I love poetry. I love writing poetry, reciting poetry and listening to poetry. It is like a language of its own. It can capture the most heart-felt emotions, or extraordinary experiences in the finest of details and in the fewest of words, whilst implanting a vision of beauty in the reader’s mind. At times, the language used may seem incomprehensible, but if conveyed with passion and emotion, it becomes easier for the reader to understand the sentiment of the poem, and so becomes more understandable. Many people who recite or write poetry have a story to tell about how their passion for poetry was first ignited, and how it developed, and so do I.
Four years ago, I was sitting in class reading a book, when suddenly, our poetry and drama teacher burst through the door. With a voice as loud as a foghorn, she announced that “there would be a grand poetry recital competition”. Back then, I was not nearly as confident and as valiant as I am today, and whilst admittedly I thought it sounded rather intriguing, I was ambivalent about whether I should take part or not. However, the choice wasn’t made by me, but rather the drama teacher who automatically nominated me for the competition! Now, I was thinking ‘Say no, just say no and you’ll be fine!’ but for some reason unknown to me, I heard myself say “Yes, I’ll do it.” All the while thinking ‘WHY DID I SAY THAT?!’ In the days that followed I was still bewildered at agreeing to this and assumed it would something I would regret, perhaps for the rest of my life. I thought all my friends would laugh and tease me and consider this an absurd interest as they were all keen on sports, and if it turned out I wasn’t good at reading poetry, I was fearful this would make me look foolish, and that perhaps I would disappoint my family and teacher if I didn’t win the competition. I also feared it may impact my confidence for the future and put me off attempting similar events. However, contrary to those fears, it actually turned out to be something that would change my life, for the better.
Later that day, I received the first piece of poetry I would recite to an audience. It would also be the first piece of poetry that I recited in my life. So when I took a glance at it for the first time, my mouth slightly dropped. All these words in Scots Tongue didn’t look like words to me. It just seemed like a jumble of letters. Looking at the lines made me sweat with panic. ‘How am I supposed to learn this?’ I thought to myself, with pounding heart.
It was a Robert Burns poem called ‘To a Louse’. And whilst it was only an extract that was 4 verses long, it still was enough to confuse me. A lot. It took me a whole week to learn this extract which was around 30 lines long. I have since learned poems much longer than this and in far shorter time frames, which reflects how tricky I found it, but also that learning poetry, like so many other things, is a skill that improves with practice.
The competition itself wasn’t very difficult, and not as daunting as first thought. I recited my poem, following this the adjudicator gave some constructive criticism. I really thought it would be extremely tough, like one of those situations that makes your heart race and your palms sweaty, and has moments of extreme tension throughout, but this was not the case.
Unfortunately, I didn’t win. So you would think, ‘He tried, and he didn’t succeed. That must be really demotivating. This must be the end of his poetry career.’
Well, you would be wrong.
You see, I am the kind of person that is persistent. I try and try until I succeed. Later in the year, my school held a poetry competition which I entered, coming first place for the class round and securing a place in the finals. I was very presumptuous and designated a spot on my fireplace for my tremendous trophy. However, after hearing some of the other performers, I began to have second thoughts about whether I would win the competition or not.The standard was so high it would have been difficult for the judges to select a winner. So when I performed my poem, and the winners were getting announced, I could almost hear my heart beating, and felt it pound inside my chest. I felt like the room was becoming hotter than a sauna. Then when they announced each place and it wasn’t my name being called, I became slightly apprehensive. As first place was called and I heard “Liam Kearney!” I was both ecstatic and shocked, as it really could have gone either way as the standard was so high.
Shaking my head in disbelief, I saw the whole audience clapping and staring at me as I went up and collected my trophy. All the while I was thinking that perhaps I had been right to be egotistical and have faith in myself; after all as it seemed to have paid off. I felt accomplished, ecstatic, but most importantly, I felt extremely proud of myself.
Recital, of course, isn’t simply about reading words off a page, and I have a strategy that helps the learning and delivery of my poems: First, I learn the words, then I learn the hand gestures and actions that I want to incorporate into my delivery, and finally, I project the tone of my voice to suit the emotion I am trying to convey: In learning the poem I have to understand what it is about so I can deliver it well and this helps my audience understand the poem better. By engaging in poetry competitions it has given me various different opportunities to recite at other events, the most recent being the Linlithgow Folk Festival, an annual event I performed at last week. I was invited to perform two recitals and a song. However, the most enjoyable piece was most definitely the song. It was called the ‘Glesga Budgie’, and it was about a colossal Glasgow budgie. The best part about it was….my aunt was dressed up as the budgie! Everyone in the audience had a good laugh! Even I found myself laughing!
Poetry has changed my life for the better. From starting out as a timid young boy who was nervous to volunteer and participate in competitions, to become what I now believe, a confident individual who thrives in his deliverance of poetry and who now tries to participate in competitions wherever and whenever possible. Poetry has taken me to many different places; I have spoken at many different events, have addressed the Haggis on numerous occasions at different Burns’ nights, and it has made my life more enjoyable. It has also allowed me to meet new people, and participate in events, such as the Robert Burns Summer School hosted at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, which is a truly great event.
Reciting poetry isn’t for everyone, of course; if you have stage fright, and there is a huge audience awaiting an amazing performance, you can be afraid. I have seen this a few times, where the performers see the crowd, and their cheeks go as pink as cherries, but practise makes perfect. I have practised reciting poetry a lot and I never get afraid; nervous is not a word in my dictionary.
I love poetry, and I believe that everyone should too. Famous poets have even inspired me to write my own poems. I believe that poetry will help me with my English literature skills, and give me a greater chance of improving my performing arts. It also helps me with my writing skills.
You never know, I might even become the next great poet!