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Griffin’s Poetry in Voice debut makes some noise

Charming with just a touch of old-fashioned drama, the first Poetry in Voice competition was an entertaining evening of bilingual poetry recitation from some of Ontario’s brightest high school students. The program is the brainchild of Griffin Poetry Prize founder Scott Griffin, whose own father celebrated his 100th birthday in the front row on Tuesday, at Toronto’s Young Centre for the Performing Arts.

Structured more like a civilized piano recital than a cutthroat American Idol take-down, the event pitted together 12 high school students, who had already won events at their individual schools, competing for the $5,000 top prize, plus an additional $2,500 for their school’s library ($500 of which must go towards poetry books). First and second runners-up received $1,000 and $500 (with $500 earmarked for poetry books).

Hosted by Albert Schultz, and judged by Karine Glorieux, Robert Lalonde, Diana Leblanc, Dennis Lee, Karen Solie, and Élise Turcotte, the students read like pros: performances ranged from straight-up recitation to fist-clenching drama, with only the rare stumble or awkward pause. Restricted from selecting contemporary Canadian poetry, the kids stuck to the classics: Eliot, Tennyson, Browning, Keats. Edgar Albert Guest’s It Couldn’t Be Done was read twice.

After two rounds, Anna Jiang (Grade 12, Victoria Park Collegiate Institute, North York), Spencer Slaney (Grade 10, Lockerby Composite School, Sudbury), and Jonathan Welstead (Grade 12, Upper Canada College, Toronto) received top marks, and went on to compete in the final death-match round.

Finalists Anna Jiang, Spencer Slaney, and Jonathan Welstead await the judges' verdict.

Was it Welstead's mastery of the Scottish accent in Robert Burns' To a Mouse that captured the judges' hearts? The Upper Canada College student won the top prize.

Welstead's winning smile.

Griffin has ambitious plans for Poetry in Voice, which recently got props from Oprah. Next year, the competition will be open to schools across Ontario and Quebec, and it will expand nationally in 2013.