Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Poetry Out Loud

I had lunch yesterday--a lovely "Croque Fromage," with good bleu cheese, as it happens--with the Programs Director of the Poetry Foundation, and got an update on their upcoming "National Recitation Contest," called Poetry Out Loud. The basic premise is pretty simple: high school students compete for cash prizes by memorizing and performing "great poems," chosen from an on-line anthology you can find here or from the smaller, print version that they are distributing; there's also a CD available of poems being read aloud by celebrities and so forth, although I suspect that students who are schooled in slam poetry can do a fine job on their own.

We're in phase 2 of the project--the Beta test? the Theta test?--which means that schools in all 50 state capitals will be encouraged to participate. Next year it goes fully national--but if you're reading this, and not in a capital, take heart: many state Arts Councils seem to be jumping the gun and inviting schools to join in across the state.

Oh, heck: let's just cut & paste a little information, shall we?

Poetry Out Loud

Resources: About the Program

Recitation and performance are major new trends in poetry. There has been a recent resurgence of poetry as an oral art form, as seen in the slam poetry movement and the immense popularity of rap music among our youth. Poetry Out Loud builds on that momentum by inviting the dynamic aspects of slam poetry, spoken word, and theater into the English class. The National Endowment for the Arts and The Poetry Foundation have partnered with the State Arts Agencies to support the expansion of Poetry Out Loud, which encourages the nation's youth to learn about great poetry through memorization and performance. This exciting new program helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about their literary heritage.


In spring 2005 several thousand students participated in successful pilot programs in Washington, DC, and Chicago; this second phase of Poetry Out Loud extends the program to state capitals nationwide. Poetry Out Loud will be launched in high schools across America in the spring of 2006.


Poetry Out Loud uses a pyramid structure. Beginning at the classroom level, winners will advance to the school-wide competition, then to the state-capital competition, and ultimately to the National Finals. We expect over 200,000 students to take part in Poetry Out Loud this year.

Each winner at the state level will receive $200 and an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington to compete for the national championship. The state winner's school will receive a $500 stipend for the purchase of poetry books. A runner-up in each state will receive $100, with $200 for his or her school library. We will award $50,000 total in scholarships and school stipends at the National Finals for the winners.


Poetry Out Loud curriculum materials include print and online poetry anthologies, a program guide to help instructors teach recitation and performance, an audio CD featuring distinguished actors and writers, promotional and media guides, and a comprehensive Website. All curriculum materials will also be available for download on the Poetry Out Loud Website, which can be used by schools not involved in the official 2006 contest.

Poetry Out Loud materials will be sent to high schools in December and January, and participating schools will run the program January through March. (The program requires only two or three weeks of class time.) States will hold their competitions in April. Following the state finals, the National Finals will be held in Washington, DC, in May 2006.
I must say, I'm tickled pink by all of this, and not simply because the Chicago winner last year--who one by reciting Stein's "Susie Asado," by the way!--was the student of a former "Say Something Wonderful NEH Seminar" participant. You simply can't read a poem well aloud without getting to know the poem much more intimately--as sound, as structure, as emotional drama--than most of the high school essay assignments I have encountered would require. (Yes, this includes the AP test.) This is also a virtually free program; the only major costs involved would be the cost of getting each winning student to the next round of competition. The poems, the supplementary curricular materials, etc., are all on the house.

If you're reading this, and you teach high school, I'd say this is
worth pursuing. If you know a high school teacher or principal, pass it on.

On a related topic, please follow the new link to your left to Andrew Motion's spanking new (I think) "Poetry Archive." It's quite the site, as you might expect from a British Poet Laureate with the full resources of the UK behind him. It aims to be "the world's premier online collection of recordings of poets reading their work," and in my initial dip into the page I've heard poems read by Patrick Kavanagh, Tom Raworth, and Rudyard Kipling. (Yes, Kipling.) I'm keen on the way it's organized, with clickable resources for teachers, for students, for children's poetry, and with the ability to browse poems by theme and form, as well as by poet and by title. Evidently Motion will take you on a "guided tour," too, although I haven't accepted that particular offer as yet.

Now, something tells me that there are other audio archives I should know, or have known in the past. If you read this and think of them, send me the URLs, please. There's altogether too much peat a-growing on the links of this old blog.

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