Are you familiar with the Poetry Out Loud program going on in US schools? Yesterday I said that decline for national interest in poetry started its turn around somewhere in the mid 2000’s. I have no statistics or proof other than my own observations, and what has been written and talked about by others in various literary circles. Poetry Out Loud started in the Spring of 2006 and has been growing ever since. Over 365,000 kids have participated nation wide each of the last two years, including some students who I had the pleasure of hearing recite at this month’s Poetry Under the Paintings in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.
Students compete on local, state and national levels by reciting poems that they have memorized. Judging is based on a wide list of criteria, including physical presence, level of difficulty, voice and articulation, and (my favorite) evidence of understanding. The national competition in D.C. concluded a week ago today with Kristen Dupard coming out on top as the national recitation champion, and the winner of a whopping $20,000 dollar grand prize. You can read about it on the Poetry Out Loud site or get the run down from this enthusiastic little article from the Huffington Post, by John Lunberg.
I waited to bring this up now because it is evidence of the exciting things that have been happening, and that need to continue to happen in order to bring this national poetry revival to its peak. What else can we do? What are your suggestions? What have you put into motion? And if nothing, ask yourself what and when. It might be as simple as posting a poem by your cubical at work. Not all kids will be up for this sort of competition, but there are other talents and gifts that they can use to interact with poetry. Let’s keep this going, shall we?
A few of you were getting a bit upset with my apparent pessimism, so I hope this redeems me somewhat. I am an optimist really, but I appreciate what we can learn from the unfriendly facts of reality too. For too long poetry was being smothered, and sequestered and kept mostly within our own little circles of poets and poetry professors. Screw that! Poetry is not meant only for quiet reading in dark corners. It’s also, and primarily meant to be read out loud. Novels are not written simply to be enjoyed by other novelists. Music is not written only to be heard by musicians. And for me, nothing really compares to the thrill of seeing my favorite art form beginning once again to be enjoyed by a wider, more public audience.
Again, I wish I could remember what poet said this, but the purpose of poets is to help people to enjoy their lives. I couldn’t agree more.
The new videos for 2012 national championship are not up yet, but here are a couple of state winners and runners up for this year:
And while this young gentleman wasn’t a state finalist, as far as I can tell, his delivery was perfect:
- John Lundberg: Poetry Out Loud Makes Beautiful Noise (huffingtonpost.com)
- Poetry Out Loud championship (nebraskapress.typepad.com)
- Poetry Out Loud (michaelajo.wordpress.com)
- Poetry Under the Paintings in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania (dadpoet.wordpress.com)
- Princeton student wins N.J. Poetry Out Loud contest (nj.com)
- Why (even we) Hate Poetry (dadpoet.wordpress.com)