MCC student to compete in Poetry Out Loud competition

MANISTEE — Nothing is more expressive in the use of the written word than poetry.

Manistee Catholic Central teacher Rachel Henderson works with student Josh Fleszar on his presentation for state Poetry Out Loud competition he will be taking part in today and Friday in Lansing. Fleszar will be competing against 44 other students from around the state for cash prizes and scholarships.

Manistee Catholic Central teacher Rachel Henderson works with student Josh Fleszar on his presentation for state Poetry Out Loud competition he will be taking part in today and Friday in Lansing. Fleszar will be competing against 44 other students from around the state for cash prizes and scholarships.

Likewise, the recitation and interpretation of those poems can often be a moving experience. It is one of the things that drew Manistee Catholic Central student Josh Fleszar to an appreciation of poetry.

Today and Friday Fleszar and MCC teacher Rachel Henderson will be at the Lansing Convention Center to join 44 other high school students from around Michigan in the state finals of the Poetry Out Loud competition. This competition is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts and Poetry Foundation and is hosted locally by the Michigan Humanities Council and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.

Fleszar said that he learned about Poetry Out Loud while attending his previous school in Florida. He said it was something that intrigued him, and when the opportunity presented itself at MCC he jumped at it.

“I first heard about it when I was a sophomore in high school,” said Fleszar. “I participated in the competition before and hearing that it would be available here, I decided it would be nice to participate.”

Fleszar will recite three poems at the competition including  “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley, “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost and “After the Winter” by Claude McKay. Judges will be looking for specific things as he does his rendition of those works.

“They are looking for understanding in the poems, physical presence and knowing that you understand what the poem is about through enunciation, dramatic evidence that you can really bring the poem alive,” Fleszar said.

Fleszar said the poems he selected  are ones familiar to him.

“The poem ‘Invictus’ was from a film of the same name that I really enjoyed and is about being courageous and able to triumph against the obstacles that come your way,” he said. “The poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ came for me from being in a high school play where the first stanza was recited as dramatic and out there as possible could be done and it just stuck in my mind.”

He said the poem “After the Winter” reminds him of his first winter back in Michigan in 2016 after living in Florida for many years.

“It reminded me about how spring comes about and everything just kind of changes,” said Fleszar.

Henderson said she was familiar with the competition from teaching at another school, but to her knowledge it is the first time it was done at MCC. They set up a school-wide competition, and she was a little surprised at the where the initial interest lay at MCC.

“Oddly enough it was five gentleman who tried out for the school competition, and it ranged from sophomores to seniors,” said Henderson. “The school where I was at before did it, and I enjoyed coaching and watching it. After teaching here for a while, I knew there would be an interest here.”

The students had to recite a poem from memory in front of the whole school, and then they were judged on the same things they will judged at the state level.

“A lot of schools don’t know about this, but it’s really easy to participate in,” said Henderson. “There isn’t any cost to the school or the kids who participate. There is so much choice and freedom in what they want to do. They also get to meet students who are like minded.”

She said other added benefits of the state program is there will be a student writer’s workshop and a teacher writer’s workshop the night before the competition.

Henderson said she feels the program will continue to grow in popularity at MCC.

“I think the kids were impressed with the way the gentlemen here could get up and recite the poetry with gestures and composure,” she said. “All the other high school students were required to recite a poem, but they just didn’t have to do it in front of everyone. Now they know it is possible, so I anticipate there will be a bigger interest.”

There are some prizes at the competition both for the competitors and their schools. The state champion will receive $200 and an all expense paid trip to the national competition. The champion’s school will receive a trophy and $500 for the purchase of poetry books. They also will compete for a $20,000 scholarship at the national competition.

The first runner-up will get $100 and $200 for the library and all four finalists will receive plaques to commemorate their efforts.

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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