Poets of Franklin County: Students capture crowd with poems recited from memory

Mahar Regional students capture crowd with poems recited from memory

  • Mahar students Naomi Cope, Alivia Liberty, Hannah Birch, Levi Baruc, Cole Emery and Camden Mosher rocked the Wheeler Memorial Library in Orange Tuesday night with their recitations of poems from this year’s Poetry Out Loud competition. For the Recorder/Trish Crapo

For The Recorder
Published: 4/29/2016 6:02:27 PM

They got up one after the other and recited poems, channeling poets from a diverse canon that spanned over four centuries. They spoke using the contemporary vocabulary of poets such as Nick Flynn or Maya Angelou, the expansive cadences of Walt Whitman or W.E.B Du Bois, the romantic tones of Arthur Rimbaud, and the more arcane language of John Donne.

And they rocked it!

They were Levi Baruc, Hannah Birch, Naomi Cope, Cole Emery, Alivia Liberty and Camden Mosher, six of the nine Mahar Regional High School students involved in this year’s round of Poetry Out Loud, a competition that challenges students at high schools across the country to memorize and recite poems. Also invited to the schoolwide competition at Mahar were Jeanne Grutchfield, Merrideth Fontaine-Ehlen and Jamie Teele.

I’d written about some of the students before the Mahar competition, but I hadn’t had a chance to hear them recite. So it was a no-brainer that I’d make my way over to Orange for Tuesday night’s “Poetry Explosion!” at the Wheeler Memorial Library, sponsored by the Friends of the Orange Libraries and hosted by librarian (and poet) Candace Curran. The event, meant to honor National Poetry Month, kicked off with two rounds of Poetry Out Loud recitations followed by an open mic.

Each student brought his or her own individual sense of style to the podium and delivered strong renditions of challenging poems. English teacher and Poetry Out Loud adviser John Speek said that the level of Mahar’s competitors is consistently high and encourages poetry lovers to attend next year’s school-wide competition.

This spring, junior Levi Baruc of Orange won that competition, went on to regionals in Springfield, and on to the state competition in Boston. Baruc competed last year as well and says he can still remember all the poems he’s memorized.

“I have six or seven poems just chillin’,” Baruc said with a smile.

At the library, Baruc recited “The Song of the Smoke King” by W.E.B. Du Bois and Walt Whitman’s “A Noiseless Patient Spider.” His strong yet sensitive delivery of both poems showed why he advanced as far as he did.

Naomi Cope, also a junior from Orange, went to regionals last year and to states as a freshman in 2014. Cope recited Rita Mae Reese’s poem, “Dear Reader,” in which the narrator tells of being by the bed of a dying person, either as a professional nurse or — more likely — as a daughter who has taken on the task of nursing. As Cope recited a litany of things that the poem’s narrator wants the figure in the bed to remember — chair, book, daughter, soup — the library’s grandfather clock began to toll in increments that drove each word eerily home.

Cope also recited “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” by John Donne with a verbal fluency that brought strong emotion coursing through the unfamiliar grammar.

Afterwards, the students fielded questions from the audience.

“How did you learn pacing?” someone asked.

Alivia Liberty laughed. “I didn’t. I just sort of went for it,” she said, a method that seemed to have worked out just fine for her. Liberty recited “No Moon Floods the Memory of that Night” by Etheridge Knight and “Tamer and Hawk” by Thom Gunn with seeming ease and emotional honesty.

Camden Mosher, who chose wildly different poems in “The Ocean” by Nathaniel Hawthorne and “Cartoon Physics” by Nick Flynn, said he’d asked a teacher to read one of his poems aloud and also researched online to get a sense of how someone else would interpret it.

Speek said that he and his students talked a lot about not rushing their recitations but giving themselves and their audience enough time to absorb the thought conveyed in each line. Speek also worked with the students on “tone-mapping,” or assigning a nuanced emotion to each line, in order to help them to more deeply understand their poem and decide how to perform it.

Mike Mauri, poet and forester from South Deerfield who is spearheading a resurgence of an open mic at the Dejá Brew in Wendell next month, wanted to know whether there were any secret tricks for memorization.

Sophomore Cole Emory said that recording himself reciting the poem and then listening back had helped him. Hearing Emory recite Arthur Rimbaud’s “Novel,” a poem about love that begins with the line, “We aren’t serious when we’re seventeen …” was a reminder of the magic and power of poetry. Rimbaud’s poem, written in 1870, resonated as emotionally fresh today. Emory also recited “The Obligation to be Happy” by Linda Pastan.

Liberty said that one of her poems didn’t have much of a rhyme scheme, so she set it as her lock screen on her phone, an ingenious idea that made the reflexive habit of checking her phone more than just an idle pastime.

It was easier to memorize a poem if it rhymed, Mosher said, and others agreed.

But they also agreed with sophomore Hannah Birch, who recited “Beautiful Wreckage” by W.D. Ehrhart and Maya Angelou’s “Caged Bird,” bringing both passion and vulnerability to the lines.

Birch’s secret trick to memorization: “You just have to really love your poem.”

To learn more about Poetry Out Loud, visit: www.poetryoutloud.org

The upcoming open mic, with featured reader to be announced, is at the Dejá Brew in Wendell, Tuesday, May 10, 6:30 p.m. To learn more, contact: mikemaur@crocker.com or just show up!

Trish Crapo is a writer and photographer who lives in Leyden. Crapo is seeking published poets and writers for her column. She’s interested in books written by Franklin County poets and writers and/or published by a Franklin County press. She can be reached at: tcrapo@me.com


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