Melrose Literary Society Poetry Recital Competition
Tuesday 21st April 2015
Junior Competition –
1st place: Maria I, Blackberry-Picking, by Seamus Heaney
2nd place: Lucy M, The Owl and the Pussy Cat, by Edward Lear
3rd place: Imogen B, A Boy’s Song, by James Hogg.
Intermediate Competition –
1st place: Louisa F, The Pig, by Roald Dahl
2nd place: Iwan H, Break of Day in the Trenches, by Isaac Rosenberg
3rd place: Horatio M-C, Bonnie Bell, by Robert Burns
Senior Competition –
1st place: Annabel E, Blackberry-Picking, by Seamus Heaney
2nd place: Stephanie W, Dulce et Decorum est, by Wilfred Owen
3rd place: Christopher W, Dulce et Decorum est, by Wilfred Owen
We were delighted to welcome Mr Harrison, from Fettes College, to judge our annual poetry recital competition today. What a hard job he had. Every year we all share in the nerves of the performers as they wait their turn to be called on to stage, and every year we are blown away by their confidence, clarity and evident love of the words they are reciting.
From my perspective in the English department, this year was a high point in terms of poetry choices; we saw so many ambitious poems performed at the Heats stage, from the loftily traditional to the experimentally modern. The ‘Studied Poets’ initiative that comprises part of the English syllabus in Forms 5 – 8 bore fruit this year, with Heaney, Hughes, Burns, Zephaniah and Owen finding their way into the final programme, having been the focus of study in the classroom for many competitors.
A few wondered why we had reciters competing with the same poem in the final this year; this was due to competitors qualifying in different Form Heats. They were judged to be the best in their class by their separate tutors, but then had the extra challenge of competing against each other on the day! All breathed their own unique life into the poem they performed, and as I protest regularly, there’s no such thing as too much Seamus Heaney. In many ways, having to perform the same poem as someone else forced an even keener competition to spring up, with the emphasis, as it should be, on the actual recitation.
Mr Harrison gave fabulous feedback to all competitors, including both praise and advice for future recitations. For those who could not be in attendance, here is my quick summary of the performers.
Imogen had the unenviable task of going first, performing James Hogg’s “A Boy’s Song”. She had a beautifully clear tone, which suited the poem very well. It was a dreamy and evocative piece that definitely fitted the sunny day outside. Freyja was up next, with a poem from one of my favourites, Benjamin Zephaniah. “Pencil Me In” is a brilliant little piece about the power of writing things down and getting them off your chest. Freyja was clear and confident, using the rhythm of the poem well and conveying its meaning to us easily. Oliver performed Colin West’s “My Colours”, a poem which seems simple at first glance, but on closer inspection contains a few tongue-twisters, and needs careful emphasis. Oliver manoeuvred his way through it very calmly; I could see Miss McRae’s ears prick up next to me when she heard how precise his expression was – a future star of the stage, no doubt! It’s a good thing that we seek an external contractor for the job of judging our poetry competition; Maria chose “Blackberry-Picking” by Seamus Heaney, which is one of my favourite poems… I couldn’t have been impartial! It was extremely impressive to hear such a young competitor deliver this rich, powerful language with understanding and sensitivity. Lucy tackled a children’s classic in the form of Edward Lear’s “The Owl and the Pussycat”; I really liked Mr Harrison’s comment that this poem is nonsense, to which Lucy brought very thoughtful sense. She was wonderfully confident and expressive. Jake summed up proceedings with Kenn Nesbitt’s “All My Great Excuses”. Many of us will have heard this poem performed before, but I have to say that Jake’s recitation was the funniest I’ve seen. He’s got excellent comic timing, and can really spin a story. I’m sure we’ll be seeing him in many speaking competitions in future years, too.
