Francesca Fiore, a soon-to-be graduate of West Chester's Henderson High School who discovered a new talent this year that earned her $200 and a free trip to Washington.
The 17-year-old Henderson senior won first place in the Pennsylvania state finals of the 2008 Poetry Out Loud: National Recitation Contest, held on March 12 in the Governor's Mansion in Harrisburg.
This was the fourth competition she won, after winning one in her classroom at Henderson, then the school competition, and then the regional at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Fiore's recitation of three poems won her a $200 prize and a trip to D.C. for the national competition, held on April 28 and 29.
Fiore, who plans to attend Rutgers University in the fall as a double major in creative writing and visual arts, was eliminated from the national competition after making it to the top eight in her semifinal.
Did you have any idea you were any good at this?
No, it kind of came out of nowhere. This was the first time our school had even done this. My English teacher, Diane Masar, told us that everyone in our class had to try it out at least in the class competition, so it started there, with just one poem.
What poem did you pick?
"Conversation" by Ai. I picked it because it just seemed really interesting to me. I really like modern, contemporary poems, and it had that different type of feel to it, it was bit eerie. I ended up taking that all the way to nationals.
Outside of memorizing these poems, what do you? What are you judged on?
You're not supposed to act, but there's a really fine line between acting and interpreting. A lot of it is the voice, your inflection, the speed of it, how it flows. Then there's eye contact, body positioning. You're supposed to use hand gestures that are appropriate to the dramatization of the poem, but not overdone. It was interesting; some people didn't use them (hand gestures) at all, some used them a lot.
Did Ed Rendell make an appearance at the state competition?
Yes, he came at the end, and the "first dogs" came also. He made a speech, which was nice. I got to meet a lot of politicians over this span, more than I've ever met before.
Do you consider that to be a good thing?
I think it was good thing, it was exciting. At the national event I got to go to the White House, and I met Senator Bob Casey. The speaker of the state house, [Rep. Dennis O'Brien, Republican from Philadelphia] asked me to speak on the house floor, so I got to meet him, and other [legislators] .
I've gotten lots of people call me, asking me to do my poems at certain events. A PTA member asked me to speak at a PTA convention, and somebody was there from the school boards association, and they asked me to do something this summer at their convention in Gettysburg. I guess then the speaker [Rep. O'Brien] must have gotten wind of it, and he asked me to come do my poems on the house floor. That was kind of hard, because I had trouble trying to get everyone to quiet down, but it worked out.
What were the other poems you selected, and why?
"A Song for Soweto," by June Jordan. I like the sound of it, the passion in the piece. It's very strong, commanding, and clear. It's also very beautiful, talking about one's love for their home. It's a place full of turmoil, so the poem's full of turmoil.
Then "The Windhover," which means a type of falcon, by Gerard Manley Hopkins. That's a really complicated poem. It's all alliteration, lots of words and lots of sounds. When you read it, it's kind of confusing, but when you speak it, it sounds like a bird. I loved reading that.