Local student to represent Georgia in poetry recitation competition

Molly Pitra said she enjoys that poetry speaks through time and cultures. In reciting poems, she said, she is able to feel something of what the poet experienced. A junior from St. Pius X Catholic High School in DeKalb County, Pitra took home first prize in the 2023 Poetry Out Loud state championship. A national program sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Poetry Foundation, Poetry Out Loud is administered locally by The Alliance Theatre with support from the Georgia Council for the Arts.

Competitors in Poetry Out Loud choose poems and recite them for judges who assess how well each conveys the poem’s meaning through the contestant’s recitation. “There also is an accuracy judge whose role is to check each recitation against the actual words in the poem to be sure they match precisely. Even dropping an ‘s’ from a word can cost you points,” Pitra explained.

“I love poetry from all times and places from the classics to contemporary works because they all allow people to find parts of themselves in them. They all speak to the human experience,” she said.

The three poems Pitra chose represent a wide range of traditions. One is from an Indian poet, another was written by early 20th century British poet W.H. Auden, and the other was by African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. “Although Paul Laurence Dunbar was a Black man who lived in the late 19th century, his words about trying to cope as an outsider resonate with me, a White female teen living in the 21st century. He talked about having to wear masks to fit in with those around him; I can truly understand that.”

Pitra said a key to her success in Poetry Out Loud is that she researches the life of each poet whose work she recites in competition. “Auden spoke out unapologetically about his same-sex relationships. That was very bold 100 years ago. I want his spirit to come through in the way I recite his poems,” she explained.

Pitra was not the only DeKalb student to excel in the competition. Amaya Ariel McGee from DeKalb School of the Arts was state runner-up.

“Poetry Out Loud encourages students to explore different perspectives and nurture a sense of empathy,” Tina Lilly, executive director of Georgia Council for the Arts, said in an announcement of the competition results. “Students who compete step outside of their comfort zone, build their self-confidence, and risk an unknown outcome. These skills play a role in anything from job interviews to public speaking to even becoming an entrepreneur.”

Pitra said many in her family love language and literature, but she especially enjoys time with a great uncle who writes poetry and enjoys reading and reciting it. “I have always loved poetry because the emotion of poems helps connect and portray people better than regular words do,” she said.

“I’m also interested in science, and I may end up earning my living in one of the sciences. The two interests are not as far apart as people think. There are, for example, many creative aspects to engineering. In any case, I will never lose interest in poetry,” Pitra continued.

As state champion, Pitra will represent Georgia at the national finals, which will be held May 8-10, in Washington, D.C. She will receive $200 from the NEA and her school will also be presented with a $500 certificate that will go toward new books. As Poetry Out Loud runner-up, McGee will receive $100 from the NEA, and $200 for new books for her school. “Although winners get money, that’s not why I’m in this. I love having a chance to get to know other people who love poetry the way I do. I think that’s so cool,” Pitra said.

Started in 2005 as a pilot program in Chicago and Washington, D.C., Poetry Out Loud has grown to involve millions of students from across the country. In the last eight years, Georgia’s champions have been awarded more than $45,000 from national and state competitions. Four champions from Georgia have placed in the top three at the national finals in that time, including a first-place win in 2017.

“The Alliance Theatre is thrilled to administer Poetry Out Loud for the state of Georgia. We are incredibly grateful to the dedicated educators who champion this work within their schools, and we celebrate the unique gifts of every student who participated in the program this year,” said Chris Moses, the Dan Reardon Director of Education and Associate Artistic Director at Alliance Theatre. “As we look ahead to the National Finals, we are wholeheartedly cheering Molly on, and we are honored to be a part of her journey as a young artist.”

Schools interested in participating in next year’s Poetry Out Loud can find more information at poetryoutloud@alliancetheatre.org.

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