Poetry came to life Wednesday courtesy of 13 students at Covenant Academy, and it was the addition of enthusiasm, small gestures and facial expressions that won over judges.
Teacher Joy Noga said she wanted to give students a way to get away from screens, experience literature and to realize the power of words.
"There are these things called words," she said. "They carry weight and they’re beautiful."
Ironically, Noga said she found the competition while on the Internet.
"Last year I was teaching literature for the upper grades," she said. "I was trolling on the Internet, looking for things to teach them."
She said she found the Poetry Out Loud competition in a newsletter and called the Kansas Coordinator to find out if Covenant Academy would be eligible to participate and found that the school could take part in the competition.
"I think poetry memorization is not something that happens a lot anymore," Noga said. "Words are powerful and important, and we forget that sometimes."
Last year, Abigail Kreighbaum won the Covenant Academy competition and represented the school at the regional competition in LaCgyne, then continued on to the state competition in Lawrence. She she she did not place in that competition, but did receive helpful feedback.
Kreighbaum will represent her school again this year after winning Wednesday’s competition with a total score of 250 points, said she was more intentional in her selection of poems and in how she performs them this year.
"I was trying to have two diverse poems," said Kreighbaum, who said judges at the state competition last year encouraged her to diversify and to be more expressive, particularly with hand motions.
She and her high school classmates have had quite a bit of time to delve into their poetry.
"We work on it in our literature classes," Kreighbaum said.
"They knew from the beginning of the school year they would be doing this again," Noga said, adding that students had been working throughout the past few months on their poems.
They had to continue working throughout Christmas break.
"That was the bad thing about having it right after break," Noga said, adding that doing the competition so quickly after break means that the winners have a maximum amount of time to practice before the regional competition Jan. 26, which Kreighbaum and runner-up Bailey Lotterer will attend.
"They both need to go to all of the competitions we go to," Noga said.
Kreighbaum said she will be giving it her very best, including working to remember the one line she forgot in one of her poems.
"(I’ll be) making sure I get the one line in," she said. "It’s exciting."
She said she would love to win the state competition and take her runner-up along with her to the national competition at Washington D.C.
"I think it would be a lot of fun," she said. "I’d really like to go to D.C."
Lotterer came in second place with 234 points and said she will be offering Kreighbaum moral support along the way, and would love to get to travel to D.C. as the runner-up.
Noga said Kreighbaum would take two poems to the regional competition and if she were to win regionals again she then would need to memorize a third poem for the state-level competition.
Winners were chosen using a scoring system, but judges also offered feedback for all 13 participants.
"One of the key things I noticed was that almost everyone was really composed," said Andrea Nwagwu, who helped judge.
She recommended students continue to work on accuracy and articulation.
"Make sure that we can understand the words that are coming out of your mouths," she said.
Judge Letha Bolinger said the students who won the competition truly were engaged with the poetry.
"Their eyes were moving and their faces emoted. Their bodies moved in. Their shoulders shrugged. Their hands came out," she said. "I want you to really, when you read your poems, understand them," she said. "Please give us the emotion."
Judge Dennis Posterick said he enjoyed the experience.
"To me, I thought poetry was boring, but I'm glad I came," he said.
"It’s just been a really positive experience," Noga agreed.