Judging Poetry Performances

Today, for the fourth consecutive year, I judged the Poetry Out Loud contest at the Knox School in Nissequogue, NY. In Poetry Out Loud, high school students compete to deliver the best spoken performance of a published piece of poetry (not their own). First they compete at the classroom level, after which the winners advance to the school-wide level, then the regional/state level, and finally the national level. My involvement is as a judge at the school-wide level.

I love going to the Knox School’s contest for a few reasons. The drive itself is always enjoyable- the winding, wooded roads and antique north-shore homes along the Nissequogue River make for a therapeutic drive during finals week. It also seems always to snow on the day of the contest, so going there has become a tradition that always gets me in the holiday mood. The grounds of the Knox school are pretty awe-inspiring as well: stables and riding areas, expansive lawns, beautiful buildings, and access to Stony Brook Harbor. I once taught one day of a summer reading course in an almost church-like building at the Knox School and was encouraged by the headmaster to take a walk down to water during break- what a way to relax!

The main reason that I love judging the contest, though, is the enthusiasm of the students. The school has a notable tight-knit feel, and I think that gives the students healthy confidence in themselves. Their performances are unabashedly powerful- powerfully moving, powerfully funny, powerfully entertaining. Judging their performances is like getting a free, front row ticket to watch a lineup of Broadway headliners do one-minute skits.

I’m hoping that I’ll be able to see the two winners of today’s contest at the next round, which will be held at Stony Brook on 2/24/17. If the rest of the performances are anything like theirs, it will be something an event to remember. Oh, and a huge congratulations to the two winners, who were also last year’s winners!

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