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Opinion: To Recite or Not To Recite: MBHS Students on Poetry Out Loud

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Every year, English students across the nation gear up to take part in an event of memorization, recitation, and classroom participation: Poetry Out Loud. According to the official website of Poetry Out Loud, the organization was created to provide students with an opportunity “to learn about great poetry.” This goal, however, is not being achieved to its fullest for the students at Morro Bay High School, according to the feelings and level of participation from the students themselves. I think that Poetry Out Loud, and all that it intends for high school students, can only be an enjoyable and successful experience if the majority of students and faculty are enthusiastic and participate in the event.

I reached out to a few students to represent each grade level at MBHS. Their input varied but had one general consensus. That consensus is that Poetry Out Loud has the potential to possess value in our curriculum, but tends to be viewed negatively by students due to their attitudes against public speaking and a poetry’s more foreign style of writing. “It’s hard for some people and easier for some people who have a background in public speaking and the arts,” stated sophomore, Katherine Konjoyan. Katherine is a participant in theatre at MBHS, but expressed recognition that people who might not have much experience in performing tend to dislike or struggle with Poetry Out Loud. Similarly, freshman Elijah Cordero, described his very first Poetry Out Loud experience as “not that hard” personally, but added that he still other students struggling. These two students both have backgrounds in the arts and attributed their success in Poetry Out Loud to such experiences. On the other hand, Sam Clapp, a junior at MBHS, remarked that although “it can help some students who are shy to talk, it’s hard to memorize a poem,” when asked if he thought Poetry Out Loud should remain a part of the curriculum, he admitted that “I think there’s better things that they could do.”

As far as the art of poetry itself goes, students continue to be divided on the value and significance of this event. Konjoyan remarked that it might be more valuable if students could “look at different types of poetry.” During Poetry Out Loud, students are able to get very comfortable with one specific poem, but I think there could be added value if classes spent a little more time learning about poetry itself and a little less on rigid memorization. Understandably, there is only so much time in a school year which prevents English classes from doing an in-depth poetry unit. However, I think that there might be some compromises to be made so students could delve deeper into what poetry really is. Some options might be to lower line requirements for students or to shorten the class competition requirements so that more lessons might be fit in. Senior Olivia Bennett thinks very highly of Poetry Out Loud and made it clear that she loves the performance aspect but that it can “put a damper on it for some people.” Bennett added that “poetry can be an unnatural thing…that students don’t think about on the daily since it’s a high class form of writing.” Bennett explained her feelings that she is comfortable and finds joy in the experience, andfeels that it gets students “out of their comfort zones” in that they have to perform and get familiar with a new or unfamiliar style of writing and art form.

The interviewed students were very split when it comes to whether or not the Poetry Out Loud organization is achieving their goal of “teaching students about great poetry.” Bennett expressed how she’s always loved the poems she was exposed to and that “it’s really cool to have a reason to go look for [poetry].” On the other hand, Bennett recognized that students are “learning about awesome poetry, but whether or not they’re appreciating it is another story.” Similarly, Cordero mentioned that if students “focused on the actual poems,” they’d realize “how amazing these literary classics are.” Cordero also added that in regards to most students, “they only do it for the grade.” I think that this can tend to be the general attitude of Morro Bay High School students, that it’s as simple as an assignment in class. Although, contrary to what it might seem, there are some students who feel differently and do value the experience. Ultimately, this has led to a very unique experience for students at Morro Bay High School that, I believe, really reflects what we are as a school.

I’ve had the opportunity to participate in class competitions of Poetry Out Loud for four years now. I went to participate in the schoolwide competition during my sophomore and senior years. Two years ago, I noticed that the competition really did feel competitive, but only for the top two people who really desired to move on to the county competition. Myself and my few friends who participated just felt that we wanted to do it because it was an interesting opportunity. But, those who took the lead really wanted, worked, and competed to do so. This year, however, I found the “competition” wasn’t so competitive. It seemed more to be twenty artistic students who all supported each other and cared to listen to one another’s poems. The ones who wanted to participate did, and those who didn’t weren’t forced to. I believe that this laid back attitude and the nature of the event being based on desire to participate is what reflects our school the most. Whether you appreciate Poetry Out Loud or you don’t, you definitely aren’t alone on campus. Ultimately, the goal of the organization may not reach many students due to their negative attitudes toward public speaking or English assignments. Yet, those students who do gain a takeaway from the experience are able to do so in a fairly relaxed and free environment, which I think is valuable.

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