Decades ago, poetry and recitation were a regular part of American education. The memorization of poetry, it was thought, strengthened mental “muscles,” and exposed students to models of higher, moral thinking.
Today, for many people, exposure to poetry is rare. I am a devotee of the poet, Mary Oliver but, despite having a line of her poetry permanently inscribed on my skin, I would be hard pressed to recite any of her other work. The flood of information with which we are barraged on a daily basis keeps us from seeking out the quieter, slower pleasures of poetry, especially if it’s an art we’re not used to. Perhaps these strange times could offer us the necessary respite?
As one entry into the wild world of poetry, I give you Poetry Out Loud. Partnered with the National Endowment for the Arts, state arts’ agencies and the Poetry Foundation, Poetry Out Loud offers a yearly poetry recitation contest that encourages high school students to learn about great poetry, both classic and contemporary. The competition starts in classrooms and moves to regional and state contests. The fifty state winners then compete in Washington, D.C. where, after semi-finals and finals, third-place, runner-up and first-place finishers are chosen.
The competition has been offered since 2005, and is supported by the Vermont Arts Council. Sadly, this year’s national competition in Washington, D.C. has been cancelled due to the coronavirus. In 2019 and in 2018, however, South Burlington High School student Vera Escaja-Heis was the Vermont winner. In 2017, Emily Friedrichsen, a freshman at CVU (and also this writer’s niece) was the state winner. Both young women should be very proud of their accomplishments.
Vera Escaja-Heis's performance can be found here. Emily Friedrichsen's performance can be found here. (Go to 7:55.) The Poetry Out Loud Website also has information about poetry anthologies and judging criteria.
We hope you enjoy this sprinkling of Poetry Out Loud! Please post poetry--or poem titles--that you consider excellent choices for reading aloud in the comments section below. -KK