Dicken brought us some more comedy with Shel Silverstein’s “Sick (I Cannot Go To School)”. He relished the laying on of more and more illnesses, and took devilish pleasure in the final twist. His sense of drama and ability to vary his expression were very much in evidence. I was thrilled that Horatio had chosen to perform some Robert Burns, in the form of “My Bonnie Bell”, and completely agree with Mr Harrison’s assessment – Horatio has a fantastic sense of pace. He didn’t rush this descriptive, lyrical poem, and held the audience’s attention capably. Iona brought a great ‘butter-wouldn’t-melt’ tone to Brian Patten’s “Dear Mum”; she was another who stored up the comic potential of the final lines, and clearly enjoyed delivering them. A very clear reciter. From the Form 6 team, Louisa was first up, with that old poetry competition favourite, “The Pig”, by Roald Dahl. Louisa’s presentation is so precise, crisp and engaging – even though I have heard this poem once or twice in my life, I was listening closely to every word, and so were the rest of the audience. I’d already heard Iwan’s recital of Isaac Rosenberg’s “Break of Day in the Trenches” during the Heats stage, but it still gave me shivers this afternoon. Iwan brought amazing presence and atmosphere to this gloomy but linguistically interesting piece. Finally in this competition, Thomas performed Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Dumb Soldier”. Again, another performer with a real grasp of tone. Thomas was clear, thoughtful and imaginative in his recital of this poem, which I thought suited his personality so wonderfully.
James Ca ensured that there were a few sniffles in the room unrelated to hay fever with his rendition of Seamus Heaney’s “Mid-Term Break”, aka Just About the Saddest Poem There Is! I was really excited to see James exhibit such understanding of this poem; he built up to its relentlessly tragic end with skill. Stephanie studied Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum est” with me in Form 6, but the performance she gave of it today definitely outstripped my reading in class – assured, dramatic and suitably solemn. Very well done, indeed. Jacob gave us some much-needed relief in the form of his anonymous poem, “Tae A Fert”, a cautionary tale on the bodily effects of eating too much haggis, neeps and tatties. I loved hearing the Scots language delivered with accuracy, confidence and a very cheeky grin, and this poem was unsurprisingly very popular with large sectors of the audience! Annabel had a really hard task, knowing that Maria had already performed Seamus Heaney’s “Blackberry-Picking” with such aplomb. She more than rose to the challenge, however, getting stuck into the poetic techniques employed by Heaney with relish, and capturing the hazy but physical mood of the poem well. Heaney is Form 7’s Studied Poet this term, although we haven’t started our project yet – I’m going to be counting on Annabel to lead us. When I read “The Raven” by Edgar Allan-Poe in class last term, Ellen instantly decided she was going to perform it in the poetry competition. I told her not to be daft, and she replied only with a triumphant twinkle of the eye. That ambition and spirit served her very well today, not only in fuelling a massive feat of memory, but in allowing her to attack a poem that is incredibly difficult in terms of rhythm and vocabulary with a stylish flourish. Alright, Ellen, you’re not daft… you’re a wee bit brilliant. Georgina picked another big, serious poem in the shape of Wilfred Owen’s “Exposure”; this is an intense piece, with only one opportunity for a real change of tone. Georgina seized upon it, with great dynamism. As Mr Harrison commented, those of us with the text in front of us winced at the frightfully difficult upcoming vocabulary terms as if they were looming icebergs, only to find that Georgina could sail effortlessly through the dangers - wow. Christopher was last to take the stage, and had the further challenge of competing with the same poem as Stephanie, but the stage is where Christopher is happiest, and he more than rose to the occasion. His enunciation during Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum est” was fantastic, and he definitely put his own, different take on its recital. I have a feeling he could turn his hand to any text he fancied. Mention must also be made of Sophie, who reached the Final but was unfortunately ill today; Mr Purvis and Madame Syme were enchanted by her performance of Ted Hughes’ “Snow and Snow” at the Heats stage.
Phew! That’s all… Thank you again to Mr Harrison for coming down from Fettes and judging our competition. Thanks to all competitors, both in the Heats and Final stages, for pouring in so much effort, and thanks to Form Tutors for judging the first round. Finally, and very importantly, thanks to parents and other family members who are so instrumental in making this event a success, helping with poem selection and the hard graft of memorisation.