Reciting from memory, area students competed to convey meaning and emotion with the words of Longfellow, Frost, Poe and others Saturday at a regional Poetry Out Loud competition at Washington County Museum of Fine Arts.
"It's hard getting up in front of people and trying to say stuff with emotion and not act like you're nervous," said Stephanie O'Brien, 17, a junior at Heritage Academy who recited "The Empty Dance Shoes" by Cornelius Eady during round one of the competition.
O'Brien was one of three Washington County students to participate in the regional event, which also included three students each from Allegany, Baltimore and Frederick counties.
The other Washington County competitors were Kaleb Singleton, 16, a junior at Washington County Technical High School, and Kathleen Kidd, 16, a junior at Heritage Academy.
The students were competing for a place in the state Poetry Out Loud finals in Baltimore Feb. 26 and a chance at advancing to the competition's national finals.
This is the first year Washington County has participated in Poetry Out Loud and the county's first time hosting a regional competition, said Linda Joy Burke, Maryland's Poetry Out Loud coordinator.
Created in 2005 by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, Poetry Out Loud is administered in partnership with arts agencies in all 50 states.
The contest encourages high school students to memorize and perform poems from an anthology of more than 650 selections.
Their performances are judged based on criteria such as physical presence, dramatization, evidence of understanding, and voice and articulation, Burke said.
Winners at the state level receive $200 and advance to the national finals in Washington D.C., where the national champion will win $20,000, according to the contest website, www.poetryoutloud.org.
"Right now, this is just for bragging rights," Burke said of the regional competition.
Participation also helps students develop public speaking skills, improve their writing and enrich their understanding of and empathy for humanity and nature, Burke said.
Understanding the poem was an important part of preparing an engaging performance, said Kidd, who recited "A Psalm of Life" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and "We Wear the Mask" by Paul Laurence Dunbar.
"It was easy once you understood the poems," she said.
Kaitlyn Wright of Allegany County, and Geraldine Ezeka and Jamila Anderson of Baltimore County advanced to the state finals, Burke said.