Okanogan High School junior Madeline Luther is the face of poetry for the Okanogan area this spring. As the newly-proclaimed Washington State Poetry Out Loud Champion, Madeline was one of 13 high school students to participate in the annual Washington State Poetry Out Loud competition, and rocked it, reciting her poems with poise, passion, and a demonstrable understanding of the poems’ content. On April 30, she’ll compete at the National Poetry Out Loud Finals in Washington DC, along with winners from other states and US Territories.
Madeline is no stranger to public performance. As a member of her high school drama group—the Dawg Stars—Madeline has been acting in school plays for four years. She’s a cheerleader, dancing on gym floors in front of crowds in the bleachers. And she likes debating: presenting an opinion and arguing it in a logical manner. The Poetry Out Loud national recitation contest, which was created in 2006 by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, gives Madeline and other students a chance to “showcase memorization skills as well as performing skills,” says Madeline.
2019 is Madeline’s second year participating in Poetry Out Loud, and her first to advance to the regional, state, and national competitions. She’s also the first Okanogan student to win the state contest. “Poetry Out Loud has shown me that poetry is a very wide art form,” Madeline says, “and anyone can get involved. I like performing in a way that brings an under-rated art form to more people’s attention.”
A bit of Madeline’s passion for poetry might come from her father. “My dad used to write poetry and before regionals he sent me a few silly poems he’d written,” she says. Madeline’s proficiency in poetry recitation was enhanced through the dedication of her English teacher, Dennis O’Connor, and her poetry coach, Methow Arts teaching artist Thome George, who worked with Madeline over a period of months on poetry selection, delivery, tone, gestures, and the dozens of other components that resulted in Madeline’s stand-out performance at the state competition.
Memorizing and reciting three poems selected from the approved anthology of hundreds of poems takes time and effort, but as someone with a strong work ethic, Madeline has embraced the task, working in collaboration with George. “[I’ve had it] reinforced that if you want to do something you should really just go for it,” she says. With Poetry Out Loud, Madeline just went for it, selecting poems that allow her to show both intensity and empathy, performing All This and More by Mary Karr, On Quitting by Edgar Albert Guest, and finally, Chorus Sacerdotum by Baron Brooke Fulke Greville, which fulfills the requirement that competitors recite one poem that was written pre-20th Century and one that is 25 lines or fewer (Chorus Sacerdotum is both).
Madeline’s involvement in Poetry Out Loud is just one of many activities she’s involved in. In addition to cheerleading, drama, and National Honor Society, Madeline participates in her school’s art club and Gay Straight Alliance. “I’m an involved student,” she says of her many commitments. She is, in fact, able to juggle all this and more.
Click here to see Madeline performing On Quitting at the WA State Poetry Out Loud competition.