Saturday, March 14 was a full day of Keats, Burns, Plath and other famous poets’ verses as 22 Tennessee high school students from across the state competed for 2015 Tennessee Poetry Out Loud State Championship. At 3:00 p.m., the official judges’ votes were in and Grace Whitten, a junior at Battle Ground Academy in Franklin took first place. Whitten will now go on to compete in the Poetry Out Loud National Finals April 28-29 in Washington, D.C.
This is Whitten’s third time competing at the state contest—for the past two years, she has advanced to the final round of the Poetry Out Loud Tennessee competition. She began memorizing poetry as a young child and said she initially entered the competition as a freshman for the experience of performing for an audience. She loves slam poetry and has published her own work in various online magazines. “Poetry Out Loud has been an amazing experience and I am looking forward to competing in Washington DC,” she said.
Whitten recited poems by Larry Levis, Sylvia Plath and William Butler Yeats. She was coached by her teacher, Leah Handelman who is in her tenth year of teaching at Battle Ground Academy and says she knew Whiten had a good chance of winning. “She loves poetry and that really shows when she recites,” said Handelman.
Second runner-up, Brittany Thompson is a sophomore at Brighton High School where she plays in the band and was recently selected to the All-West Honor Band. She loves music and thinks of poetry as lyrics to which she can write her own music.
Finally, the 3rd runner-up is Stephanie Bennett, a sophomore at Arlington High School in Arlington. She recently starred in a musical and is a former NDA Dance Grand Champion. Bennett currently competes in speech and debate tournaments around the state. She plans to study journalism in college.
Poetry Out Loud is a national recitation contest presented by The National Endowment for The Arts and the Poetry Foundation in partnership with the Tennessee Arts Commission. The program seeks to foster the next generation of literary readers by capitalizing on the latest trends in poetry, recitation and performance building on the resurgence of poetry as an oral art form.
Top photo: State Champion Grace Whitten recites
Bottom photo: Winners, L to R: Marissa Corleone, Grace Whitten, Brittany Thompson and Stephanie Bennett