BERLIN – Jacqueline Saldana took the Poetry Out Loud contest her English class was holding just seriously enough to win it, but once she did she tapped into an aspect of her personality that surprised even her.
So when she took the stage last week to win the right to represent Stephen Decatur High School in January’s countywide Poetry Out Loud competition she was prepared enough to project the kind of stage presence that overcomes even the occasional minor mistake.
Saldana, who is a junior, credited the help and coaching she got from her English teacher Dawn Russell in being able to improve her selection and presentation enough to take home top honors Thursday.
“She really helped my focus on the presentation and select a poem that helped channel my passion,” Saldana said. “She helped me in taking that step to making [the poem] your own.”
Saldana on the class competition reading “Love of My Flesh, Living Death” by Lorna Dee Cervantes and although she gave a vibrant reading of the short poem during the competition her pace was off a bit and, she said, the second, significantly longer “Insomnia” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti was the poem that put her over the top.
Although Saldana was really impressive in her reading, she knows that even the smallest mistakes can cost her dearly at the county competition and hopes to work to eliminate them.
“I have to work on being able to stay with the audience and not get distracted,” she said. “It’s about staying with the poem.”
Sarah Tull Wins Second Place
Second place winner Sarah Tull had the disadvantage of no English course in the first part of her senior year and had to self-prep for her performance. Tull took third place in last year’s Poetry Out Loud competition and resolved almost immediately to improve upon that finish this year.
“I wanted to do it again this year because last year was so much fun last year,” she said.
The poems she chose, “You charm’d me not with that fair face” by John Dryden and “Sadie and Maud” by Gwendolyn Brooks were chosen particularly with their relationship with her perceived ability to perform them in mind. Like Saldana, Tull had a very strong stage presence aside from the reading. But her purposeful intonations and obvious understanding of the text were certainly factors as well.
Choosing a poem that is complex enough to capture the imagination but not so complex that it loses the audience as her biggest challenge. Although she was able to place in the competition, she said it’s something she still needs an amount of work on.
“If I can’t understand it,” how can the audience?” she said. “I have to speak slower and demonstrate the depth; give people a chance to hear it.”
Poetry Out Loud is a national poetry recitation competition sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. Students from each participating school compete first against their classmates to represent the school at the county and then, ultimately, the national level.
The students select their poems from an approved list at poetryourloud.org, adding one poem for each level of competition. Since the readings are scaled based on difficulty as well as length, choosing the most difficult poem you can perform well is part of the strategy.
Both Saldana and Tull said they hadn’t yet chosen the third poem they’ll read at the county competition, the said their focus will be as much on performance as difficulty.