BY ELENA GRANDE
For Your Niskayuna
NISKAYUNA — Students and faculty members filled the seats of the Little Theater at Niskayuna High School on Dec. 22 for the local edition of the annual Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest.
The event in the auditorium was actually the second round of the competition — students had previously memorized and recited poems during their English classes to be judged by teachers. The winners of those classroom rounds moved onto the Little Theater, where their selections and delivery styles varied from brief to extensive, and from cute to dramatic.
“Poetry Out Loud was implemented as a way to foster the next generation of poetry in the oral art form,” said English teacher Kelly Millet, who coordinates Poetry Out Loud for Niskayuna.
The participants exuded both confidence and charisma as they performed. At the conclusion of the event, the four judges, all former or current Niskayuna High School English teachers, convened in a separate room to decide on the winners of the contest.
After a nail-biting wait, three winners were named: senior Emma Sarnacki and sophomore Lizzie Lukoski won spots at the regional competition, and sophomore Jiaqi Yao was named as an alternate.
Sarnacki had lots to say about her experience with the competition and her immense passion for poetry.
“I’ve been practicing my poem for about a month,” she said. “I like to sit in front of a mirror and dedicate an hour or so to it.”
Sarnacki also said she couldn’t have accomplished as much with the contest if it weren’t for the English Department and its unwavering support. However, it’s clear her own fascination with poetry has much to do with her success, too.
“Poetry is an abstraction of our thoughts,” she said. “You can write a lot about your thoughts, but poetry distills them and makes them more concise.
“I’m a vessel for these words,” she added.
This is not the first time Sarnacki has taken the stage for the Poetry Out Loud competition. She has been competing annually since her freshman year, and claims to have grown tremendously since she first began.
One thing she has learned is that there is a saturation point to practicing.
“I’m trying to be more efficient,” Sarnacki said. Having recited poetry for the contest all four years of high school, she says she has gained valuable experience that has helped her be more honest with her recitation.
When she won the schoolwide contest in her freshman year it became obvious — not only to the English Department, but to Sarnacki herself — that she was a natural at poetry recitation.
She said she was looking forward to once again attending the next level of the Poetry Out Loud competition, describing a unique and enriching experience.
“It brought together all different types of people,” Sarnacki said. “The other contestants bring all sorts of new things to the competition.”
When asked how she felt when her name was announced among the winners going on to the regional contest, Sarnacki was confident in her answer. “I’m happy,” she said, “because I didn’t want today to be the last time I recited poetry in high school.”
Also among the three winners was Lukoski, who said at first, she found the competition to be intimidating, but later found it to be fun and rewarding.
“Everyone was so good, I was honestly so shocked when they said my name,” she said. “There were a bunch of people who did phenomenally.”
Lukoski said she was very nervous about reciting her poem onstage, and that without the help of classmates Emma Bour and Mackenzie Meade, she probably wouldn’t have won.
“They heard me recite my poem so many times,” Lukoski laughed. “I wouldn’t have memorized it, if Emma hadn’t forced me too.”