BY INDIANA NASH
NISKAYUNA- Silence reverberated through the theater before Emily Decesare shattered it with “Domestic Situation” by Ernest Hilbert.
“Maybe you’ve heard about this. Maybe not./A man came home and chucked his girlfriend’s cat/In the wood chipper. This really happened,” Decesare recited, as the crowd chuckled in relief of the quiet, happy to be shaken into the poem.
Decesare is one of 31 students to take part in Poetry Out Loud at Niskayuna High School this year.
It’s a national program for high school students that seeks to promote poetry and encourage students to get up and make each poem their own through performance.
Students are given a list of poems to memorize. Niskayuna students had about three weeks to prepare for the competition.
“Well, it’s really even less because there’s so much stuff going on,” said Christopher Pierson, an English teacher and judge this year.
Judges graded students on accuracy, whether or not they needed be prompted at any point, articulation, the evidence of understanding, physical presence and overall performance.
While teachers spend some time with students helping them to feel comfortable with the pieces they’ve chosen, it’s mostly up to the students to memorize them and find a way to express the piece in a way that seems to suit them and does justice to the poem.
Decesare landed on Hilbert’s poem because she didn’t want to pick a poem that was about flowers, animals or any other typical topic of poetry.
The piece illustrates scenes of domestic violence, which Decesare said is important to shed a light on.
Another student, Alexandra Kapunan, performed “The Unforgiven” by Russell Edson, where a house refuses to forgive its owner of an indiscretion.
“It just clicked for me . . . my family has always been there for me and I couldn’t imagine being in that situation,” Kapunan said.
While some students were nervous when they took the stage and during their introductions, however, as soon as they jumped into a poem, that disappeared.
“I was nervous at first,” said Isabelle McDonald.
But when she landed the first line of “The Obligation to be Happy” by Linda Pastan, the nerves were gone.
“I thought it’s a good representation of every teenager and how we feel obligated to be happy even when we’re really stressed,” McDonald said.
This year, the winner was Suzanne Davis for her reading of “What You Have to Get Over” by Dick Allen and the runner-up was Laura Nakisli for her performance of “Lazy” by David Yezzi.
Davis will be heading to the regional contest. From there, the winner will go onto the state finals in March of 2017.