Imagine a competition where being vulnerable is an advantage. Imagine putting that vulnerability under a spotlight, center-stage. That’s what poetry recitation is to Krista Goosman, a junior at Nelsonville-York High School.

The Southeast Ohio regional Poetry Out Loud semifinal takes place at Stuart’s Opera House, 52 Public Square, Nelsonville, Friday from 7 to 8 p.m. Poetry Out Loud is a nationwide poetry recitation contest for high school students. More than 3.8 million students compete at school, regional, state and national levels each year, according to the Poetry Out Loud website. There are four school champions who will compete in this year’s regional semifinal.

At the national finals, a total of $50,000 in awards and school stipends is awarded annually — but to Goosman, Poetry Out Loud isn’t all about the money.


If You Go:

What: Southeast Ohio regional Poetry Out Loud Semifinal

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Where: Stuart’s Opera House, 52 Public Square, Nelsonville, OH 45764

Admission: Free 

“I loved to be involved (in extracurriculars),” Goosman, the Nelsonville-York High School Poetry Out Loud champion who will compete in the Poetry Out Loud semifinal, said. “I love collecting things to be a part of.”

Goosman has done Poetry Out Loud for three years. For her, poetry recitation is stressful but rewarding.

Poetry recitation is the verbal performance of a poem. It is not a reading, but a recitation from memory. Reciters must convey the meaning of the poem with their voice and body language without being too theatrical. Reciters must also feel they have a personal relationship with their poem, too. 

“I have to be genuine,” Goosman said. 

Poetry recitation is tasking due to memorization alone, but it also requires reciters to embody the poem with their words and actions. Recitation isn’t about the reciter, Wendy McVicker, regional coordinator of Poetry Out Loud, said—  it’s about the poem. 

“Recitation is knowing (the poem) by heart,” McVicker said. “(Reciters) have to calm (their) body -- no unnecessary gestures or anything—  and become (a) vessel for the poem.” 

Reciters give service to the poems of their choice, Emily Prince, education director at Stuart’s, said. Students choose poems to recite from a database of poems provided by Poetry Out Loud. 

Poems range from Shakespeare to contemporary poetry. Reciters must connect to the poem and demonstrate an understanding of the recited works, Prince added. 

“The audience is looking for the poem,” Prince said. “(Reciters) give their body and voice and soul in service of someone’s word.”

Recitation is judged by physical presence and poise. Reciters must look confident, but not stiff. Voice and articulation is also an area judges grade—  reciters must use projection, enunciate and speak at an even pace. 

Judges also gauge dramatic appropriateness and a perceived understanding of the poem. Judges determine if students are stressing the right words, connecting with the poem and conveying the poems using their stage presence. 

For the past four years, Stuart’s has been the host of the regional Poetry Out Loud semifinal, Prince added. Most of the preliminary competitions for Poetry Out Loud takes place within high schools. 

Only the local champions compete at the Opera House. There are four champions this year from the Southeast Ohio region. The champions are from Nelsonville-York High School, John Glenn High School, Logan High School and River Valley High School. 

For Prince, Poetry Out Loud takes on a special meaning for rural students. It’s important for students in rural areas to have a chance to be in the national spotlight, too. 

“Our idea (is that) we hope to put our students on a national stage,” Prince said. “Stuart’s participates (because) we want our students to know that they are valued.” 

One of the reasons the Ohio Arts Council picked Stuart’s to host the semifinal is because of its accessibility to rural students in this part of the state. In fact, Prince added, Athens High School has a successful history in competing at state and national levels. 

“(We’re) trying to build up rural schools so they are competitive with better-funded city schools,” Prince said.