Q&A with Shelby Newland, Poetry Out Loud National Finalist


Joseph Ermey, Staff Writer

Shelby Newland, a senior at South, will be heading off to the national championship for the Poetry Out Loud competition. In it, she will be judged by a number of factors ranging from complexity to dramatic appropriateness as she recites poems of her choosing. I got a chance to interview Shelby this week about her career with poetry thus far, and what steps aspiring public speakers could take to further their skills.

Can you tell me about when you started getting into reading and writing poetry?

     I was never super into poetry when I was in middle school. When I was in high school I started writing and sharing my own poetry. Also, you can’t really write poetry without reading it. It’s impossible. And the amount of stuff you learn while reading poets is really incredible and important if you’re pursuing poetry at any level.

What propelled you to start reciting?

The desire to share it in person. I’ve been sharing [poetry] online for awhile but there’s something incredibly personal about reciting live. Whether it’s my own  poems or someone else’s…it’s a strange, very raw and personal thing while at the same time having a sort of professional distance. It’s a really unique experience.

When did you start using social media as a means to show your poetry to the world, and how has that affected the amount you write and what you write?

     Honestly? Almost immediately after I started writing it I started posting it online. I shared it with a few friends and they were like, “Wow! You should put this out there” and I uh…love attention so I did.

Hahaha, that’s really funny!

Well, it’s funny because I go back and read those things and some of them are completely horrible, awful, but it was such a fun experience and I wouldn’t take any of that back. I don’t share online as much anymore. I started writing when I was in a kind of rough spot and it was somewhat of a coping mechanism for me. I don’t feel the need to write the way that I used to but since I’ve developed that love of poetry I’ve become more interested in reading and reciting other people’s poetry.

What’s your favorite poem you’ve written off the top of your head?

     There was one I wrote about a year ago called, “Dendrochronology” which is the science of tree ring dating. I wrote it because of that song, “Brown Eyed Girl”?


     I just saw all the girls I ever knew with brown eyes, their dads would sing them that song and there are all these poems about blue eyes, but there aren’t any about brown eyes. And actually, there’s a portion of the poetry out loud competition that allows you to submit your own work and so I’m hoping to submit that poem to the competition. And that’s a part I’m really looking forward to about the nationals competition.

Which poems did you read during the competition?

      I read three poems, I read, “The Death of Allegory” by Billy Collins, “I remember, I remember” by Thomas Hood, and “Try To Praise the Mutilated World” by Adam Zagajewski. I loved those, they’re three kind of different poems and I chose them because I felt they fit my voice. Although it’s really hard when you’re reading through an anthology of things other people have written to find something that you can connect to.

How do you go about choosing the poems?

      There is an element of picking what you think the judges are looking for, so I kind of looked for that, I think that’s what helped me win this year.

What do the judges look for?

     They look for a certain level of complexity. The length of the poem does have an impact. If you can bring a certain level of drama to it, but kind of subdued. It’s like, everything has to fit in this little range. I was very careful in how I picked my poems and how I chose to recite them to fit that range.

Any tips for aspiring public speakers?

     Practice. A lot. Make sure you practice in front of other people. Also, don’t be afraid to make the little changes in the moment. Because, when you’re finally in front of other people, you’re not going to do it exactly the way you practiced, and that’s okay.

Thank you so much for your time, good luck at Nationals!

     Of course!