A! Magazine for the Arts

Whitney Baxter

Whitney Baxter

Whitney Baxter excels at poetry performance

June 26, 2013

Walt Whitman, one of Whitney Baxter's favorite poets, said, "To have great poets, there must be great audiences."

Whitney is no stranger to reading poetry to audiences. She recently won the Tennessee Poetry Out Loud competition.

"For me, each of the poems is a journey-a long, floating journey through different emotions and scenarios," she says. "But these journeys are actually quite short; that's part of the beauty of poetry, the concise, every-word-counts nature of that writing style. So to me it's magical to stay suspended in that moment, bringing the audience to experience it with me, capturing my heart and mind and theirs as well."

When she competed in the Tennessee Poetry Out Loud competition her poem was a slightly shorter journey than even the poet intended. "The state level was a bit jarring-I was distracted by the abnormal staging (we were in a bright conservatorium) - and I was disappointed because I skipped a whole stanza of "Funeral.'"

Skipping a stanza did not seem to hurt her chances with the judges, since they awarded her first place.

Whitney says that while she is not a good poet, she loves poetry. "I once entered a poem I had written in class into a national or state poetry competition. It didn't make it anywhere. I think my real talent is what I do at Poetry Out Loud. I love literature, language and song, so I suppose it's natural I would love poetry. I can't write poetry well, but I love to read it. It is such a beautiful art form; from the internal rhythm of the words to the way the words are spaced on the page. A good poet takes every minute part of his poem into consideration, makes every change or addition intentionally. I love that high level of artistry, and I feel my best contribution to the art is taking what these artists have created and bringing their masterpieces to life for an audience to experience. I get to reach people who would not have read the poems in their spare time, and they often understand and experience the poem for the first time when I recite it. It's an incredible experience-reliving poetry on stage for an audience."

If this sounds like Whitney considers Poetry Out Loud an acting competition rather than a poetry contest, that's because that's how she feels.

"The Poetry Foundation generally considers POL a language arts or English competition, and when you win in Tennessee they give you a medal that says, "Language Arts' across it. In my experience, POL tends to attract both poets/literature lovers and drama students. I often listen to other contestants speak of their books or scripts or poems they are writing and enjoy discussing literature with one another. I, on the other hand, love to read poems, but I know I cannot write them. So, as a poet, I am inadequate; however, as an interpreter or speaker of poetry, I excel (or at least I hope I do). Writing and speaking poetry are two very different art forms, in my view. I feel POL lends itself more to actors or speakers than to writers, because writing a beautiful, moving poem requires a different kind of talent than being able to capture an audience within a moment of opening your mouth and moving them with words someone else has written. Though both the writers and the speakers are amazingly talented, POL seems to be more of an acting competition."

Her favorite poets are Shakespeare, Whitman, e. e. cummings and Tyler Knott Gregson.

"Shakespeare is, of course, incredible," she says. "I love his theatrical works and his poems. Walt Whitman, on the other side of the poetry spectrum, is another of my favorites. I love his free verse, almost transcendental style and subject matter. He often writes how things feel, so that even if the words do not make much sense together they work to create the feeling of what he is describing. e. e. cummings is truly an artist-he knows how to paint with his words and punctuation, the way he places them intentionally on the page. My newest favorite is Tyler Knott Gregson. I enjoy his passion and his unique, casual tone."

In addition to poetry, Whitney loves music and acting.

"My goal, once I graduate from college, is to become an actor. I love being on stage, connecting with the audience, and exploring and developing a character. I am majoring in music education, which would imply a job as a music teacher; but the main goal is to perform on stage, perhaps movies too. I'll see where God leads me.

"I've sung in a school choir or chamber ensemble for all of high school, and love music (whether singing or playing piano or listening to a song or symphony). I am also active in the drama productions at Providence.

"I love to perform, whether singing, playing piano, acting or reciting poetry. I am very passionate about travel-I've been to several countries in Europe, New York City and Washington D.C., and can't wait to continue exploring other cities and ways of life. I would very much like to study abroad for a semester."

In her spare time, she says she's "addicted" to Pinterest and loves to watch classic films with her father.

Whitney is the daughter of Don and Kerri Baxter. She is 18 and just graduated from Providence Academy in Johnson City, Tenn. She will attend East Tennessee State University in the fall.