Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Vermont's Poetry Out Loud champ heads to finals for second year in a row

Greer Kennedy, a senior at St. Johnsbury Academy, will represent Vermont at the national Poetry Out Loud competition.
Luke Awtry Photography
Greer Kennedy, a senior at St. Johnsbury Academy, will represent Vermont at the national Poetry Out Loud competition.

Many people have a fear of public speaking, but for others, speaking in front of a crowd can be exhilarating. The annual Poetry Out Loud competition challenges teenagers around the country to recite, or declaim, poems in front of an audience. Vermont’s Poetry Out Loud program is administered by The Flynn in partnership with the Vermont Arts Council. The national poetry competition is supported and facilitated by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation.

We're saying goodbye to National Poetry Month by chatting with Vermont’s Poetry Out Loud champion, Greer Kennedy. A senior at St. Johnsbury Academy, Greer will compete for the second year in a row on behalf of Vermont in the national championship in Washington D.C. on Thursday.

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What exactly is Poetry Out Loud?

Poetry Out Loud is a national-level competition. My experience with it, you start in the classroom and you compete with classmates. You each choose a poem from the Poetry Out Loud website anthology, you memorize it and you declaim it for your class. From there, you have class winners, school winners, and regional winners, and then you go on to state and national levels, but you stay with the same poem that you've chosen the entire time.

When did you start declaiming?

Oh boy, well, Poetry Out Loud, I started in sophomore year, but I would say for me, I actually declaimed poems all the way back to elementary school. I had this competition in my school growing up, it was a Montessori school, and we would do a Shel Silverstein Day. Everyone would choose a Shel Silverstein poem, you would declaim it for the class, all the parents would come and it would be a huge event. That was really where I got my love for poetry. I did poetry showcases, basically. When I got to the Academy and I was told that they had a Poetry Out Loud, I was like, wow, I really want to be part of this because I've done it for so long. I really love poetry, and I love giving it to an audience and telling my story through someone else's words, all of that.

How do you take somebody else's words and make them feel like your own?

I think that the biggest part of being able to tell someone else's poem in a way that's true to you is in the pitching of the poem. That is a huge step in this whole competition. I think people overlook it sometimes, but really, you need to go through the anthology that you're given, and really, really look for what what stories the poets have that might relate to yours.

For example, in mine, I have Mezzo Cammin by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It's all about getting older and moving on to different stages of your life. Maybe there are things that you haven't done that you regret that you haven't done and then things that you are proud of that you have accomplished. As a senior in high school, that was really mirrored in my own experience this year of, you know, going on to whatever happens next year, that whole transition and the new chapters of life. So I think finding your own story, in the poem, is really the most important thing to be able to give it in a way that's true to you.

What are your rituals? Do you have anything that you do to pump yourself up before you go on stage and declaim?

I don't have any day of rituals per se, but I do have a day before ritual. The day before any competition for poetry, I always, no matter rain or shine or snow, walk home from school, and when I walk home, I say all of my poems out loud. Everyone on the sidewalk, of course, looks at me like I'm crazy. But I think that walking outside in nature and giving it in an open space, so you can really be as big as you want to be and you're not screaming at your bedroom walls, I think that's really helpful to get me in the right mindset and feel out my poem one final time before I go.

Broadcast live on Tuesday, April 30, 2024, at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

Have questions, comments, or tips? Send us a message or check us out on Instagram.

Updated: May 1, 2024 at 11:21 AM EDT
A clarification was added on The Flynn's role as an administer of Vermont's Poetry Out Loud. The Flynn and the Vermont Arts Council are both underwriters of Vermont Public.
Mikaela Lefrak is the host and senior producer of Vermont Edition. Her stories have aired nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Marketplace, The World and Here & Now. A seasoned local reporter, Mikaela has won two regional Edward R. Murrow awards and a Public Media Journalists Association award for her work.
Andrea Laurion joined Vermont Public as a news producer for Vermont Edition in December 2022. She is a native of Pittsburgh, Pa., and a graduate of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine. Before getting into audio, Andrea worked as an obituary writer, a lunch lady, a wedding photographer assistant, a children’s birthday party hostess, a haunted house actor, and an admin assistant many times over.