MARQUETTE - Marquette Senior High School's Shirley Smith Little Theatre resounded with measure and verse Thursday afternoon, as several students competed in the national recitation contest Poetry Out Loud.
The contest - sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation - has been organized at a national level since 2006, and MSHS competed for the first time this year. Five other Upper Peninsula contests were also held, including in Gwinn and Houghton.
Beginning in local classrooms, one winner from each participating school heads to state competitions, the winner of which competes nationally.
Emma Gregory recites “The Light the Dead See” by Frank Stanford during the Poetry Out Loud competition at Marquette Senior High School. Gregory placed first and won the chance to compete at the state level in Saginaw. (Journal photo by Jackie Stark)
A total of 365,000 students competed in last year's Poetry Out Loud competition and more than $50,000 in awards and school stipends were awarded.
Northern Michigan University English professors Tom Hyslop and Beverly Matherne both judged the 13 competitors, as did NMU graduate student Zarah Moeggenberg.
After a brief introduction offered by MSHS English teacher Eric Hammerstrom, MSHS students stood on stage, bathed in a bright spotlight, and recited poems on love, solitude, even the childish wisdom found in cartoons. At times the poems were loud and forceful, commanding attention. At times the audience leaned forward in their seats, hanging on every last word.
Between performances, some students clapped and cheered while others snapped their fingers in a more beatnik way of congratulating their friends and classmates.
After an hour and a half of poetry recitations, Emma Gregory came out on top, with performances of "A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky" by Lewis Carroll and "The Light the Dead See" by Frank Stanford. Gregory won the chance to compete March 9-10 at Saginaw Valley State University in the Michigan State Poetry Out Loud Championship, which is sponsored by the Michigan Humanities Council.
MSHS students Kelly Sprouse and David Bashaw ranked second and third respectively.
Sprouse, a 16-year-old junior, said she didn't feel nervous at all standing in front of the nearly full theatre. A veteran of public speaking competitions, Sprouse knows when she's done well.
"It's a good performance when you walk off that stage and you can't remember what just happened," she said.
Sprouse performed "Actaeon" by A. E. Stallings, a poem she said appealed to her love of classical poetry and "Cartoon Physics, part 1" by Nick Flynn, which caught her eye for a different reason.
"I'm a bit of a physics nerd," she said.
Hammerstrom and fellow MSHS English teachers Joe Wahlman and Kim Parlato organized the competition.
Hammerstrom said he saw Poetry Out Loud as a way to make poetry a little cooler for the students of MSHS.
"People who don't get it think a picture paints 1,000 words, but we all know that a poem paints 1,000 pictures," he said at the end of the competition.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.