On January 9, eleven 9th graders presented their interpretations of memorized poems at Waynflete’s fourth annual Poetry Out Loud assembly, joining more than 365,000 other high school students in over 2,000 schools across the country in this national recitation contest. Thalia Muyderman, reciting Paisley Rekdal’s poem “Happiness,” was selected to represent Waynflete at the Southern Regional Competition, to be held at the Biddeford City Theater on February 6. Isabel Canning, whose selected poem was “I Am Learning to Abandon the World” by Linda Pastan, was chosen to be the alternate.
Judges for the contest were Abigail Killeen (Bowdoin professor of Dance and Theatre, and a professional actress), Gibson Fay-Leblanc (published poet/writer and former director of The Telling Room), and Gary Lawless (published poet/teacher and owner of The Gulf of Maine bookstore). Qualities on which the presenters were judged included interpretation, voice and articulation and physical presence.
As part of English 9, all Waynflete students are required to read a variety of poetry from the Poetry Out Loud site and then select one that “speaks” to them. During October and November of this year, they worked on memorizing, comprehending, interpreting, and performing their poems. Local actor/director Michael Howard led a workshop for each class on vocal production and performance techniques. Before Thanksgiving break, former Waynflete director Claudia Hughes judged the classroom competitions from which 12 students were selected to perform in the January assembly. The classroom winners were Grace Bramley-Simmons, Isabel Canning, Tyler Cutrone, Yai Deng, Caroline Hastings, Leah Israel, Sebastian Lindner-Liaw, Sophia Mayone, Thalia Muyderman, Toby Nye, Emily White, Robert Wilson.
Poetry Out Loud is a national recitation contest for high school students, sponsored by a partnership between the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry. Regional winners will compete at the state level on February 26 at the Waterville Opera House. The state winner will represent Maine in the National Finals in Washington, DC held on April 28-30. Last year, Dyer Roads, Waynflete’s representative, won at the state finals and represented Maine in the National Finals in Washington.
Below are the poems students recited at the assembly:
Sanctuary by Jean Valentine
People pray to each other. The way I say “you” to someone else, respectfully, intimately, desperately. The way someone says “you” to me, hopefully, expectantly, intensely …
You who I don’t know I don’t know how to talk to you —What is it like for you there?
Here … well, wanting solitude; and talk; friendship— The uses of solitude. To imagine; to hear.
Learning braille. To imagine other solitudes.
But they will not be mine;
to wait, in the quiet; not to scatter the voices— What are you afraid of?
What will happen. All this leaving. And meetings, yes. But death. What happens when you die?
“… not scatter the voices,”
Drown out. Not make a house, out of my own words. To be quiet in another throat; other eyes; listen for what it is like there. What word. What silence. Allowing. Uncertain: to drift, in the restlessness … Repose. To run like water—
What is it like there, right now?
Listen: the crowding of the street; the room. Everyone hunches in against the crowding; holding their breath: against dread.
What do you dread?
What happens when you die?
What do you dread, in this room, now?
Not listening. Now. Not watching. Safe inside my own skin.
To die, not having listened. Not having asked … To have scattered life.
Yes I know: the thread you have to keep finding, over again, to follow it back to life; I know. Impossible, sometimes.
Liaw The Tyger by William Blake
Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skies. Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire? What the hand, dare seize the fire?
And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart? And when thy heart began to beat, What dread hand? & what dread feet?
What the hammer? what the chain, In what furnace was thy brain? What the anvil? what dread grasp, Dare its deadly terrors clasp!
When the stars threw down their spears And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
Golden Retrievals by Mark Doty
Fetch? Balls and sticks capture my attention seconds at a time. Catch? I don’t think so. Bunny, tumbling leaf, a squirrel who’s—oh joy—actually scared. Sniff the wind, then
I’m off again: muck, pond, ditch, residue
of any thrillingly dead thing. And you? Either you’re sunk in the past, half our walk, thinking of what you never can bring back,
or else you’re off in some fog concerning —tomorrow, is that what you call it? My work: to unsnare time’s warp (and woof!), retrieving, my haze-headed friend, you. This shining bark,
a Zen master’s bronzy gong, calls you here, entirely, now: bow-wow, bow-wow, bow-wow.
Happiness by Paisley Rekdal
I have been taught never to brag but now I cannot help it: I keep
a beautiful garden, all abundance, indiscriminate, pulling itself
from the stubborn earth: does it offend you to watch me working in it,
touching my hands to the greening tips or tearing the yellow stalks back, so wild
the living and the dead both
snap off in my hands?
The neighbor with his stuttering fingers, the neighbor with his broken love: each comes up my drive
to receive his pitying,
accustomed consolations, watches me
work in silence awhile, rises in anger,
walks back. Does it offend them to watch me
not mourning with them but working
fitfully, fruitlessly, working
the way the bees work, which is to say
by instinct alone, which looks like pleasure?
I can stand for hours among the sweet
narcissus, silent as a point of bone.
I can wait longer than sadness. I can wait longer
than your grief. It is such a small thing
to be proud of, a garden. Today
there were scrub jays, quail,
a woodpecker knocking at the white-
and-black shapes of trees, and someone’s lost rabbit scratching under the barberry: is it
indiscriminate? Should it shrink back, wither,
and expurgate? Should I, too, not be loved?
