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Dublin High School Hosts Inaugural Poetry Out Loud Recitation Contest

February 3, 2012

Ryan McRee and Sharanya Stanley with teacher Holly Cunningham

I was recently asked by Dublin High School English teacher Holly Cunningham to serve as a judge for Dublin High School‘s inaugural Poetry Out Loud recitation contest. I jumped at the chance, as writing poetry has been a personal passion since high school (read more if you are curious…). Poetry is written to be spoken – and poetry read well is an engaging experience.

The Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, and involves high school students from across the country. The contest starts just as Dublin High’s event did today – with high school students competing in their schools and up through county and state competitions until a national champion is ultimately selected. Over 365,000 students participated in Poetry Out Loud contests last year, with the national finalists competing for $50,000 in scholarships.

This was my first time judging what I hope will become an annual event at Dublin High School and it was intimidating at first. Poetry Out Loud publishes a strict set of rules for judges including a detailed 6-category rubric which is used to judge each performance. I was joined by Principal Carol Shimizu, parent Chris Bennett and English teacher Noel Sollom at the judging table. English teacher Holly Cunningham organized the event and her husband (and school board trustee) Dan Cunningham served as M.C. Each judge was provided a packet of poems in advance that had been selected by the competing students from the Poetry Out Loud website (the competition requires poems to be chosen from a set list).

Eight students took part in Dublin’s first contest, with the top two (Ryan McRee and Sharanya Stanley) moving on to the Alameda County contest in two weeks. Each student had to memorize two poems – but memorizing the words is pure mechanics and is just the start. Ultimately what the contestants had to do is become the poem – not act the poem – but become the words. And at several points during the competition the carefully chosen and meticulously structured words of the poet truly came alive in Dublin High School’s Little Theatre for the audience of parents, peers and educators.

While there had to be a winner in the end, each student that chose to become a poem and take the stage learned something from the experience. For those that have never heard of Poetry Out Loud or have rarely heard a poem come to life, take a moment to hear Ryan McRee and Sharanya Stanley’s contributions (below), or browse through past performances on the Poetry Out Loud website (

Dublin High School Poetry Out Loud Contest Entrants with teacher Holly Cunningham


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