Vancouver Technical school student headed to national poetry recital

'Old Fashioned' performance wins out over technology

In the age of Twitter, reciting poetry might seem out of date.

But for Vancouver Technical Grade 12 student Kyla Kane, it means travelling to Toronto next month to compete with students from across the country in the Poetry in Voice national finals.

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Recitation, it seems very old fashioned, said Van Tech English teacher Denise Clark, who helped develop and taught Poetry in Voice curriculum alongside teacher Nicky Paris. But I know its getting big again in the United States and then with this competition in Eastern Canada over the last few years, now its kind of coming back and the students are really enjoying performing the poems.

Philanthropist Scott Griffin, founder and chair of The Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry, which awards the Griffin Poetry Prize, founded the bilingual poetry recitation competition and recruited trustees including Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje. The competition ran in Ontario, expanded to Quebec last year and spread across the country this year, with the finals in Toronto to be held May 14 and 15.

The competing students select poems from a list approved by the competition. Former Van Tech English teacher Liisa House, now the western representative for Poetry in Voice, says the teens select works that speak to them.

And then for those few minutes when theyre actually performing, theyve got everyone in the audience present with them, so its this sort of old-fashioned idea of being in moment that we dont allow students to have very much anymore with technology, she said. All these poems are open to interpretation when you speak them and how you see the poem can be expressed when you perform it on stage, and so you get a chance to live the poem for a few minutes and connect with that author, and thats quite powerful.

Clark and Paris ran classroom competitions and then a school-wide contest in February. Kane learned about the competition through school announcements she read over the P.A. and decided to compete.

For the required pre-20th century poem she chose Lady Mary Chudleighs To the Ladies.

Its about female oppression, so as a young woman I could relate, Kane said.

For the required poem of 25 lines or fewer, she chose Carl Sandburgs Chicago.

Its all about city pride, so I could also relate, she said.

She chose Don McKays Sometimes a Voice for the third poem because it mentions actor Steve McQueen. Kane is a fan of the actors grandson who performed in The Vampire Diaries TV series. And then I ended up loving the poem, she said.

As the schools winner, Kane could upload videos of her recitations to the Poetry In Voice online semi-finals.

When people heard her read, they said, wow, I learned new things about that poem today, Clark said.

Kane, an aspiring actress, sometimes writes her own poetry and enjoys recitation.

It was a fun because each of the poems spoke to me and when I recited them I felt powerful in a way, she said. It was fun to take what was on paper and convey that in a personal, more forward way.

The competition includes English, bilingual and French streams. Other English stream finalists from Vancouver are Dede Akolo from Little Flower Academy and Samantha Starkey from West Point Grey Academy. Natasha Jadavji from Crofton House School will compete in the French stream.

crossi@vancourier.com

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