AGAWAM — Abigail Drumm was left almost speechless after her winning performance for the second consecutive year in an annual poetry performance contest at Agawam High School.

“I don’t have words to describe how excited I am that I won this year’s contest,” said the junior. “I honestly wasn’t expecting it, since there was so much talent and passion up on that stage, so I mostly felt surprised. But, now, I’m just excited to advance in the contest and see some skilled poets share their love of this art form.”

The competition began in December in seven English classrooms. From an initial group of 280 students, representing all four grades, Drumm was among the 17 who advanced to the school-wide contest.

The contest was part of a national performance competition for high schoolers called Poetry Out Loud. Students recited works they selected from an anthology of more than 900 classic and contemporary poems.

Drumm entered the contest because she loves analyzing poems and figuring out how to present them with words and body language.

“I was lucky enough to have won the school contest last year. It taught me that poetry doesn’t have to be confusing and vague like I thought it was when I was younger,” she said. “I’ve truly done a 180 with my feelings about poetry.”

The runner-up at the Jan. 24 contest was sophomore Grace DeCaro, who will represent AHS if Dumm is unable to attend a regional competition. DeCaro said she’s excited about her accomplishment.

“I was surprised when my name was called, because I knew there were some things I could have done better. I definitely didn’t expect it,” said DeCaro. “I’m not disappointed at all that I placed second — I think I did really well, but so did Abby and the other contestants. I’m very proud of myself.”

The ninth annual contest — there was no competition in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic — featured two rounds of students reciting poems. In the first round, all contestants participated, then 10 finalists were chosen for the second round. Finalists recited different poems than in the previous round.

The challenge for students goes beyond making a connection with literature. The goal is to memorize a poem and then convincingly recite it, word for word, line by line, in front of their peers and judges.

“That’s hard for anyone of any age, but it can help build their confidence with public speaking,” said AHS English teacher Rachel Patterson, who coordinates the competition. “It’s even more difficult to deliver a poem with meaning and emotion — and without mistakes.”

Students tackle this difficult challenge in a variety of ways, from writing poems on notecards to recording themselves to rehearsing with teachers, families or friends.

Drumm spent about two hours memorizing both poems. She said her background in performance and line memorization helped her in the contest.

“It was just a matter of reading and listening to each poem multiple times, then establishing emotions behind the words to jog my memory during recitation. I try to paraphrase each line so I can more easily connect it to emotions and movements. That makes the process so much faster, as well as more enjoyable,” said Drumm, who recited “Dirge Without Music” by Edna St. Vincent Millay in the final round.

The most enjoyable part of the contest for Dumm is the actual competition. She said between sharing her knowledge with her peers and learning more about the genre through others’ recitations, she just enjoys being on the stage.

“The most challenging part is the class competition. I get nervous when it’s a smaller group of people. I can pick out individuals in the audience rather than them being an entire crowd,” said Drumm. “Standing in front of my class and seeing all of them looking at me was very difficult.”

DeCaro entered the competition confident she could do well and wanting to push herself out of her comfort zone. It was her first time in the competition.

When choosing her poems, DeCaro chose the two she felt she connected with the most.

“That helped my understanding of them. I also annotated both poems to mark down how I wanted to express certain things so I would make sure I fully understood them,” she said.

DeCaro carried around paper copies of both poems and recited them in her head whenever she had free time in class.

“I also recited them both in the mirror to see what I could change about my composure. I couldn’t count how many hours I spent.”

DeCaro said the competition made her a better literacy student.

“I had to really think deeply about my poems and all the other components of presenting them,” said DeCaro, who recited “Fable” by Ralph Waldo Emerson in the second round. “These skills will help me become a better English student. I appreciate poetry more now after spending so much time thinking about it, and analyzing details of poems.”

The other 15 contestants included Iraj Ahmed, Ethan Danek, Ava Elias, Maddy Elwell, Arina Kovalenko, Matilda Larochelle, Marissa Leary, Austin LeBlanc, Madeline Maharne, Keira Murphy, Gianna Pettazzoni, Chloe Roderick, Devin Soucy, Caleb White, Aiden Wykes.

Senior Eden Berry and junior Riley Jorgensen served as masters of ceremonies, introducing contestants and offering a little humor when talking about poets and their poems.

Drumm will compete at the semifinal competition March 3 in Springfield. Winners of that contest advance to the state competition March 10 in Boston. National finals are in late April in Washington, D.C.