Thursday March 17, 2016
Vermont students from around the state traveled to the Barre Opera House March 9 to compete in the 2016 Vermont Poetry Out Loud State Competition. One of these talented students was Haley Bouchard, a senior at South Burlington High School (SBHS), who recited two poems at the poetry competition. Bouchard was one of 38 Vermont students representing their schools at this semi-final event. She successfully ended the day as one of the top ten finalists who will move on to the Vermont finals held this evening, March 17, at Vermont Public Television.
According to South Burlington English teacher Joyce Sheehey, the Poetry Out Loud competition is a memorization and recitation contest where students select poems to memorize and recite from a vast anthology that represents centuries of published poetry. Sheehey adds, “The students each perform two poems at the semi-finals, and they are judged on voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness, physical presence, evidence of understanding, and, of course, accuracy!”
The two poems selected by Bouchard were “Personal” by Tony Hoagland and “The Death of Allegory” by Billy Collins. Describing them both as beautiful pieces of writing deserving attention, Bouchard said, “I felt I could bring them to life with my recitation.”
Bouchard says preparation for the competition is all about repetition multiplied. She reports from the front lines,” To feel confident with a poem on stage in front of judges, you need to know the piece inside and out, upside down, and backwards.”
A young public speaker who can engage an audience with confidence, Bouchard says she gives all the credit for her success to her Poetry Out Loud mentor and AP Literature teacher Joyce Sheehey and to her speech and debate coaches Veronica White and Carly Bennett. She says, “I’ve been a member of the SBHS speech team for the past three years and my coaches have always encouraged and pushed me to improve my public speaking, and Joyce Sheehey has been with me for every step of this journey, always honest, and always rooting for me. I am positive that I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help of these three amazing women.”
Created by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, the Poetry Out Loud program is administered statewide by the Vermont Arts Council. Now in its eleventh year, Poetry Out Loud has inspired hundreds of thousands of American high school students to discover and commit to memory classic and contemporary poetry.
“The Poetry Out Loud program not only connects students to an incredibly diverse literary heritage, it fosters the kind of transferable skills and confidence they will need to succeed in college, career, and life,” said Erika Lowe, Vermont Arts Council education programs manager.
Bouchard and the other nine state finalists will attend the Vermont finals today at 7 p.m. at Vermont Public Television in Colchester. The winner of the Vermont State Poetry Out Loud Competition then travels in May to the National Finals in Washington, DC, where he or she will compete against champions from every state in the country.
Although Bouchard humbly reports that she will prepare for the Vermont finals by “probably stressing, mumbling poetry constantly, and stressing a bit more,” it is more likely that her thorough preparation will serve her well. As far as nerves go on the day of the competition, Bouchard says about performing on the 9th, “I think anyone would be nervous about performing on a stage alone. I certainly was nervous, but once I started to recite my first piece, it was almost like the nerves melted away. I was comfortable with my poems, thus, I was comfortable sharing them.”
Sheehey, who has been attending the Vermont state competition for many of the 11 years, reports that each year the students across the state continue to get better. She says, “It’s really impressive that Haley stood out, which she did, moving on to the top ten. The director of the program told the audience that students who do well in this kind of event have grit and an ability to bring joy to others . . . that’s so true of Haley Bouchard.”