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This article was published 4/3/2021 (485 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The power of the spoken word is in the spotlight again, as students from across the country take part in Poetry in Voice.
Students from northeast Winnipeg are among those hoping to make a splash at the virtual competition this year.
Tannis Francis, a teacher at Kildonan-East Collegiate, has been involved with Poetry in Voice for six years now. Preparations for the competition this year have been different, owing to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
"Gathering students together in any extracurricular activity, because of cohorting, it’s difficult," Francis said. "So this is all online."
Jess Willow, a teacher at Elmwood High School, has been involved with Poetry in Voice for four years.
"The fact that it is online has made it easier in some respects," Willow said. "Students might be happier not having to perform for an audience. But at the same time, it has been hard to find time to rehearse."
Each school’s team is comprised of three students that compete as a team for the regional competition. The student from each team who scores the highest at regionals qualifies for the national semifinal round.
Kildonan-East’s team is made up of Emily Adam and Al Gilbert, two Grade 10 students, and Emily Kruk, a Grade 11 student who will compete nationally in the bilingual category. Gilbert will also represent KEC at the English language national competition. It is a first time for each student to compete with the KEC team.
"The three of them are very brave and very expressive, and patient with me in terms of getting advice," Francis said.
Elmwood’s team is made up of Diego Chacon-Vega, a Grade 12 student, and Grade 10 students John Platon and Shanice Raymond.
Last year, over 20,000 students across Canada took part in the national contest. Unable to travel to Montreal for the final competition owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, semifinalists were instead awarded $500 each. In 2019, Winnipeg hosted the semifinal and final rounds.
This year, again owing to COVID-19, the entire competition is hosted online. One major downside to that, Francis noted, is competitors don’t get to see the other schools perform.
"Getting those like-minded kids together was lovely, even amongst the competition," Francis said. "It’s too bad."
Reading aloud is a performance, one where the performer plays to and draws energy from an audience. Without a live audience to read to, this year’s crop of competitors are making adjustments.
"You have to perform differently than you do in person," Francis noted. "In addition to that, losing your audience, to find that energy all within your own self is tough. It puts more stress on vocal expression than physical expression."
Lighting and camera angles also come into play.
"It’s a different process, which is something you don’t have to worry about on stage," Francis said.
Elmwood’s Chacon-Vega, who also took part in Poetry in Voice in 2019, said that while performing for an audience is special, he prefers being able to record his submission.
"You can make mistakes and you can fix it," said Chacon-Vega, who recited Wow! You’ve Changed by Dina Del Bucchia for the competition.
School have until March 4 to submit their videos online. For both Francis and Willow, being able to provide students with a safe activity to take part in during a year when most extracurriculars have been cancelled has been a major morale booster.
"A big thing for me is seeing how many students have given up on the school year," Willow said. "So it’s really nice to know that these students are excited, that there is something happening for them."
"The fact that these kids are putting in extra effort is quite remarkable this year," Francis said.
Visit www.poetryinvoice.com for more information.
Sheldon Birnie is a reporter/photographer for the Free Press Community Review. The author of Missing Like Teeth: An Oral History of Winnipeg Underground Rock (1990-2001), his writing has appeared in journals and online platforms across Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. A husband and father of two young children, Sheldon enjoys playing guitar and rec hockey when he can find the time. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org Call him at 204-697-7112