A Night of Poetry: BFA’s Poetry Out Loud Competition 2022


BFA’s Poetry Out Loud competitors gather on stage to receive their certificates of participation. Photo credit: Asher Ballantine

Rachel Ledoux, Writer

Poetry Out Loud (POL) is a national poetry recitation competition that begins at the classroom level.  Each state hosts its own competition, and the statewide winner moves on to compete nationally in Washington D.C. Students are judged on their physical presence, voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness and evidence of understanding.   

Vermont high schools, BFA included, host their own Poetry Out Loud competitions to determine who will represent their school in the statewide competition. On Feb. 10, BFA held their school competition in the Performing Arts Center after having had the competition virtually the last two years due to Covid.  

Over the past few months, several BFA English classes – taught by Nate Archambault, Susan Palmer and Larissa Hebert – had students choose two poems to prepare, memorize and recite in their classroom competitions. Eleven classroom finalists were chosen to compete in the schoolwide competition.

To prepare for their classroom competition, students worked to improve their tone, emotion and recitation through workshops hosted by outside guests. Both Samuel Boudreau (‘15), a former BFA and POL Vermont state champion in 2014 and 2015, and Andy Butterfield, a representative of the Vermont Arts Council, came to BFA to work with students. 

The competition was organized by BFA English teacher Larissa Hebert, and it was free and open to the public.  Boudreau was the Master of Ceremonies.  The judges consisted of world languages teacher Lydia Batten, English teacher Wesley Dunn, special educator Katie Leclerc and English teacher MaryEllen Tourville. The prompter was drama teacher Susan Palmer.  The accuracy judge was English teacher Nate Archambault and English teacher Eric Telfer was in charge of tallying scores. Masks were required for attendees, as well as competitors.

Prior to the competition, The Mercury got the chance to speak to some of the competitors about how they were feeling. There was a sense of both nervousness and excitement about the competition.

“[I’m feeling] very, very nervous but excited,” Madison Gagner (‘23) said.

Other students didn’t mention nerves at all, just that they were looking forward to the event.

“I’m very excited; I love performing,” Elio Haag (‘22) said.

Once the competition began, the audience was able to hear about the nature of the competition from Hebert and Boudreau. After that, students took the stage with their poems.

The poems were selected from a list of poems students were required to choose from on the Poetry Out Loud website. Some titles included Be Music, Night by Kenneth Patchen, Fairytale With Laryngitis and Resignation Letter by Jehanne Dubrow and Becoming A Redwood by Dana Gioia.

The competition included two rounds, one run-through of the students with their first poems, and then another run-through of the students with their second poems.  Then there was a brief intermission for the judges to decide on a winner.

During this pause, The Mercury spoke to audience members to get their thoughts on the competition thus far.

Jakob Birnbaum (‘23), who is a friend of several competitors, had this to say:  “The atmosphere was palpable. It was so cool seeing people I know to be pretty shy coming out and doing this huge performance, really displaying their true selves.”

After a few minutes, everyone gathered back together to hear the results.  First place would be going on to the statewide competition. Second place would serve as BFA’s alternate. Then, there was third place. The top three finalists received gift cards to The Eloquent Page.

Firstly, all competitors were congratulated for their efforts and given certificates of participation.  Then, the winners were announced.

In third place was Jasmine Duncan (‘23), who recited To Have Without Holding by Marge Piercy and A Litany For Survival by Audre Lorde. 

Second place went to Suzetta Chiappinelli (‘23), who recited The Conqueror Worm by Edgar Allen Poe and Very Large Moth by Craig Arnold. 

In first place was Elio Haag (‘22), who recited Summer by Chen Chen and The World Is About To End and My Grandparents Are In Love by Kara Jackson. 

According to Boudreau, though, it really could have been any one of the competitors who won, since everyone did such a good job.

“I thought it was an incredibly close competition. I had no clue who was going to win. Everyone really brought their A-game tonight.”

After the winners had gotten to talk and celebrate with their respective guests, they spoke with The Mercury about their success.

“I’m just really grateful that my hard work and the story behind my poem was recognized by the judges,” Haag said.

“Wow, second; that’s insane,” Chiappinelli said. “I feel really good about how I did.”

Chiappinelli also mentioned being excited about continuing onto the next stage of the competition with Haag.

“I’m so excited to accompany one of my closest friends to the next bit of this competition. I love Elio so much, and [to Elio] I’m so proud of you,” Chiappinelli said.

Boudreau added, “Elio will be an excellent competitor in the state competition.”

Haag will compete in Vermont’s semifinals and finals on March 14 at the Barre Opera House. According to Troy Hickman of the Vermont Arts Council, “Attendance is limited to competitors, teachers and immediate family members. The event will be streamed live on the Vermont Poetry Out Loud Facebook page.”