During one of her first times reciting poetry, Elizabeth Williamson found an artistic calling.
With a dramatic flair, the Vancouver School of Arts and Academics student stood in front of her freshman class during a lesson on poetry.
When she finished reading “I Am” by John Clare — ending with the line, “Untroubling and untroubled where I lie; The grass below, above a vaulted sky.” — the enthusiastic reaction from her peers clued her in that she found a true talent.
“It was an inkling that I was good at it,” she said.
Now a senior, Williamson’s ability to connect with an audience by reading poems aloud has won her a spot at the statewide Poetry Out Loud contest March 8 in Tacoma. There, she and fellow Southwest Washington competitor Carlos Lehrke, from Stevenson High School, will try to win a trip to Washington, D.C., for the national finals.
During the Feb. 4 regional competition at the Educational Service District 112 offices, Williamson was a standout with her readings of “Abandoned Farmhouse” by Ted Kooser and “My Grandmother’s Love Letters” by Hart Crane.
“I thought I was going to pass out because my knees were locked,” she said.
Williamson was drawn to her selections because they spoke to her. The latter has a particular resonance to the teen because her grandmother lived in her family’s home before the older woman’s death.
When she reads lines, such as the opening to “My Grandmother’s Love Letters,” (“There are no stars tonight; But those of memory; Yet how much room for memory there is; In the loose girdle of soft rain.”) Williamson said she reaches into her own feelings to tell a story that will hopefully touch listeners.
She’s added a third poem to read at the state contest, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire,” by Gerard Manley Hopkins. She picked that particular verse because its themes touch on topics of faith that strike a chord with the Christian teen.
“I feel confident in the poems I’ve chosen and how they work for me,” Williamson said. “I hope that will help me at least feel more comfortable.”
She’ll be perfecting her performance up until the state competition under the guidance of two mentors: VSAA teachers Jeri Swatosh and Judy Goff.
Williamson has performed in theater productions, taken dance lessons and tried her hand at writing at VSAA, but it’s reciting poetry that has risen to the top of the many art forms she’s dabbled in.
“Poetry has been my favorite one so far,” she said.
Learn more about Poetry Out Loud.
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