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Students' Vocal Talent Tested in Poetry Competition

Eight students from across the St. Louis area, including two from high schools in Ladue, competed for prizes in Poetry Out Loud.

Crafty lines from classical literature and contemporary writers came to life recently  at Poetry Out Loud.

The event pitted eight St. Louis area students -- including Eileen Williams from and from -- against each other for a chance to advance to the Poetry Out Loud state championship in Jefferson City this April. Each of the students were required to recite two poems from memory in the in the Delmar Loop.

"They discover their inner actor or actress," said Lisette Dennis, the Arts Commission's Grants Manager. "It's something they find out they can excel in."

Poems were selected from the Poetry Foundation's online database and included works from authors ranging from Carl Sandburg to Karl Shapiro and from Lord Byron to Emily Dickinson.

Ladue High School senior Olivia Krebs, who placed third in the competition, recited "As Kingfishers Catch Fire" by Gerard Manley Hopkins and "Backdrop Addresses Cowboy" by Margaret Atwood.

A performer from a young age, Krebs is also playing the role of Miss Flannery in Ladue High's production of later this month.

"I think I'm a very open person, and I like people's reactions and feeding off their emotions," Krebs said. "I have a creative outlook on life."

"Performing came natural to her," said Robert Krebs, Olivia's father. "She was like two years old and going up to people and being a ham."

Krebs has been accepted to Cornell University's School of Hospitality Administration. She is also a board member of Crescendo, Ladue High School's literary journal.

John Burroughs School junior Eileen Williams performed "Solitude" by Ella Wheeler Wilcox and "[I Carry Your Heart With Me]" by e.e. cummings.

The experience of preparing for Poetry Out Loud provided an enjoyable challenge for Williams.

"It's really interested because I've never ben that into poetry," Williams said. "(Hearing poems performed aloud) is a different experience than looking at words on a page."

A member of The Review, the literary journal at John Burroughs School, Williams thinks arts education is an important part of school.

"We're all separate individuals floating around each other," Williams said. "Writing is a way to reach beyond yourself in ways you normally couldn't."

Eileen's mother, Julie Williams, did her part to nurture her love of literature. 

"From the very beginning, I read to her as an infant," Julie Williams said. "When she was small, we would act things out a lot."

One student from Cardinal Ritter College Preparatory School stunned the audience with an off-beat interpretation of "Who Understands Me But Me" by Jimmy Santiago Baca.

Thomas "Teddy" Bailey acted visibly shaken and disoriented throughout the recitation -- the final performance of the night -- as a way to express the poem's emotion.

"When I read the poem, it sounded like (the narrator) was on the verge of being crazy," Bailey said. "I wanted to stand out for the crowd ... I tried to do an easier poem, but my librarian wouldn't let me."

Cardinal Ritter librarian Chris Jarland attended Poetry Out Loud and had served as Bailey's coach in preparation for the contest.

Regional Arts Commission Executive Director Jill McGuire was proud to sponsor a program for area students.

"It's extremely important to have students involved in the arts," McGuire said. "They perform in a way that's not part of a production; it's about them. This is the kind of thing that builds confidence."

First place went to Elizabeth Modde from Nerinx Hall High School, while the first runner-up was Wendy Low from Parkway North High School.

Other schools represented at the competition included Hazelwood East High School, Lutheran High School North and Metro Academic & Classical High School.

Poetry Out Loud is a nationwide event. Each of the eight students at Tuesday night's event had won their district championship.

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