Poetry Out Loud Takes the Stage

Poetry out loud contestants pose for a group picture during the national competition.

James Kegley

Poetry out loud contestants pose for a group picture during the national competition.

Elijah Royal

Poetry Out Loud is an annual competition with thousands of dollars in prizes at local, state, and national levels. According to the organization’s website, “Poetry Out Loud has grown to reach more than 3.8 million students and 60,000 teachers from 16,000 schools in every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands.”


Participants are required to select two poems, which they practice for several weeks in advance, working to put in as much emotion and power they can muster in order to impress the judges. As students around the nation prepare for the POL competition, our Oakdale contestants are doing the same. 


Senior Natalie Flynn had some encouragement for those still on the edge about participating, “It’s not as scary as it seems. This was way outside my comfort zone when I started and I’ve come back every year since. It’s a lot of fun and a great way to gain confidence in an amazingly supportive group of people.” 


Poetry Out Loud participants also have to keep some rules in mind. All poems that are performed at any level in the competition must be on the Poetry Out Loud’s official poem catalog. Although this means participants can’t perform poems of their own, they still have a variety of poems (an anthology of over 900 written works) to select from. 


When selecting poems to perform, participants are also limited in the type of poem they can perform. One of their selected poems has to be twenty-five lines or fewer, while the other must have been written before the 1900s. The catalog of eligible poems occasionally changes, and many popular poems are “retired” from the anthology and replaced with new poems in order to keep the performances fresh. 


Since the first POL competition in 2005, thousands of successful performances have found their way on stage. Contestants are judged based on several criteria dealing with the individuals visual and vocal presence on stage. Participants can gain points for a perfect recitation, while errors can cost them points depending on how serious they are.  


From booming performances to whispering soliloquies, Poetry Out Loud competitions bring out the best in the participants, and audiences will leave in awe or tears. Some of the best poetry performers involve hand motions and utilize their voice acting skills while performing their poems in front of the mic. With constant practice, participants can turn even the driest poem into a compelling narrative. 


As we approach this Poetry Out Loud season our Oakdale contestants would appreciate your support when they go to perform; and, if you’re interested in performing, Sage Wann has some parting advice, “Its a great way to put yourself out there and try something new and lets you express yourself in a way that you might not have tried before.” 


If you want to give it a shot and get out of your comfort zone, go talk with Ms. Showalter for more information on how to participate. Even if you’re not ready to take the stage, you can still show your support as an audience member. So when competition season rolls around, don’t forget to set aside some time to cheer on our participants.