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Poetry Out Loud—At Stanford and Beyond

May 26, 2014

The Third Annual Poetry. Out. Loud. competition (POL3) brought crowds of eager listeners to Margaret Jacks Hall again this past May. Growing each year since its launch in 2012, POL has now become a department tradition that emphasizes poetry’s oral, performance-based, and communal roots.

This year’s audience, which included nearly 100 students, faculty, and community members, heard the renditions of ten semi-finalists (selected from over two dozen preliminary round competitors) who chose works by poets ranging from Langston Hughes to Tennyson. Each competitor was asked to perform a well-known poem or excerpt from memory and to give a short introduction about his or her reasons for choosing it. Competitors were judged primarily on their vocal delivery, and their voices created a wide spectrum of emotions, moving the audience with both humorous and deeply touching moments. Techies and fuzzies alike participated: the program included undergraduates from every year, as well as graduate students, and represented disciplines as far flung as Symbolic Systems, Psychology, and Philosophy.

Judge Keith Ekiss, from the Creative Writing Program, chose three finalists from a field of very tough competition. Freshman Marianne Dang won first prize for her rendition of Sylvia Plath’s “Tulips;” African and African American Studies junior Elliot Williams won second place with his performance of Langston Hughes’s “Let America Be America Again;” and Art History senior Gabriela Quintana won third prize with Sharon Olds’s “The Language of the Brag.”

The excitement of this year’s event was augmented by the fact that Poetry. Out. Loud. has now spread beyond Stanford’s campus, inspiring students at Hillsdale High School to stage their own competition. This year’s POL committee (Justin Tackett, Abigail Droge, Mary Kim, Linda Liu, Sarah Weston, and Rukma Sen) was thrilled to meet with Hillsdale faculty Laura Burtness, Christine Crockett, and Sarah Press to discuss ways that Hillsdale students could adapt the tradition of poetry performance. The Hillsdale event included 15 competitors and separate prizes for group and individual entrants. Seniors Daniel Conceicao and C.J. Tait won first place in the group category with their collaborative rendition of Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” and sophomore Roni Margalit took home first prize in the individual category with e e cummings’s “if up’s the word.” Students agreed that reciting poetry written by someone other than themselves was challenging but rewarding, and made them think more deeply about the subtleties of a poem’s language.