By Rain Ji ’19
The climax of celebrating poetry at The Gunnery occurs every year when the English department hosts the poetry recitation event around Shakespeare’s birthday. On April 24, in the Bourne Reading Room, many students and faculties joined the event to celebrate various genres of poetry. Gunnery students are many of the 365,000 students who participate in various forms of recitation contests.
National Poetry Month, a initiative by the Academy of American Poets, became an annual celebration in April 1996. According to its founders, the celebration hopes to highlight the unique and continuous excellency of American poets. There are different ways to join the celebration: buying a poetry book, reciting a poem or simply encouraging others to read a poem. Throughout April, in various levels of English classes, teachers touch upon different poets.
Ms. Rimany told The Highlander that in her freshman classes they started reading poems in mid-April. They have been reading poems by Billy Collins, Theodore Roethke, Maxine Kumin, Robert Frost, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Emily Dickinson, Jacqueline Woodson, William Shakespeare and John Keats.
Similarly, Mrs. Theobald introduced many poems to her English II and English II Honors classes. Poems read included: “Introduction to Poetry” by Billy Collins, “Peaches” by Adrienne Su, “Out, Out” by Robert Frost, “He loved three things” by Anna Akhmatova, “Thoughts of Hanoi” by Nguyen Thi Vinh, “Ode to My Socks” by Pablo Neruda, and “Possibilities” by Wislawa Szymborska. Additionally, classes also read different poems that were inspired by art. They also covered “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge to introduce the novel Frankenstein.
Seniors also read a variety of poems. For example, in Mr. Poole’s English senior spring elective class, students brought a great variety of poems by living and recently-deceased poets. Additionally, in English IV taught by Mrs. Theobald, seniors read Letitia Elizabeth Landon’s “Revenge,” W.B. Yeat’s “An Irish Airman Foresees his Death,” Randall Jarrell’s “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner,” Luke Wright’s “Kings Head, Harwich,” Sharon Olds’ “Sex Without Love,” Stevie Smith’s “Not Waving But Drowning” Billy Collins’ “Picnic, Lightning”
Robert Lowell’s “Skunk Hour,” Allen Ginsberg’s “A Supermarket in California,” Adrienne Rich’s “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers,” Wallace Stevens’s “The Snowman,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” and Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue.”
In Mr. Visentin’s English III class, they read Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson in April. Earlier this month, the class read “This is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams in an attempt to find out what makes a poem a poem. In Mr. Visentin’s senior creative writing class, they read Billy Collins’s poem “1960” and listened to the jazz record that the speaker references in the poem. They also “read excerpts from avant-garde poet Kenneth Goldsmith’s book-length poem The Day, which is an exact transcription of the September 11, 2001 issue of The New York Times,” said Mr. Visentin. Additionally, Mr. Visentin told The Highlander that he wrote a haiku on his classroom board by Basho, translated by Jane Hirshfield:
Hearing the cuckoo,
I long for Kyoto.
He said he thought this haiku shows how meaning and experiences can be packed into “such a small amount of words,” since the poet stirred up a feeling of nostalgia from a trivial reminder, the bird singing, and Basho emphasized the power of memory in these short three lines.
During the poetry recitation, students from different grades recited various kinds of poems and lyrics. Starting with freshmen, Jannah McFarland ‘22 recited Theodore Roethke “My Papa’s Waltz;” many poems by Emily Dickinson were recited by Michael Burns ‘22, Serdar Kaltalioglu ‘22, and Yolanda Wang ‘22. Robert Frost was also a popular choice amongst the freshmen: Yoyo Zhang ‘22, Hudson Brown ‘22 and Paris Liston ‘22 each chose to recite one of his poems. Margaret Wu ‘22 chose a sonnet by Shakespeare to celebrate his birthday.
Drew Sutherland ‘21 chose “Ozymandias” by Percy Shelley. Ellen Grady ‘21 chose to recite lyrics of the song “Life Changes” by Thomas Rhett. Max Farrar ‘21 recited his original poem as well as “Genesis” by Billy Collins; following him, Jayla Stack ‘21 performed “Good Things” by Barbara Vance. Andi Bettinger ‘21 performed her original poem.
Kelly Hill ‘20 performed Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying.” Will Broadhead ‘20 recited a poem by Lord Byron, Joyce McFarland ‘20 recited “Diddy Bop,” and Patrick Thomas ‘19 recited a poem by Langston Hughes.
Many seniors were eager to share their poems with the audiences. Rain Ji ‘19 recited “What Kind of Asian Are You” by Alex Dang; Cody Moore ‘19 and John Crabtree ‘19 read poems by Alfred Lord Tennyson; Anne Beatty ‘19 performed lyrics from “Rapper’s Delight;” John Crabtree recited “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley as well.
On April 29, Mr. Visentin announced the winners of the recitation: Eric Zhang for freshmen, Max Farrar for sophomores, Joyce McFarland for juniors and Rain Ji for seniors. National Poetry Month was a great way to celebrate poets, poems, and in general poetry from all cultures and backgrounds, and The Gunnery really spent a great deal of time in and out of classrooms celebrating this special month. As Alice Walker, an American poet and novelist, pointed out, “Poetry is the lifeblood of rebellion, revolution, and the raising of consciousness.”