Learning Recitation

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How to Use This Video

This "Learning Recitation" video was created to illustrate the art of poetry recitation for Poetry Out Loud: National Recitation Contest. Along with the Teacher’s Guide, Audio Guide, and Judge’s Guide, use the video and companion guide to foster classroom discussion. Students can watch these National Final recitations and evaluate the strengths (and weaknesses!) of each, according to Poetry Out Loud evaluation criteria. As suggested in the Teacher’s Guide, discuss the merits of these performances, which ones the students like best and why and how the poems are different when read versus recited. With this practice, students will be better equipped to peer-review recitations and refine their own performances.

The Art of Recitation - A Powerful Performance

What makes a performance compelling? A high Overall Performance score will reflect a performance that is more than the sum of its parts. Sometimes it’s hard to put into words exactly why you can’t take your eyes off a recitation. You’ll notice in each of these video clips that the students themselves become almost secondary to the language. Their mastery of each element of recitation has transformed a performance into a siren song. Everything about the recitation draws you in to the language of the poem.

You’ll notice that each student has a profoundly internalized their poem. All of the recitations show a high level of Evidence of Understanding. Discuss with your students how they can tell that a competitor “gets” a poem. Are the clues found in body language, tone of voice, and/or the style of delivery? Physical Presence, Voice and Articulation, and Dramatic Appropriateness can all be used to convey understanding.

Please keep in mind that there is no definitive recitation or interpretation of any one poem. While these videos serve as examples of poems that were recited well, each student will draw on their own experiences to create a unique interpretation. For this reason, it is so important that students find poems that speak to them individually; such connections will be apparent in their recitations.

Please note: These poems were eligible at the time they were performed, but aren't necessarily still part of the contest. Poems in the printed anthology or currently online are eligible for this year's national contest.

Stanley Andrew Jackson

Writ on the Steps of Puerto Rican Harlem
by Gregory Corso

Keys

Level of Complexity

Dramatic Appropriateness

Jackson confidently tackles this poem’s philosophical musings on mortality. His gestures and body language help to guide the poem’s tonal shifts as he embodies the narrator’s internal struggle from frustration and angst to understanding and peace. Jackson illuminates this progression well through thoughtful pacing and intonation.

Jackson Hille

Forgetfulness
by Billy Collins

Keys

Voice and Articulation

Evidence of Understanding

Hille has a great connection with the audience—probably because he gets the wry, satirical voice of the poem just right. His performance, from the time he enters the stage to when he concludes—his posture, his smile, and the pacing of his voice—relates the resigned, yet warm and humorous tone of the poem. He shares the joy and cleverness of the work with the audience—almost to the point that “forgetfulness” is rather celebrated as a universal human trait.

Sophia Elena Soberon

Bilingual/Bilingüe
by Rhina P. Espaillat

Keys

Physical Presence

Voice and Articulation

Soberon’s polished stage presence and clear voice offset the poem’s conflicted subject matter and its themes of alienation and uncertainty. Her interpretation embodies a poised, reflective narrator who is confident in two languages where another may stumble.

Allison Strong

Sonnet CXXX: My Mistress’ Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun
by William Shakespeare

Keys

Level of Complexity

Evidence of Understanding

Strong elegantly relates the mounting tone from astute humor to quiet triumph in this sonnet. She masters the language from another era and makes it clear for the audience. She represents the strong rhyme scheme well—with no sing-song quality. The beauty of the language emerges as the recitation progresses.

Shawntay A. Henry

Frederick Douglass
by Robert E. Hayden

Keys

Physical Presence

Voice and Articulation

Henry has a wonderful stage presence—her bright articulation and deliberate pacing provide an authoritative take on this elegy. Her performance is understated yet inspired, not overdramatic. Her emphatic phrasing gives a quiet dignity and strength to this poem’s elemental language and lofty subject matter.

Madison Niermeyer

I Am Waiting
by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Keys

Dramatic Appropriateness

Voice and Articulation

One challenge of this poem is not to make it sound wordy and repetitive with its refrain. Niermeyer skillfully varies her performance enough to avoid monotony and so capitalizes on the refrain. She manages the many allusions and communicates well the tricky tone between earnestness and satire. Niermeyer seamlessly blends her spare use of body language and gestures with the poem’s language and intent—they are never distracting, but only fitting and natural in their placement.

Kareem Sayegh

The Man-Moth
by Elizabeth Bishop

Keys

Dramatic Appropriateness

Voice and Articulation

Sayegh moves effortlessly through this poem’s enchanting narrative, drawing the audience into the world of Bishop’s haunting and bizarre character. His skillful and deliberate pacing, rhythm, and intonation complement the poem’s language and its subtle shift in mood—from observation to intimacy. His gestures are economical and flow through the poem as an integral part of the recitation, working deftly to heighten its overall impact.

Carolyn Rose García

Pied Beauty
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Keys

Level of Complexity

Evidence of Understanding

This is a challenging poem with abstract language and a timeless sensibility. Its meaning comes mostly from its unique sound and rhythm. García’s inflections, changing pace of delivery, and tone strongly communicate this sometimes nonsensical poem of reverence. Her performance confidently interprets this poem, making it enjoyable and digestible, illuminating rather than obscuring the language.

William Farley

Danse Russe
by William Carlos Williams

Keys

Physical Presence

Evidence of Understanding

Farley successfully navigates the duality of tone in this bittersweet poem. His eye contact and body language—at times intense and direct, at times softened and playful—reveal his clear grasp of the poem’s melancholy undercurrent amidst its whimsy. Farley provides an intimate and ultimately endearing portrait of the narrator, captivating the audience by what it means to be alone and to be human.