When it comes to the state finals of Poetry Out Loud, a student poetry recitation contest, Josef Biberstein has been there and done that.

Biberstein, in fact, is the only Freeport High School student to reach the finals, since the school entered the competition only last year.

To qualify as a state finalist again this year, the Freeport High senior first must be one of five students selected in the Southern Maine Regional Finals, which take place on Wednesday, Feb. 11, in Biddeford. Biberstein qualified as the Freeport High representative last month, at an event at the Freeport Community Library.

“Joe won based on accuracy in memorization, understanding of the poem, use of voice and body, the level of the complexity of the poem,” said Simon Skold, the high school drama instructor who is coaching Biberstein for the regionals.

Biberstein is a multi-talented student. Last year, he and three schoolmates created an inexpensive ($5,000) “submersible,” or submarine, that they called Project Robo Goby. They are marketing their remote-operated submarine as a marine life research instrument.

But Biberstein, who plans to study physics at Yale University, doesn’t confine his extracurricular pursuits to the sciences. Last fall, he made a big splash playing Billy Flynn in the school’s production of “Chicago.”

Biberstein said he gained an understanding of recitation when he was small, listening to books on tape.

“I kind of gained an appreciation for people who do voice work,” he said. “I also kind of like hunting for the meaning of things. It’s the same thing for me in the sciences.”

Skold is glad to have Biberstein doing arts-type endeavors.

“He came in and stole the show in ‘Chicago,’” Skold said. “He’s studying physics, but he’s going to keep doing stuff like this.”

Biberstein will recite “Kubla Khan,” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and “The Snow Man,” by Wallace Stevens. He has added “The Universe as Primal Scream,” by Tracy K. Smith, to his repertoire for the regionals. The poem deals with the screams of two young siblings.

“I looked it up and I thought it had a good balance between complexity and meaning,” Biberstein said. “It’s a very many-leveled poem, between annoyance and pensiveness.”

“All of the emotions come down to awe,” Skold said.

Biberstein first will read “The Snow Man,” followed by “Kubla Khan,” and then “The Universe.”

“We’re trying to show off all his talents,” Skold said. “Josef’s really a hard worker and that’s one of his really important skill sets. He also takes direction really well. He’s willing to take on something new.”

The winner of the State Poetry Out Loud competition takes home $500, as well as money for his or her school’s poetry textbooks. Charlotte Feinberg of Gorham High School was last year’s state champion.

The national winner gets $20,000. The nationals are April 28-29 in Washington, D.C.

Simon Skold, drama instructor at Freeport High School, reacts as Josef Biberstein rehearses “The Universe as Primal Scream” last week at the school. Biberstein, for the second year running, is Freeport High’s entry into the Poetry Out Loud Southern Maine Regional competition, to be held on Feb. 11 at Biddeford City Theater. The event begins at 3 p.m. Staff photo by Larry Grard


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