Hightower Wins School POL

Last Thursday evening in the Heely Room, Bernice Hightower ’21 won the school-wide Poetry Out Loud competition, with Delaney Musgrave ’22 recognized as the runner-up.

Last Thursday evening in the Heely Room, Bernice Hightower ’21 won the school-wide Poetry Out Loud competition, with Delaney Musgrave ’22 recognized as the runner-up.

There were 30 participants in the semifinal round of the competition, 11 of whom moved on to the final round. Lawrenceville English Masters formed the panel of judges who listened to students recite poems and ultimately decided the winners. Judges based their decisions on several points of criteria, including presentation skills, poise, dramatic appropriateness, demonstration of knowledge of the poem, and accuracy.

Hightower chose to recite two especially contrasting poems for the final round: “Hip-Hop Ghazal” by Patricia Smith and “Movement Song” by Audre Lorde. Hightower said, “‘Hip-Hop Ghazal’ means a lot to me because it’s about female empowerment and body positivity, plus it’s upbeat and sassy.” By choosing “Movement Song” as her second poem, which she interpreted as “very sad and emotional,” Hightower hoped to “show [her] capabilities in various types of poems.” As a III Former, Musgrave first competed within her English class. She chose her first poem, “Windy City” by Stuart Dybek, because of its “positive outlook and enchanting metaphorical aspects.” For the final round, she recited “Self-Inquiry Before the Job Interview” by Gary Soto and “To Have Without Holding” by Marge Piercy. Musgrave chose Soto’s poem due to its “sarcastic, comical features, along with [its] being written from a man’s perspective.” She found a challenge in taking on a male voice in her recitation. “To Have Without Holding” served to demonstrate contrast as a sad poem.

Lawrenceville has participated in the national Poetry Out Loud competition for more than a decade. Within that time period, few students have moved through the regional round and competed in the New Jersey state round, including recent alumna Emily Li ’18 and Arya Singh ’20.

English Master Jessica Magnuson, who coordinates the Lawrenceville Poetry Out Loud competition, considers it an important event because not only does it encourage students to pursue poetry and performance, but “it’s also really important to allow yourself to be vulnerable in front of a large crowd,” she said. Magnuson considers public speakingit a life skill.

To cope with such vulnerability, Hightower recounted having “zoned out in [her] recitation” during the final round with “the poem and only the poem in [her] thoughts.” Hightower puts herself in the narrator’s shoes when reciting poems, matching her facial expressions, hand motions, speed, and tone of voice to how she imagines the narrator would speak while still “putting [her] own twist on things.” Hightower will continue on to the Regional competition round on February 6 at Rutgers University-Camden, tasked with reciting three poems and competing against other winners of othertheir respective schools. She has chosen to recite her poem from the semifinal round, Marilyn Nelson’s “Worth,” along with “Movement Song,” and another poem by a pre-20th century poet.

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