It’s one thing to share your own life through personal verse. It’s quite another to live someone else’s life out loud.
Plainfield East High School sophomore Rapheal Mathis knows the difference, having earned second place in March for his performance of poetry written by other authors at the state “Poetry Out Loud” competition.
“Poetry Out Loud” is a national poetry recitation contest supported by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation. It helps students master public speaking skills, build self confidence and learn about their literary heritage.
The program started in Washington D.C. and Chicago, and then went national in 2006. Last year over 300,000 students competed across the country. The national winner takes home a $20,000 scholarship.
Participants must memorize and perform up to three poems written by other poets.
Mathis started writing poetry in 8th grade as part of the poetry unit for his language arts class. He continued writing, and recited poetry for the first time two years ago when he joined the PEHS speech team as a freshman.
“Poetry Out Loud” contestants must prepare a Pre-20th Century poem; a poem of 25 lines or less; and a poem of their choice.
This is the first year that the PEHS Speech Team has competed at the Poetry Out Loud competition, said speech team sponsor Michel Pawlak. It’s also the first time any District 202 team has taken part in this contest, Pawlak said.
Mathis performed two selections at both the school and regional competitions, and three at the state contest. He earned first place at both the school and regional contests.
The best part of the experience, Mathis said, is climbing into someone else’s skin, so to speak. “I really enjoyed kind of immersing myself in someone else’s writing,” Mathis said.
“You get a chance to take on a different role, and experience what the writer was experiencing when they wrote that poem,” he said, pointing to his performance of Emily Dickinson’s “I Felt A Funeral In My Brain,” which she wrote when having a mental breakdown.
“Rapheal tackles his challenge with almost reverence and an incredible amount of dedication,” Pawlak said.
“He just wants to get better all the time. He loves to speak and perform in front of people. He’s a natural,” she said.
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