Skip to main content

How to Use These Videos

Watch these National Final recitations and evaluate the strengths (and weaknesses!) of each, according to Poetry Out Loud evaluation criteria. Discuss the merits of these performances, which ones you like best and why and how the poems are different when read versus recited.

The Art of Recitation

What makes a performance compelling? 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. Everything about the recitation draws you in to the language of the poem.

You’ll also notice that each student has profoundly internalized their poem. Discuss how you can tell that a competitor “gets” a poem. Are the clues found in body language, tone of voice, and/or the style of delivery?

Keep in mind that there is no definitive recitation of any one poem. While these videos are 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 important that students find poems that speak to them individually; these 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 competition.

Stanley Andrew Jackson
Writ on the Steps of Puerto Rican Harlem by Gregory Corso
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.
Keys : Interpretation
Jackson Hille
Forgetfulness by Billy Collins
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.
Keys: Voice and Articulation, Evidence of Understanding
Sophia Elena Soberon
Bilingual/Bilingüe by Rhina P. Espaillat
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. Keys: Physical Presence, Voice and Articulation
Allison Strong
Sonnet CXXX: My Mistress’ Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun by William Shakespeare
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.
Keys: Evidence of Understanding
Shawntay A. Henry
Frederick Douglass by Robert E. Hayden
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.
Keys: Physical Presence , Voice and Articulation
Madison Niermeyer
I Am Waiting by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
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.
Keys: Interpretation, Voice and Articulation
Kareem Sayegh
The Man-Moth by Elizabeth Bishop
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.
Keys: Interpretation, Voice and Articulation
Carolyn Rose García
Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins
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.
Keys: Evidence of Understanding
William Farley
Danse Russe by William Carlos Williams
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.
Keys: Physical Presence , Evidence of Understanding