Merissa Lawrence won local and regional heats of the Poetry By Heart competition to advance to the national finals, which were scheduled to take place at Tate Modern, until the pandemic intervened, cancelling the event, so instead all 10 finalists were given awards.
Contestants had to learn two poems, one from before 1914 and one after. Merissa chose The Passionate Shepherd to his love, by Christopher Marlowe, and Adlestrop, by Edward Thomas, and said the experience of learning and taking part in the competition had been something very memorable.
“Initially I took part because I’m quite competitive,” said Merissa, who entered for the second year running.
“To be honest I wasn’t all that enthusiastic about poetry at first, but I’ve come to learn about the beauty of it. I’ve realised that you can interpret a poem in so many different ways, and this varies from person to person.
“Your perception of a poem can be portrayed through your own emotion, tone and gestures when you perform it, and it’s really interesting how everyone recites and presents in different ways.
“It’s another form of communication which can reveal many things to the reader, and it’s almost like a code which you choose how to decipher.”
The Marlowe poem was picked for his lyrical descriptions of nature, and her choice of Adelstrop, a wistful piece written just before the carnage of World War 1, seems particularly significant in the current turbulent era.
“It's a reflective poem about the short period of tranquility and peace before war,” she explained.
“A train takes an unscheduled stop in the English countryside, and the poem describes its brief stop in a world of stillness and slowness, unlike the modern world we live in today.”
Springwood is a part of the West Norfolk Academies Trust, which runs 11 schools across the region. Merissa’s English teacher at Springwood, Marina Morris, said she encouraged all her pupils to take part.
"I love poetry and want to instill this love in my students," she said. "Merissa did well because she demonstrated a good understanding of both poems, and communicated their meaning.
"She spoke superbly and had excellent presentation, making eye contact and projecting confidence."
Merissa admitted that being denied the chance to compete in the national finals was frustrating, but she could still take plenty away from the experience.
“I learnt that I’m more capable than I really thought,” she said. “After being highly commended in the first competition I participated in, I didn’t think I would be able to go further and make it into this year’s finals. I couldn’t believe it when I made it into the national top 10.
“It would have been great to go the final and meet so many other poetry enthusiasts, but just knowing that I had got there was a special feeling.”
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