Cara Dawson, a year 11 student from Polam Hall, an independent day and boarding school for boys and girls in Darlington, outperformed hundreds of pupils from schools across the UK to reach the National Poetry by Heart competition finals.
The contest was launched with funding from the Department of Education at the end of last year and invited students from schools around the country to learn two poems each before reciting them aloud in front of an audience and judges.
Nearly 800 schools signed up for the competition, and pupils that followed through then battled it out over 38 heats around the country, followed by regional semi-finals and then a grand final at the National Portrait Gallery in London.
During her time at the finals in London, Cara was able to learn vital tips from the chair of the judging panel, Sir Andrew Motion – Poet Laureate from 1999 to 2009 – to help perfect her performances.
The 15-year-old, who recited A Song for St Cecilia’s Day by John Dryden and The Applicant by Sylvia Plath at the finals, said afterwards: “I felt I performed very well and didn’t make any mistakes but the standard of all the performances was incredibly high as they were all winners in their area.
“I chose John Dryden because his poem was about the patron saint of music, which is one of my main interests. I chose the Sylvia Plath because it was quite a challenging poem that I felt would contrast well with my first and give me the opportunity to add some drama.
“I’m lucky that I can learn poems quite quickly, especially if they have a clear rhythm, as I have been doing speech and drama lessons for a long time now and it is ingrained in me. It only takes me a few days to learn the words, but it takes much longer to perfect a performance and get the right interpretation.”
Although Cara didn’t win the competition, she came away from the finals with an even stronger passion for poetry – and hopes to compete again next year.
“We weren’t given any feedback or scores, as it was more of a poetry festival and a time for like-minded people to spend time together and share their love of poetry,” she said.
“But as Andrew Motion said to us all, those poems will be in our memory for life and that is a precious prize in itself.”
In September Cara with begin studying for A-Levels in her three favourite subjects – art, music and drama.
Polam Hall was founded in 1848 in Darlington, and moved to its present site in 1854. Polam Hall prides itself on maintaining its traditional values and rich heritage while being able to offer pupils the strongest possible skills for the future.
It caters for children aged between three and 18 and attracts students from all over the world. For more information on the school visit: www.polamhall.com.