It is only a little time, a little space.
Why not watch the grasses take up their colors in a rush like a stream of kerosene being lit?
If I could not have made this garden beautiful
I wouldn’t understand your suffering,
nor care for each the same, inflamed way.
I would have to stay only like the bees,
beyond consciousness, beyond
self-reproach, fingers dug down hard
into stone, and growing nothing.
There is no end to ego,
with its museum of disappointments.
I want to take my neighbors into the garden
and show them: Here is consolation.
Here is your pity. Look how much seed it drops
around the sparrows as they fight.
It lives alongside their misery.
It glows each evening with a violent light.
The Donkey by G.K. Chesterton
When fishes flew and forests walked And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth, Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb, I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour; One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears, And palms before my feet.
I, Too by Langston Hughes
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I’ll be at the table
When company comes. Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,” Then.
They’ll see how beautiful I am And be ashamed—
I, too, am America.
Grace Bramley-Simmons:”Fairy-Tale Logic”–A.E. Stallings
Fairy tales are full of impossible tasks:
Gather the chin hairs of a man-eating goat,
Or cross a sulphuric lake in a leaky boat, Select the prince from a row of identical masks, Tiptoe up to a dragon where it basks
And snatch its bone; count dust specks, mote by mote, Or learn the phone directory by rote.
Always it’s impossible what someone asks—
You have to fight magic with magic. You have to believe That you have something impossible up your sleeve, The language of snakes, perhaps, an invisible cloak,
An army of ants at your beck, or a lethal joke,
The will to do whatever must be done:
Marry a monster. Hand over your firstborn son.
Burning the Old Year by Naomi Shihab Nye
Letters swallow themselves in seconds. Notes friends tied to the doorknob, transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.
So much of any year is flammable, lists of vegetables, partial poems. Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.
Where there was something and suddenly isn’t, an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space. I begin again with the smallest numbers.
Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves, only the things I didn’t do
crackle after the blazing dies.
Nineteen-Fourteen: The Soldier by Rupert Brooke
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware, Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam;
A body of England’s, breathing English air, Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away, A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given; Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness, In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
Blackberrying by Sylvia Plath
Nobody in the lane, and nothing, nothing but blackberries, Blackberries on either side, though on the right mainly,
A blackberry alley, going down in hooks, and a sea Somewhere at the end of it, heaving. Blackberries
Big as the ball of my thumb, and dumb as eyes
Ebon in the hedges, fat
With blue-red juices. These they squander on my fingers.
I had not asked for such a blood sisterhood; they must love me.
They accommodate themselves to my milkbottle, flattening their sides.
Overhead go the choughs in black, cacophonous flocks— Bits of burnt paper wheeling in a blown sky.
Theirs is the only voice, protesting, protesting.
I do not think the sea will appear at all.
The high, green meadows are glowing, as if lit from within.
I come to one bush of berries so ripe it is a bush of flies,
Hanging their bluegreen bellies and their wing panes in a Chinese screen. The honey-feast of the berries has stunned them; they believe in heaven. One more hook, and the berries and bushes end.
The only thing to come now is the sea.
From between two hills a sudden wind funnels at me, Slapping its phantom laundry in my face.
These hills are too green and sweet to have tasted salt.
I follow the sheep path between them. A last hook brings me To the hills’ northern face, and the face is orange rock
That looks out on nothing, nothing but a great space Of white and pewter lights, and a din like silversmiths Beating and beating at an intractable metal.
I Am Learning To Abandon the World by Linda Pastan
I am learning to abandon the world before it can abandon me.
Already I have given up the moon and snow, closing my shades against the claims of white.
And the world has taken
my father, my friends.
I have given up melodic lines of hills, moving to a flat, tuneless landscape. And every night I give my body up
limb by limb, working upwards
across bone, towards the heart.
But morning comes with small
reprieves of coffee and birdsong.
A tree outside the window
which was simply shadow moments ago takes back its branches twig
by leafy twig.
And as I take my body back
the sun lays its warm muzzle on my lap as if to make amends.
Candles by Carl Dennis
If on your grandmother’s birthday you burn a candle
To honor her memory, you might think of burning an extra To honor the memory of someone who never met her,
A man who may have come to the town she lived in Looking for work and never found it.
Picture him taking a stroll one morning,
After a month of grief with the want ads,
To refresh himself in the park before moving on.
Suppose he notices on the gravel path the shards
Of a green glass bottle that your grandmother,
Then still a girl, will be destined to step on
When she wanders barefoot away from her school picnic If he doesn’t stoop down and scoop the mess up
With the want-ad section and carry it to a trash can.
For you to burn a candle for him
You needn’t suppose the cut would be a deep one, Just deep enough to keep her at home
The night of the hay ride when she meets Helen, Who is soon to become her dearest friend,
Whose brother George, thirty years later,
Helps your grandfather with a loan so his shoe store Doesn’t go under in the Great Depression
And his son, your father, is able to stay in school Where his love of learning is fanned into flames,
A love he labors, later, to kindle in you.
How grateful you are for your father’s efforts
Is shown by the candles you’ve burned for him.
But today, for a change, why not a candle
For the man whose name is unknown to you?
Take a moment to wonder whether he died at home With friends and family or alone on the road,
On the look-out for no one to sit at his bedside
And hold his hand, the very hand
It’s time for you to imagine holding.