It took Norwell High School senior Rose E. Hansen more than 90 tries to record three poems for this year’s Poetry Out Loud national competition.
Hansen is more accustomed to live performance: the tension-filled air backstage, the endless weeks of practice followed by the adrenaline rush of a single show and that wave of applause.
But this year, the event is virtual — which means the stage was shifted to Hansen’s bedroom. And the only live audience member was herself, staring back from her iPhone camera.
Hansen’s recorded recital will stream Sunday at the 2021 Poetry Out Loud National Finals. After climbing through school and state ranks, Hansen was chosen to represent Massachusetts and compete against 55 others for a grand prize of $20,000. Her selections include “Emily Dickinson at the Poetry Slam” by Dan Vera and “Barter” by Sara Teasdale. And if she makes the final round, viewers will also get to hear her recite “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus.
This isn’t Hansen’s first national-poetry-reciting rodeo. In 2019 she was chosen as the state’s Poetry Out Loud champion. But this year is different — not only due to the pandemic, but also because it’s Hansen’s last year to compete. All the more reason to record, delete, and record again.
“I could feel myself toward the end resisting making the recording,” Hansen said over Zoom this week. “I spent more time on my makeup or my hair — little silly things that make no difference in the grand scheme of things. But I think I was just trying to distract myself from the truth that this is my last year.”
The Poetry Out Loud competition, which provides finalists with mentors, writing prompts, and opportunities for meet-ups, is the reason Hansen fell in love with poetry in the first place, she said. “It wasn’t until this competition that somebody put a notebook in my hands and said, ‘I believe you have a story to tell. Why don’t you tell it? Why don’t you talk about the world and how you see it?’ That was so empowering. I don’t care if I never publish a single poem. Having that agency being given to me in high school was so so empowering.”
Hansen has plenty of other milestones approaching after the competition; she’ll be moving away from home and starting at Yale University in the fall.
“Even though it’s my last year with Poetry Out Loud, it’s not my last year with poetry,” she said. “So even though I’m going to have to say goodbye to this specific program, it’s already given me so much. Now I feel like I’m ready to go find the next adventure and the next arena to grow as an artist.”
POETRY OUT LOUD
May 2, beginning at noon. arts.gov/poetry-out-loud
Natachi Onwuamaegbu can be reached at email@example.com.