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Speaking up for poetry

Mar 28, 2018 02:12PM ● Published by J. Chambless

(Photo by Joe del Tufo) Back row: Andrew Dingwall, Melina Hudson, Dounya Ramadan, Avery Chambers, Matthew Byer, Tyler Keeler. Front row: Chelsea Anokye-Agyei, Julian Clark, Giovani Malcolm, First Lady Tracey Quillen Carney, Richard Matthews, Whitney Grinnage-Cassidy, Samuel McGarvey.

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

In late February, 12 finalists from across Delaware took part in the Poetry Out Loud State Competition in Dover. Julian Clark, a freshman at Middletown High School, was one of the 2018 finalists, and while he didn't go on to the National Finals to be held April 24 and 25 in Washington, Clark said he has learned a lot about the art of poetry from taking part in the competition, which is sponsored by the Delaware Division of the Arts. Other sponsors are the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation.

The competition encourages high-school students to learn about poetry through memorization, performance and competition. Competition begins in classrooms each fall, and culminates with the state finals each spring. More than 20 schools and 2,000 Delaware students participated in the Poetry Out Loud program this year.

In many ways, Poetry Out Loud grows out of a long tradition of memorization and recitation of poetry that was part of classroom learning beginning in the earliest days of America. For Clark, the experience of being on stage is nothing new, and he's naturally drawn to performing. While this year's Delaware winner is Samuel McGarvey from Tall Oaks Classical School, Clark plans to be back next year for the 2019 Poetry Out Loud competition.

In a recent interview, Clark looked back at the experience.


Q.: Do you have prior stage or acting experience to prepare you for this kind of public recitation?

A.: I have been acting for about eight years, and have been a part of 40-plus productions in various musicals and plays.


Poetry recitation is a very old educational tool. It's interesting that it's come back in this way. How did you find out about Poetry Out Loud?

Our school has a thespian society, which is where I heard about it. I found it intriguing and thought I should audition.


What's involved in being part of the program?

I had to pick three poems from their website, which contained thousands of poems. There were many categories, and I had to have three. I ended up picking a pre-20th century poem, a free choice, and a 25 lines or fewer poem. I worked every day at lunch with my teacher, Ms. Chas, and worked with my English teacher, Mrs. Myers.


Did it start out as a branch of your English classes? Who got you signed up to take part?

It was our drama teacher, Ms.Chas. No part of it was an English class, though I wish there was more like this for English.


What was the hardest part of preparing? How did you choose which poems you would recite?

The hardest part was getting every word down, as well as continuing the recitation to end of the phrase, not to the end of the line. I choose ones that spoke to me, ones I could present with a deep emotional understanding.


Is poetry under-represented in English classes in general?

I feel that English classes try to represent, but many fail to see what poetry really can be. It’s not just words that rhyme, it’s much more.


Do you write your own poetry or fiction? If so, what kind?

I have written a couple of short, one-act shows, and I used to write poetry. Now, when I look back on them, I can’t help but cringe! I haven’t currently worked on anything I would like presented. I am quite busy doing some other shows, including “Into the Woods” at the Everett Theatre, and “Evita” for Delaware All State Theatre.


What has this experience taught you about presenting yourself in public? Or about poetry?

I’ve noticed I have to put energy into my words, and into my diction, which was quite different for me. It was hard to put all my energy somewhere and all I could do is stand in place. I’m not used to that.


Will you continue with this program next year?

Oh of course I will! I had so much fun! I’m currently a freshman, so I’m hoping for this experience every year!


Do you have plans to do theater or public speaking later in life?

I plan on being an actor, whether on stage or on a film set, whatever I find first!


Where do you live?

I live in Smyrna. I have four sisters, one brother, and I wouldn’t be able to get anywhere without my mom, dad, and grandmother!

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