Feb 272014

Although Mother Nature delayed the finals of the 20th Annual Judith French Poetry Recitation to February 19th at Lawrence Academy, the look on eventual winner Eli Salm’s face as he took to the stage made it clear that no measure of outside precipitation would knock him off track.

Eli Salm recites “Rite of Passage”
“When I got on the stage I just had to trust all of the hours I spent reciting my poem,” said the junior, who recited Sharon Olds’ “Rite of Passage”. “The night before, I spent three hours in the shower practicing my diction, so when I got up on stage, I just imagined the warm jets of water hitting my back and the smell of shampoo – it just sort of took off from there.”

The moving rendition was no surprise to the program’s MC, English teacher Mark “Doc” Haman.

“I was lucky enough to have Eli in class as students were preparing for the recitation, and from the start, he took the assignment seriously, focusing on the darkness of the comparison of the young boys to much older men,” said Mr. Haman, who has been involved with all 20 recitations. “He chose to recite at a deliberate pace, and as time went on, his choices about where and how long to pause began to convey clearly his sense of the mother’s underlying horror.

“Eli seemed constantly to be thinking about the effects that slight touches could have on the listener, and at each stage, his recitations became more and more effective, culminating in the finals, when I thought he gave his most powerful performance despite almost a month’s delay after the semi-finals [on January 21].”

Watching in the audience was last year’s winner of the Poetry Recitation, Franchesca Kiesling ’14. As a judge of this year’s competition, she said the nerves didn’t simply disappear just because she traded the stage for a seat.

“Being on the other side of the microphone was really scary,” she admitted. “I wasn’t nervous in the traditional sense like I was last year, but I was afraid of messing up.

“I was afraid I was judging too lightly or too harshly…if my own personal opinion about the poem was skewed and if I missed something in their performance. I wanted to do the best job I could and the only way I could do that was to talk about it with [fellow judges] Kate [Engstrom] and Mr. Igoe.

“I love the poetry recitation so it was all worth it though,” added Franchesca.

Clearly, it was worth it for everyone involved, most especially the audience, as all 10 junior finalists (Richie Cardillo, who recited Erica Jong’s ”Parable of the Four Poster”; Gabriella DiVincenzo, Richard Siken’s “Meanwhile”; Erin Gifford, Sarah Manguso’s “Space”; Aleice Goodman; Elizabeth Lincoln Otis’s “An ‘If’ for Girls”; Aoife Hughes, Seamus Heaney’s “Mid-Term Break”; Oren Karp, Billy Collins’ “To My Favorite 17-Year-Old High School Girl”; Amadu Kunateh, Carl Sandburg’s “A Father to His Son”; Cailey Mastrangelo, Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Making a Fist”; Ethan O’Dell, Allen Ginsburg’s “A Supermarket in California”; and Salm) upped the ante on this year’s competition.

“It was definitely not an easy choice for the judges,” said Salm. “I really liked some of the other poems, and there was definitely some tough competition this year.

“The other contestants clearly prepared diligently and hard for the recitation, so I was just happy to be there in the final.”