West Virginia’s Willow Peyton reaches finals of national Poetry Out Loud competition

By Vanta Coda III, RealWV

A barren stage and a single microphone were all Willow Peyton needed to deliver stunning performance after stunning performance at the Poetry Out Loud National Competition.

Representing West Virginia in the competition, Peyton’s flawless recitation of numerous poems placed her as one of the nine finalists out of 55 other state and U.S. territory competitors at the National Poetry Out Loud Competition. 

Peyton has been a sensation when it comes to Poetry Out Loud in West Virginia, since her sophomore year at St. Mary’s High School, Peyton has been runner-up every year in West Virginia’s Poetry Out Loud competition. This year as a senior she became West Virginia’s winner this past March. 

“I feel, of course, very excited and nervous, there’s this buzzing feeling of adrenaline in my chest,” said Peyton “I tend to get hard on myself if I don’t place how I wanted, but becoming a national finalist is something I am beyond proud of.” 

When judging a contestant’s recitation of a poem, the grading of competitors is based on physical presence, voice and articulation, interpretation, evidence of understanding, and overall performance, all of the grading categories are judged out of six points.

Peyton now comes from just a handful of students who have become finalists representing West Virginia over the years. This has made James Wolfe, Arts in Education Coordinator for the West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture, and History, proud that the engagement of students involved in poetry has become evident throughout the state because of Poetry Out Loud. 

“In 10 years of me being in this role, we’ve had five national finalists,” said Wolfe. “It’s been a great run.” 

Wolfe, who has been with Peyton, Peyton’s Mother, and High School Teacher at the competition, watched Willow on Wednesday as she was the first chosen to go first in the eastern division. 

“She was randomly selected to hit lead off today at nine in the morning,” said Wolfe. “She didn’t flinch and she was just very comfortable and very confident.” 

Peyton credits her background for her comfort on stage, as well as the immense amount of memorizing poems in the theater.

“I’ve always been pretty good at memorization, but that can only get me so far,” said Peyton. “It takes me about an hour to have it memorized, and a week or so for it to become muscle memory, but the bulk of my prep work, however, is working to paint an accurate interpretation of the poem and truly become a vessel for each piece.” 

After placing as one of the nine national finalists in the Poetry Out Loud competition she was awarded 1000$ for herself and 500$ for her High School. 

Just like the West Virginia finalists who came before her, Peyton’s story now adds to the ever-growing stories of student poetry engagement in the state of West Virginia. 

“Poetry is a way to tell a lifetime of stories in just a few lines,” said Peyton.

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