PICTURED ABOVE: Junior Sophie Dawson practices her poem recitation at Hockaday. Photo by Charlotte Dross
“Anyone who begins a sentence with ‘In all honesty…’ is about to tell a lie.”
Such are the opening words of Stephen Dunn’s playful yet sophisticated poem, “Propositions.” Despite however well-written the poem may be, there aren’t many people who would recognize this seemingly meaningless string of words off the top of their heads—excluding perhaps an English teacher or poetry fanatic.
Junior Sophie Dawson is one exception. She has recited this exact line more times than she can count.
On Dec. 13, seven students gathered in Great Hall for Hockaday’s final round of the Poetry Out Loud competition. Each of the seven students had participated in the preliminary round (held Nov. 29) and gone on to be selected for the final round. It is here that they found themselves reciting two poems of their choosing to their peers and a panel of English teachers.
Dawson was one of these seven. She opened the final round by reciting Stephen Dunn’s “Propositions,” then went on to recite “On Monsieur’s Departure,” by Queen Elizabeth I.
“I tried to choose two poems that were very, very different to challenge myself and also to stay interesting and stay engaging,” Dawson said. “Everyone who got to the final round, and even everyone in the preliminary round, can showcase such a wide range of emotions, so why not?”
Shortly Dec. 13, Dawson learned that she had been selected as the finalist to represent Hockaday in the State competition, which is to be held in Austin, TX at the Bullock Texas State History Museum on Feb. 24. Here, finalists throughout the state will compete for a chance to travel to Washington D.C. for the National round.
As the State round steadily approaches, Dawson has started to practice her recitations more frequently, as she now not only has to recite her two original poems, but a third as well.
“I’ve prepared more rigorously [for the State competition] for sure,” Dawson said. “I’ve been doing more research. I’ve read pieces by past winners, like articles and interviews, and what they thought about the whole process.”
The judge panel at the State competition is generally made up of those who have a particular appreciation of poetry, such as writers and poetic scholars. The State competition ordinarily attracts a large crowd of other accomplished peoples as well. For instance, Naomi Shihab Nye, a renowned poet, novelist and songwriter, was last year’s keynote speaker at the Texas State finals.
Mira Cranfill, Upper School English teacher, serves as a judge in the local Hockaday rounds and is the faculty member in charge of the competition here within the school community.
“One of the loveliest things about doing [the Poetry Out Loud competition] here is—and of course I’m prejudiced for our students—but I think our students have such a good appreciation and understanding of poetry, that it makes it very hard to be a judge here because everyone is so very, very good,” Cranfill said.
Upper School English teacher Sarah Traphagen was able to accompany previous Hockaday students to both State and National rounds, and as a result has as a firm understanding of the competition itself.
“I think that, from my experiences, last year when I went to the national competition, the students who go take poetry very seriously and think deeply about what they are reciting, and it’s just a very fulfilling and influential experience for the kids who are reciting the poems and for the audience as well,” Traphagen said. “It’s a celebration of the written word.”
Story by Charlotte Dross, Asst. A+L Editor