by Laura Durham
“Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.” — T.S. Eliot
Most of us remember studying poetry in grade school. Poetry taught us about language, rhythm imagery and symbolism. Many of us were too young to truly understand what the poet was communicating, but nevertheless, we read poetry in our classes and some of us were asked to memorize it for a grade.
One thing we maybe didn’t have as young students was the opportunity to shine and exhibit out talent to communicate poetry. But since 2006, The National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation have partnered with state arts agencies to support Poetry Out Loud, a program that encourages the nation’s youth to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation. This program has helped students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about their literary heritage.
Utah has participated in this program since 2007, and has gained momentum in the schools each year as teachers encourage their students to participate in this national contest. The Poetry Out Loud curriculum includes online anthologies, a teacher’s guide to help them coach their students, and an audio CD featuring distinguished actors and writers, a DVD of National Finals performances, promotional and media guides, and a comprehensive website.
Utah’s public and private schools participate by having contests internally and then their schools champion moves forward to the state competition, which will be held on Monday, March 14th in the Black Box Theatre at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center.
This year Utah has 12 students representing high schools across the state. Each student will memorize three poems in preparation for three possible rounds. This year’s judges are local poets Ned Snell and Joel Long and local actor Carlton Bluford, The state champion receives $200 and their school receives $500 for the purchase of poetry books. They will also move forward to Nationals in Washington, D.C. for the chance to take the national championship and win a $20,000 college scholarship.
I wish this program was around when I was a kid. As a 7th grade student, I remember memorizing the periodic table of elements for a test once. I also memorized a poem for my Spanish class that year. I can’t recite all the elements on the periodic table, but I can still recite that poem in Spanish. I don’t know if I ever knew what it all meant, but I do remember how I loved the rhythm, the phrasing and the way the words rolled off my tongue.
Unfortunately, with the struggling economy and the NEA under the microscope, Poetry Out Loud is currently on the chopping block. This may be your last chance to witness what high school students are capable of communicating when given the opportunity. The event is free and open to the public.
Rose Wagner Black Box Theatre
138 West Broadway, Salt Lake City
Monday, March 14
Poetry is all that is worth remembering in life. — William Hazlitt