HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Hannibal High School sophomore Claudia Nichols enjoys writing and reading poetry, so when she had the opportunity to participate for the first time in her school's Poetry Out Loud contest, she signed up.
As part of the nationwide program, students memorize and recite poems for a the chance to compete at the local, state and national level for cash prizes. The purpose of the program, Poetry Out Loud's website says, is to help students develop public speaking skills and confidence, and learn about literary history.
Nichols was one of five students to compete in the Northeast Missouri regional competition Tuesday morning at the Hannibal Arts Council. There, she competed against Lauren Frazier of Canton High School; Heidi Reinbeck of Palmyra High School; Wesley Peel of Freedom Christian Learning Center in Troy; and Kaiya Thompson of Troy-Buchanan High School, also in Troy. All five high school students recited three poems before judges in hopes of being named regional champion and moving on to compete at the state level March 8 in Jefferson City.
Judges scored the students for physical presence, articulation, dramatic appropriateness, evidence of understanding and overall performance. Ultimately, Thompson was named the Northeast Missouri regional winner, and Frazier was runner-up.
"I enjoy their poetic style and narrative," Frazier, a sophomore, said. "Plus, they have some very powerful word choices."
To advance to the regional competition, students had to compete in a school-level content. Nichols was named Hannibal High School's Poetry Out Loud champion during a recent competition after defeating about 20 other students at the school.
"I had to learn how to feel and connect with the poem," Nichols said. "It really brought me out of my comfort zone."
Prior to Tuesday's contest, students focused on preparation and understanding the meaning behind the poems.
"I've had to spend a few weeks memorizing poems," Reinbeck, a sophomore, said. "They're inspiring poems, so that made them easier to learn."
While only Thompson moved on to the state-level competition, Michael Gaines, Poetry Out Loud regional coordinator and Hannibal Arts Council executive director, offered the competitors words of encouragement.
"All of you did a great job," Gaines said. "We appreciate that you took the effort to memorize poems and made it to this point, where you could share them with us. You've inspired us. I don't think a lot of us at your age could get up in front of people and do this."
Poetry Out Loud was founded in 2005 and is offered in all 50 states. This is the 12th year the Hannibal Arts Council has hosted the regional competition.