Moved by the words
When West Linn High sophomore Philip Chan was given the assignment to recite and perform a poem in front of his English class more than a month ago, he wasn't worried about anything more than earning a good grade. So when his teacher, Bret Freyer, chose him above the rest of his classmates to compete in a school-wide competition, Chan admits he was a bit surprised. When he was crowned the champion of West Linn High and asked to compete in a regional Poetry Out Loud competition, his surprise increased. It finally culminated in what could be described as shock when he was named one of nine students in Oregon to advance to the state competition March 11.
Performing in Salem among the state's best, Chan presented for a fourth time, reciting the third poem he's memorized during his poetic journey. The large audience hung on his every line, word and syllable, as Chan's performance earned him second place, narrowly missing out on a trip to Nationals in Washington, DC. Despite coming up just short, Chan says the past few weeks have been exhilarating.
"It was a really cool experience. Before we even started competing, we actually got to sit down with Elizabeth Woody, and she is Oregon's Poet Laureate," Chan says. "She told us about her life and we got to ask her questions about performing poetry and writing poetry. Reciting the poems was fun and challenging, and it's also a good experience to see how other people choose poems and how they recite their selections. There were some talented and smart people there."
Chan has a background in theatre, having performed in West Linn High's production of "Kimberly Akimbo" earlier this year, but had never participated in Poetry Out Loud or done much work at all with the subject prior to his recent experience. He says the original assignment clicked with him when Freyer assigned the class to analyze a poem prior to their recitation in front of the class. Chan originally chose "The Woman at the Washington Zoo" by Randall Jarrell, and says he got lost in the alliteration and symbolism of the work. Poetry Out Loud has a preapproved list to choose from, and Chan says selecting poetry that he could connect with was important.
"'The Woman at the Washington Zoo' was a poem I liked because it kind of tells a story about somebody who's really tired of their life, and just how boring this routine has become," Chan says. "I thought that was an interesting idea and there were some cool metaphors and animal symbolism.
"For me, the first step is breaking it down and making sure I understand what the author is saying. I reread it a couple times. … That entailed looking up words we didn't know, looking up author and facts, and understanding the life of the poet to help understand themes that play into their poetry and what's really being said. Once you understand what they're trying to say you can internalize and think about expressing the poem."
Chan then selected "How do I love thee?" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning for the school-wide competition and finally "Cadillac Moon" by Kevin Young for the regional and state competitions. Chan was edged out by Medford High School's Megan Kim at state, but he says he was happy with his performance. Chan says he was thankful for the support he received during his poetry run, which included his parents, Freyer and WLHS Journalism teacher Glenn Krake -- all making the trip to Salem for the final competition.
Just a sophomore, Chan says he would love to compete in the competition again next year if he were to be selected. In the meantime, he says he plans to dive further into poetry.
"I kind of liked reading poetry as a kid but this was my first experience reciting poetry," Chan says. "I was inspired by this whole experience, and I think I'd like to start looking into writing poetry and other places I could perform."