Polytech junior in a poetry class by herself

Polytech High School junior Hannah Sturgis, center, stands with Eleanor Billington, left, of the National Endowment for the Arts, and Stephen Young, of the Poetry Foundation, after Hannah bowed out of the National Poetry Out Loud competition in Washington. Eliminated in the semifinal round, Hannah made it deeper in the competition than any other Delaware student ever has. (Submitted photo/James Kegley)

Polytech High School junior Hannah Sturgis, center, stands with Eleanor Billington, left, of the National Endowment for the Arts, and Stephen Young, of the Poetry Foundation, after Hannah bowed out of the National Poetry Out Loud competition in Washington. Eliminated in the semifinal round, Hannah made it deeper in the competition than any other Delaware student ever has. (Submitted photo/James Kegley)

SMYRNA –– Polytech High School junior Hannah Sturgis has turned her love of poetry into a special distinction.

At the national Poetry Out Loud competition in Washington last week, Hannah went deeper into the poem recitation contest than any Delaware student has, as she was eliminated in the semifinal round.

She competed with the 19th century poem “Infelix” by Adah Isaacs Menken.

“I’ve always loved poetry, probably since elementary school and have since gotten into Emily Dickinson, Shakespeare — all of the greats,” the Smyrna resident said following the competition in Washington.

On Feb. 23 at the Smyrna Opera House, she beat out 17 other students for a chance to represent Delaware in the national finals.

Hannah first got involved in Poetry Out Loud two years ago after her freshman English teacher, Patricia Mastin, introduced it to her.

“She knew I was interested in poetry and thought Poetry Out Loud was something I could excel at,” she said.

Polytech High School junior Hannah Sturgis recites the 19th-century poem “Infelix” by Adah Isaacs Menken during the National Poetry Out Loud competition last week in Washington. Hannah has taken her love of poetry one step further, becoming a poet herself. (Submitted photo/James Kegley)

Polytech High School junior Hannah Sturgis recites the 19th-century poem “Infelix” by Adah Isaacs Menken during the National Poetry Out Loud competition last week in Washington. Hannah has taken her love of poetry one step further, becoming a poet herself. (Submitted photo/James Kegley)

Hannah has since performed three poems, including “Infelix,” “El Olvido” by Judith Ortiz Cofer and “Blackberrying” by Sylvia Plath.

When selecting poems for Poetry Out Loud, Hannah looks for works that are relatable to her and the audience.

“I always look for poems that speak to me,” she said.

“And it’s amazing that a poem written yesterday or one written 400 years ago can speak to us. But all the writers have had the human experience so you’re bound to find something you can relate to.”

Bringing the words of a poem to life takes much more than just reading the words off the page. Poetry Out Loud focuses on mastering memorization, recitation and delivery, which takes constant practice.

To prepare for both the state and national competitions, Hannah practiced almost daily at school with Ms. Mastin and her former drama teacher Sharon Crossen.

“I work with Ms. Mastin on the words and Ms. Crossen on the speech and gesticulation,” Hannah said.

Giving Hannah an edge on her competitors has been her experience in acting.

“I’ve done shows at school and with the Children’s Theatre too,” she said.

“I like to do anything that gets me on stage because I’m not afraid to go in front of people and capture their attention, whether it’s for just a line or a whole monologue. So I think that makes me a good fit for Poetry Out Loud.”

Her performance of “Infelix” may have only been about two and a half minutes but mastering the performance required her to work at home alone on weekends in addition to the practice at school.

“Sometimes my friends will ask me to go somewhere and joke that ‘Oh, Hannah’s just going to stay home to practice her poetry,’” she said. “They’re really supportive but some like to kid with me about it too.”

Although her friends at home have been supportive of her poetry, Hannah said meeting the other 52 students at the competition was an unbelievable experience.

“It’s amazing to be surrounded by a bunch of teenagers who are so into the same things,” she said. “Everyone was so excited about poetry and art, so it’s cool to be in a group with that kind of connection.”

Although there was scholarship and prize money on the line, Hannah said everyone was very relaxed and friendly throughout the competition.

And even though she didn’t win the national competition, she won $200 for herself, and another $500 to be spent on poetry books, at the state competition.

She uses poetry books not only for reading, but learning as well, since she has become a poet on her own.

“I love to write and have been doing it seriously for more than a year now,” she said. “I write about anything and everything but mostly the little things — like something that might be bothering me, something I overheard or a person or event I saw when I was out.”

Hannah’s always working to improve her own poetry and writes whenever she has the chance.

“I guess I’m just fascinated by storytelling and how someone can create a whole world in only a few words,” she said. “And hopefully one day I’ll be able to do that too.”

To learn more about Poetry Out Loud, visit poetryoutloud.org.

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