Tips on Reciting

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Teachers, coaches, and students may also find it useful to view the judge’s scoring rubric. Many of the following categories also have links to videos of student performances which illustrate mastery of that specific category.

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Learning Recitation Videos

Created to illustrate the art of poetry recitation. 

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Evaluation Criteria:


PHYSICAL PRESENCE

Eye contact, body language, and poise.

Tips:

  • Present yourself well and be attentive. Use good posture. Look confident.
  • Use eye contact with the entire audience. Don’t focus solely on the judges.
  • Nervous gestures, poor eye contact with the audience, and lack of poise or confidence will detract from your score.
  • Relax and be natural. Enjoy your poem—the judges will notice. 

Qualities of a strong recitation:

Ease and comfort with the audience. Engagement with the audience through physical presence, including appropriate body language, confidence, and eye contact—without appearing artificial.

Video Examples:

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VOICE AND ARTICULATION

Volume, pace, rhythm, intonation, and proper pronunciation
Keep in Mind: Contestants will use a microphone at the National Finals.

Tips:

  • Project to the audience. Capture the attention of everyone, including the people in the back row. However, don’t mistake yelling for good projection.
  • Proceed at a fitting and natural pace. Avoid nervously rushing through the poem. Do not speak so slowly that the language sounds unnatural or awkward.
  • With rhymed poems, be careful not to recite in a sing-song manner.
  • Make sure you know how to pronounce every word in your poem. Articulate.
  • Line breaks are a defining feature of poetry. Decide whether a break requires a pause and, if so, how long to pause.

Qualities of a strong recitation:

All words pronounced correctly, and the volume, rhythm, and intonation greatly enhance the recitation. Pacing appropriate to the poem.

Video Examples:

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DRAMATIC APPROPRIATENESS

Recitation is about conveying a poem’s sense with its language. It is closer to the art of oral interpretation than theatrical performance. (Think storyteller or narrator rather than actor.) A strong performance will rely on a powerful internalization of the poem rather than distracting dramatic gestures. You represent the poem’s voice, not a character’s. You must subtly enhance the understanding and enjoyment of the poem without overshadowing the language.

Tips:

  • Do not act out the poem. Too much dramatization distracts from the language of the poem. Movement or accents must not detract from the poem’s voice.
  • You are the vessel of your poem. Have confidence that your poem is strong enough to communicate without a physical illustration. Let the words of the poem do the work.
  • Depending on the poem, occasional gestures may be appropriate, but the line between appropriate and overdone is a thin one. When uncertain, leave them out.
  • Avoid monotone delivery. However, too much enthusiasm can make your performance seem insincere.

Qualities of a strong recitation:

The dramatization subtly underscores the meaning of the poem without becoming the focal point. The style of delivery is more about oral interpretation than dramatic enactment. A low score in this category will result from recitations that have affected character voices and accents, inappropriate tone and inflection, singing, distracting and excessive gestures, or unnecessary emoting.

Video Examples:

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LEVEL OF COMPLEXITY

A poem with complex content conveys difficult, sophisticated ideas, that are challenging to comprehend and express. A poem with complex language will have intricate diction and syntax, meter and rhyme scheme, and shifts in tone or mood. Poem length is also considered in complexity. Please keep in mind that longer poems are not necessarily more difficult. Poems with significantly challenging content and language may not need length to score well.

Tips:

  • For competitions beyond the classroom level, select poems of various styles, time periods, themes, and tones. Diversity of poem selection will allow judges to see your mastery of various elements of complexity.
  • Make sure each poem you choose is one that speaks to you. If you are able to connect with a poem, that internalization will ripple positively throughout all of your scores.

Video Examples:

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EVIDENCE OF UNDERSTANDING

This category is to evaluate whether you exhibit a true understanding of the poem in your recitation.

Tips:

  • You must understand the poem fully. Be attentive to the messages, meanings, allusions, irony, tones of voice, and other nuances in your poem.
  • Be sure you know the meaning of every word and line in your poem. 
  • Listen to track 4 on the audio CD (or in the audio section) in which poet David Mason introduces Yeats’s “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” He advises you to think about how you should interpret the tone, volume, and voice of your poem. Is it a quiet poem? Is it a boisterous poem? Should it be read more quickly or slowly, with a happy or mournful tone? Your interpretation will be different for each poem, and it is a crucial element of your performance.

Qualities of a strong recitation:

The meaning of the poem is powerfully and clearly conveyed to the audience. The interpretation deepens and enlivens the poem. Meaning, themes, allusions, irony, tones of voice, and other nuances are captured by the performance. A low score will be awarded if the interpretation obscures the meaning of the poem.

Video Examples:

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OVERALL PERFORMANCE

This category is to evaluate the degree to which the recitation has become more than the sum of its parts. 

  • Did you captivate the audience with the language of the poem? 
  • Did you bring the audience to a better understanding of the poem? 
  • Did your physical presence, voice and articulation, and dramatic appropriateness all seem on target and unified to breathe life into the poem? 
  • Did you understand and show mastery of the art of recitation? 

Judges may also consider the diversity of your recitations with this score; you are less likely to score well in overall performance when judges note that your style of interpretation remains the same regardless of poem choice. A low score will be awarded for recitations that are poorly presented, ineffective in conveying the meaning of the poem, or conveyed in a manner inappropriate to the poem.

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ACCURACY

A separate judge will mark missed or incorrect words during the recitation, with small deductions for each. If you rely on the prompter during your recitation, points will also be subtracted from your accuracy score. Eight points will be added to your score for a perfectly accurate recitation. Refer to the accuracy score sheet for details.

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