More than just memorization
For nearly two months, Alexa Heald has been practicing for the Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest.
Even the night of Eagle River High’s competition Feb. 2, Heald repeatedly recited one of her poems during a seven-minute intermission. Tucked away in a corner of Eagle River’s library facing the wall, the sophomore rehearsed Dorothy Parker’s “Love Song.”
Her hard work paid off.
Heald won Eagle River’s seventh annual contest and will participate in the regional competition along with senior runner-up Laura Richardson at the Wilda Marston Theatre in Anchorage’s Loussac Library on Feb. 24. The winner will advance to the national finals in Washington, D.C., on May 13-15 for a chance to claim the $20,000 prize.
Poetry competitions require more work than simply committing words to memory, Heald said. A person needs to understand a poem to perform well, she said.
“It is more than just memorizing,” Heald said.
Eagle River High language arts teacher Clinton Holloway agreed.
“I don’t think you can fake the tone,” he said. “It really takes analysis and understanding to effectively bring it to life.”
Sophomore Mason Bennett said it’s important the reader selects a poem they’re connected to. Otherwise, it’s difficult to capture a poem’s emotion, he said.
“You have to pick a poem that really relates to you,” Bennett said.
Holloway, who’s run the event the past two years, said he tells his students that the poems they memorize in high school will become more significant over the years.
Reciting her two poems in front of the 10 other competitors and the audience was no easy task, Heald said.
“It’s very nerve-racking just to go up there,” she said. “Your whole body is shaking.”
The courage poetry recitation takes is not lost on Holloway.
“I could have never done this when I was their age,” he said.
Freshman Mackenzie Reitz said the second round was much easier than the first.
“After the first poem, you’re just so thrilled you got through it,” she said.
Anchorage School Board member Crystal Kennedy, ERHS principal (and former English department head) Marty Lang, Eagle River Rotarian Marc Balnius and Sgt. Alphonso Williams from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson served as judges.
Reciting a poem to judges hearing it for perhaps the first time is a huge challenge, Holloway said, especially because comprehending the printed words is difficult.
“It’s hard enough to just read it and understand it,” he said.
Though several weeks — if not months — of preparation is needed, the poetry contest is rewarding, Bennett said.
“It’s really satisfying when you have it down,” he said. “It’s an exhilarating experience.”
For Reitz, preparing for the competition wasn’t a painstaking process.
“It’s work, but if you enjoy it, it’s not work at all,” she said.
Reitz said participating in her first recitation contest didn’t disappoint.
“This was such an experience,” she said. “I will definitely be doing it again.”
Contact Mike Nesper at 694-2727 or firstname.lastname@example.org