Poetry Out Loud Preview

Lesly Samaniego

Since 2010, Kearny High school students have participated in the Poetry Out Loud contest and even had an NJ state finalist according to Mr. Cassidy, English teacher and advisor for Poetry Out Loud. This year’s school-wide competition is being held at our school on December 17th in the auditorium with the KHS Jazz Band performing. 

Although it’s a great opportunity to practice public speaking skills, I wanted to look from both perspectives: the teachers and students. I spoke with English teacher, Mrs. DeLuca, and student, Elisa Serrano and asked each of them questions regarding Poetry Out Loud and their experience while reciting their poem. 

First, I asked Elisa Serrano questions about her poem recitation experience : 

How’d you feel reciting the poem?

“At first, I wasn’t too nervous because I had memorized the poem. Then when class started, I had saw the other students stumble and miss words which  made me get nervous. To make matters worse, once I was called up, there were interruptions like the loud speaker. I started to read my first few lines and began to forget the lines. I asked for assistance from one of the student judges and she helped, but I started to get hot and red.

I ended up clenching my hands so tight I developed a cut. My teacher told me it was fine and I can do it next class. After I went to my seat and put my head down and tried focusing on something else because my hands were shaky. I had lunch the next period and I ate to see if it would’ve helped which it didn’t, so I went to sbys to talk to a therapist. I ended up not going to school the next day out of fear and embarrassment because I would’ve had to recite it once more in front of everyone. 

Would you have felt more comfortable reciting just in front of a teacher? 

“I feel like it would’ve been slightly more comfortable reciting it in front of him because there’d be less eyes on me.” 

Do you think this would help you in college when you’re required to take a public-speaking class? 

 “I think it does help but not completely. For public speaking you have notes with you and you know all the information you are going to discuss thoroughly whereas reciting a poem you need to remember each line and display emotion in order to get a “good grade.” I was also told to take my mask off  or points would possibly be deducted because i’m not showing emotion, which made me even more nervous because none of these people have seen my face before so I felt judged. 


Then, I asked Mrs. DeLuca multiple question:

What are the methods to memorize the poems?

For students looking for advice with their assignment or any future ones, which she responded, “Writing is very helpful stanza by stanza, and saying it a lot and taping yourself and then listening to yourself saying it back. And just read it as much as possible.” 

How does the speaker speak with emotion? 

 “Try to first understand the theme of the poem and what the poet is trying to convey. That main message and looking at the images in the poem as well, and trying to match your tone of voice to reflect that theme message coming through so whether its something humorous that you are going to then say with a funny tone or if its a poem of mourning where you’re going to have a sadder and more grieving tone. It depends mostly on what the poem has and just trying to make your voice reflect that emotion.” 

How can students who are shy speak confidently and get a good grade?

 “It’s harder I think, some tasks just go better with certain personalities than others and I think that’s just life in general, so i think for them it’s better to get out of your own head and just put on this persona and your the one who’s going to be speaking and your almost like giving a show. But it’s hard; it’s definitely harder for some students than for others just like writing essays is harder for some students than for others. I think doing something like this is something that students will remember, I think it’s something that will stick with them and sometimes is nice to get out of your comfort zone.” 

If a student is too anxious, would it be allowed to present the poem to their teacher privately instead of the whole class? Or even an alternate assignment? 

For me, I would really like for you to do it in front of the class. I would hope by this point we have a community atmosphere feeling in class and other students would be supportive. Of course I would take every request on a case by case basis but overall I would ask them to do it in front of the class I’d want them to try. We certainly understand how difficult it is and I can still understand how nervous I was when I was your age having to stand up and do something and we get that. I think we want to see that you’ve tried. You made a good showing of it and certainly we understand that it might be more difficult for some students than others.  


After speaking with Mrs. DeLuca, and listening to the teacher’s perspective, which is to help students for future public speaking presentations and have them get out of their comfort zone, and Elisa who ultimately had a negative experience I came to a conclusion.

Poetry Out Loud is a great opportunity for students to learn and really try to get out of their shell, unfortunately it can be difficult for other students who suffer from anxiety which is worse because of quarantine where we were essentially cut off from being in public. Additionally, students wouldn’t feel comfortable or confident presenting themselves in front of a class of people they just meant or haven’t seen in a while.

Perhaps if some students aren’t comfortable speaking, they could choose between writing an analysis essay that shows their understanding of the poem and reading their analysis or recite it in front of the class conveying their understanding through the tone of voice of the central message.