Hongyu Jasmine Zhu ’23 Places Third in Poetry Out Loud
Hongyu Jasmine Zhu ’23 of Chengdu, China, was selected to represent Mercersburg Academy in the annual Poetry Out Loud contest and earned third place overall at the regional level. Zhu performed “A Noiseless Patient Spider” by Walt Whitman, “The Darkling Thrush” by Thomas Hardy, and “Candles” by Carl Dennis, and her recitation of the poems earned her a perfect accuracy score.
Poetry Out Loud encourages high school students to explore language through memorization and recitation of poetry. More than 3.8 million contestants from more than 16,000 high schools across the nation have participated in the contest.
Zhu describes her experience this year as “full of serendipity.” In preparing for the competition, which was fully virtual, Zhu notes, “While this granted me technically infinite chances to polish over the performance until I filmed my best shot, the filming also added stress and exhaustion. The chunk of the Christmas break made it so that [my mentors and I] only had very limited days to work together on the pieces. So I'm looking forward to next year, if I still have the beautiful luck to hop on board this journey, for some live juices and for more time to challenge myself with more dramatic or humor pieces.”
Faculty members Michele Poacelli P ’24, Doonie Brewer, and Kelly Dowling P ’21, ’21, ’23 served as Zhu’s mentors for the poetry recitation, and initial meetings together felt like small poetry workshops. “We shared our personal connections with the poems, discussed poetic devices, structural layout, and simple words that carry hard weight,” says Zhu. “Afterward, we talked about the use of gestures, appropriateness of dramatization, voice projection, emotional crescendo, enunciation of consonants, style of delivery [solemn or colloquial], or even disagreed on the pronunciation of a rhyming word at the end of a line. Then with such adjustments exchanged, I performed again. To be with poetry was a blessing, to be with poetry with these people was amazing.”
Describing how she and her mentors chose which pieces she would study, Zhu says, “To decide on three selections, together we evaluated them in terms of the overall range of emotions and styles they embody. But eventually it just really came down to whichever spoke to me most—again quite some spontaneous serendipity.”
“In every way, it was inspiring to work with Jasmine,” says Poacelli. “She annotated each poem meticulously and, through careful examination and dialogue, cultivated a deep understanding. She funneled her prodigious creative and intellectual talents into the experience, and she grew from it. Using this solid foundation as a springboard, she delivered nuanced recitations that did justice to the spirit of the poems.
“I'm sure I speak for all of the faculty members involved with Jasmine’s Poetry Out Loud preparations when I say that it was a pleasure to work with her. Jasmine was thoughtful during every stage of the process, from poem selection to choice of articulation and gesture.”
Describing her relationship to poetry, Zhu says, “I appreciate the art of poetry but used to feel lost as to where I may find the key to its abstruseness. This short journey with Poetry Out Loud taught me not to be intimidated and how to peruse and analyze poetry by paraphrasing, dictionary surveying, and questioning all the seemingly unquestionable. But moreover it sends me encouragement: Just do it, feel it, and do it again.”