SWR sophomore Isabelle Scherl clinches poetry reading regional

A Shoreham-Wading River student will represent Suffolk County in a statewide poetry competition this Saturday.

Isabelle Scherl will recite a trio of poems at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City for this year’s Poetry Out Loud New York State competition on March 9. Poetry Out Loud, a national arts education program, offers students in grades 9 through 12 a chance to better their public speaking skills, learn literary history and win scholarships by reciting poetry from memory. The sophomore won the Suffolk County regional competition at Stony Brook University last Monday. Her sister, Emily Scherl, a senior, also placed in the top five at the competition.

“I honestly cannot believe that I won,” Isabelle said. “This is the furthest that anyone from the school has gone. Personally, I can’t even believe that I beat my sister, which is crazy to me. To go to New York City and be able to compete for the state title is incredible.”

If she wins the state competition, the sophomore will receive $200 and secure an additional $500 grant for her school’s poetry programs. If she advances to the national Poetry Out Loud final, she could win a portion of the $50,000 distributed to the top nine students who compete.

Students who enter the competition must select three poems from an anthology database Poetry Out Loud updates annually. One poem must be 25 lines or less, and one must have been written prior to the 20th century. For the regional competition, Isabelle selected “The Speakers” by Weldon Kees, “What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why” by Edna St. Vincent Millay and “When I have Fears That I May Cease to Be” by John Keats. The poems, she explained, examine how society can stifle thoughts, explore the sorrow of fading memories and follow a narrator pondering legacy.

She will repeat the same winning trio at the state level this Saturday.

“There are little tweaks that I’ve been thinking of making, like different words to enunciate or put more, like, power into,” she said of preparing for the competition. Students may use hand gestures and move around the stage during recitals, but are not allowed to don costumes or use props.

This past year, Isabelle’s older sister turned her on to writing poetry of her own. 

“It can be literally anything,” Isabelle said of what inspires her to write. “There’s a poem that I wrote called ‘My Star.’ I was in a car for a 40-minute drive, I was in the front seat and there was this one star that I could see the entire drive. I kept focusing on it and there’s some stuff in there that I really liked and it became a really emotional poem for me.”

Prior to Emily’s influence, Isabelle had been a writer of short stories and other works, some of which have made their way into “Cymbals,” the school’s art and literary magazine. When she’s not writing or tending to her studies, she runs track, plays tennis and is a member of her school’s Women In Science and Engineering (WISE) club. She also sings in the school’s choir and has enjoyed singing in the school’s annual variety show. Someday, she may share her own poems with an audience.

“I haven’t written that many [poems],” she said. “But I’m very interested in writing more and being able to perform them eventually.”