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Read it loud. Read it proud.: Altoona student wins state Poetry Out Loud contest, performs in D.C.

Monday, May 1, 2017
Elizabeth Dohms | Leader-Telegram


ALTOONA - Altoona High School senior Janessa Gould tilted the microphone up toward her onstage at the Chazen Art Museum in Madison before dropping her hands to her side and perfecting her stance.

With a booming voice, Gould, 18, pronounced each syllable deliberately as she introduced the poem: " 'The Art Room.' By Shara McCallum. For ...  my sisters."

"Because we did not have threads / of turquoise, silver, and gold / we could not sew a sun nor sky," Gould said, opening her palm to the audience and twisting it back to form an invisible ball as she continued. 

"And our hands became balls of fire / And our arms spread open like wings."

Her performance in early March landed Gould first place at the 2017 Wisconsin State Poetry Out Loud finals and an opportunity to perform on the national level in Washington, D.C.

Poetry Out Loud is a national high school competition that asks students to memorize and recite poetry that meet certain qualifications. This year, about 310,000 students participated in the competition nationwide. 

"It's comparable to acting," Gould said. "You're presenting something to an audience."

Gould recently returned from the nationwide competition last week that had 53 contestants - one from each state, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. 

While she didn't place in that event, she was content and confident in her performance which was near the end of the program. The students performed in alphabetical order of the state they represented.

Gould said the 53 teenagers formed a bond that lessened the competitive fire between contestants. 

"When you have all these kids together that have a love for poetry and the arts, it's common ground," she said, noting that the program deepened her passion for ensuring arts stay in school.

This was Gould's third year at state participating in the Poetry Out Loud contest. 

Her English teacher, Angela Roloson, who joined Gould in D.C. along with her mother and aunt, requires all students to perform as part of their poetry curriculum as sophomores. Students have the option of continuing with the contest after 10th grade. 

"I like doing poetry in front of people," Gould said. "I think it's good to be that vehicle and voice for it; I think that's really interesting."

Out of about 120 students who participate at the school level, two are chosen to perform at regionals at UW-Eau Claire, where winners are then sent to the state competition in Madison. 

"Janessa just has a powerful poetry cadence," Roloson said. "She's super reflective. A lot of students would probably just want to copy somebody else's performance, and she's never been that way."

Students are scored for diction, tone and understanding. Their facial expressions and gestures are also carefully watched. 

Gould said she spent a good portion of time this year unraveling the poetry's meaning. In addition to "The Art Room," Gould also performed Gregory Djanikian's "Mrs. Caldera's House of Things" and Ella Wheeler Wilcox's "Friendship After Love."

"In the past I would memorize my poems and recite them, but I don't think I was necessarily thinking about what the words meant," Gould said. "You have to remember not to forget to convey that meaning to the listener."

Gould plans on attending UW-Stout in Menomonie after graduation, with a major in graphic communications and a minor in marketing or public relations. 

"I want to have a voice somewhere," she said. "I think it's really important to have somebody speaking for a company or cause and be passionate about what you're doing."

Contact: 715-833-9206,, @EDohms_LT on Twitter

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