took a moment to calm their lingering stage fright and practice their final poem should they be chosen to perform in the third round.
Mutuhara Bhuiyan, a junior at Jericho High School, felt that once she reached the stage, “the words really did come out naturally.” Like the other contestants, she hoped to make the top five, but she said, “Whatever happens, I’m happy with my performance.”
The five finalists were Rebeca Oliveira, Mutuhara Bhuiyan, Tara Hauff, Isabella Benrubi, and Iree Mann.
After the final readings, every contestant proudly took the stage to receive a certificate acknowledging their achievement for their performances. Parents and friends gathered close to the stage to take pictures of the competitors. After pictures were taken, the judge announced the winners of the day — Benrubi, junior at the Knox School in St. James, NY, and Mann, a senior at Syosset High School in Nassau County.
Benrubi addressed her poetry to the audience with the fervor of a Shakespearean soliloquy. Mann commanded the stage with an Angela Bassett-like presence, swaying as the words flowed like honey.
“It was really nice being up there,” Mann said. “It felt great speaking to the audience.”
The state finals will be held on March 10 in Syracuse, and the national finals will be held on April 25 and 26 at George Washington University.