Last Wednesday marked the final competition for the third annual “Poetry Out Loud” event, which was sponsored by the English Department and Creative Writing Program and held in the Terrace Room in Margaret Jacks Hall. The competition showcased 10 strong finalists, and, after weeks of memorization and training, these finalists were ready to give their A-game. Not only did were the finalists a diverse group of Stanford students (only two of whom were English majors), they brought to the table a diverse collection of poetry, ranging from contemporary poetry to well-known classics, for example, Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven.”
Graduate students Abigail Droge and Justin Tackett, two members of the Poetry Out Loud Committee, began the event by telling the audience that this event was a return to poetry’s roots as a vocal experience. The audience was definitely not disappointed. All of the performers had a strong control over their poems, and they each used that to the best of their abilities. Some commanded the attention of an already focused audience with a single syllable. Others were earnest in their approach, allowing the audience to see what was in their heart. A brave few fully inhabited the words of their poems, creating personas that were remarkably different and complex.
Droge and Tackett were, however, slightly mistaken. What the audience saw that night was not only a vocal experience, it was also a physical experience. The body language of the performers was open and inviting, and I felt more connected to the material that they had held close to their hearts. Some finalists swayed to the rhythm of their words while others used hand and arm gestures freely to carry out their words. Droge and Tackett urged us to “think about the ‘ahs,’ the words, and the voices,” but seeing how these performers communicate and define those ‘ahs’ is another pleasure in it of itself.
After some deliberation, the judge, lecturer Keith Ekiss, declared that Marianne Dang ’17, who had performed “Tulips” by Sylvia Plath won, with second place going to Elliot Williams ’15 for “Let American Be America Again” by Langston Hughes and third place going to Gabriela Quintana ’14 for “The Language of the Brag” by Sharon Olds.
For those who missed out on the event or for those who want a second try, never fear. “Poetry Out Loud” will continue as long as there is demand, and with any luck, poetry as an art form will blossom throughout campus and inspire everyone, even the “techies.”
Contact Marty Semilla at msemilla “at” stanford.edu.