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Event Overviews and Resources 8: Poetry Interpretation (Feat. PI Tips from Rachel West)

Welcome to A Long Winter's Clap: 12 Days of Speech and Debate Event Overviews and Resources. This episode is all about Poetry Interpretation, and we are featuring some hot tips from Rachel West - up-and-coming stellar sophomore for Cheyenne East Speech and Debate.


Poetry Interpretation is an individual event in which a competitor does a creative presentation of a selection of linked together poetry pieces or one long poetry piece. Poetry performances are no longer than ten minutes in length and competitors also have the unique addition of a small black binder that holds their piece and can be of creative use in the performance.

Here is a description straight from the NSDA competition guide:

“Poetry is characterized by writing that conveys ideas, experiences, and emotions through language and expression. Often Poetry is very creative in terms of vocabulary and composition. While Poetry may tell a story or develop a character, more often Poetry’s focus on language and form are designed to elicit critical thought, reflection, or emotion. Students may choose what the National Speech & Debate Association refers to as traditional Poetry, which often has a formal meter or rhyme scheme, or nontraditional Poetry, which often has a rhythmic flow but lacks formal rhyme or meter (examples include spoken word or slam Poetry).”

Poetry is full of possibilities. Competitors can fashion together a variety of poems to create a program that flows naturally and creates a kind of unified thesis. Publication rules for piece selection are increasingly loose in NSDA rules and the state of Wyoming now too - so, there are ever so many possibilities of modern or less modern poems for students to select from for their cuttings.

Poetry and Program Oral Interpretation are the two events that equip performers with the small black binder. Performers that find success in Poetry don’t really read from these binders much - they glance at the binder every so often giving a vague appearance of the poetry being read at times. But, the top flight Poetry performances are clearly memorized and carefully blocked to create characters or voices in the pieces while using the folder in creative ways to bring more life, energy, or creativity to the performance.

Poetry presents a whole lot of challenges for performers - not the least of which is using voice, body language, timing, blending of voices and pieces, energy, and emotion to create a memorable and powerful performance.


6 Poetry Tips from Rachel West - Sophomore Cheyenne East Speech and Debate Competitor

1. Throughout the process, care about everything you're doing.

It is very important to truly believe in the pieces you choose and the message you are sending your audience. The more you care, the more you will connect with others and let your voice be heard.

2. Be creative with your composition, blocking, and characters.

Movement is vital to a strong poetry interpretation. Find ways to give your presentation energy and vitality. Bring your characters to life using creative choices.

3. Get inspiration from every resource you can find. You can take that and make something that is unique to you.

Don’t mimic other pieces entirely or pick blocking that is fashionable. Instead, use other interpretations as inspiration to truly push yourself to a creative representation of your poetry. Don’t be afraid to take chances in your creativity.

4. Have a clear story arc in mind when creating the piece.

Stories speak to what makes us human and give us understanding and joy. When creating your piece, find the heart of a story that has a clear and understandable arc that your audience will recognize.

5. Let your piece have a message that can apply to everyone. Think about a universal humanity.

In this arc of your story, try to find a way to resonate with your audience - help them see in your piece a universal message to humanity.

6. Pick one poem to begin with and then branch out to other related poems.

If you have a poem that you love that speaks to your heart and the story you want to tell, start there! Work your way forward to the poetry program that speaks to you and to others.

Thanks so much to Rachel for the gift of these excellent Poetry Interpretation tips for competitors.


Want more One Clap material that discusses approaches to Poetry Interpretation? Check out my interview with Danyon Satterlee - Poetry National Champion in 2007 - on a previous episode of One Clap. I will link to this episode and another great episode that will help interpretative competitors here:

Danyon Satterlee, Poetry National Champion, Believes in Unique Opportunities For Wyoming Competitors

Saga McAllister and Coach Ashley Schulz Get to the Heart of Interpretation

Be sure to subscribe, rate, and review the One Clap Podcast wherever you listen! Watch for new episodes of One Clap, Rock On! Debate, Coach Connection, Long Winter's Clap, and Speech Love!


More links to helpful resources for Poetry Interpretation:

NSDA Competition Guide:

Suggested Source Material for Interpretative Events from NSDA:

Speech Resources Video from the 2020 Wyoming Coaches Conference, Presented by Marcus Viney and Ashley Schulz:

Resources for Poetry from Judge Training:

Poetry Resources from

Poetry Resources from Lake Travis High School:

Excelling in Poetry Advanced Guide from ForCom:

Sample Poetry Ballot with Comments from NSDA:


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