Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Poetry Invades the State Capital

This past weekend, I attended the state championships of Poetry Out Loud.  Poetry Out Loud is a poetry recitation contest started by poet Dana Gioia when he was chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.  Dana was at this years' state competition.  He inspired the students (and coaches and family) with both the history and vision of the program. 
Dana Gioia, Brynna Thigpen and myself
My student, Brynna Thigpen, won our Sonoma County competition and was representing our county in the state competition.  I've been a poet-coach in the Poetry Out Loud program for several years now, but I had never seen the competitions above the county level until this past weekend.  It was extraordinary.  Thirty-three county champions descended upon the state capital, reciting poetry in a competition to find a state champion.  Hearing 15-18 year-olds expertly recite poetry from poets as diverse as Shakespeare and Billy Collins in the Senate Chambers was phenomenal.  To compete at this level students must spend hours memorizing and close-reading the poems they recite.  It was such a joy to think in every state the same competition is occurring.  That across America, over 500,000 students have had the opportunity to choose a poem that speaks to them, to memorize it, to deeply understand it and to perform their poems in front of an audience.  My student didn't win the state finals, but she worked hard and did very well.  And in the end, she told me that through the process she had developed a love for poetry that she felt would last a lifetime.  What could be better than that?

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