Poetry Out Loud is an annual competition for which high school students memorize and recite poems across the U.S. Aside from being a competition, it is also a gathering of poetry lovers. Students work with their teachers, finding, reading, memorizing, and presenting poems. Students, teachers, and families gather at readings to listen to the poetry. At regional competitions, poetry lovers meet each other and listen together some more. Then there’s nationals, where the same happens again on a grander scale.
I was fortunate enough to emcee the evening for the Long Island Regional Competition for Poetry Out Loud this year. Watching each student walk up on stage and emote poems from memory made me think about what I was like in 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grades. Different is the answer. I would not have gotten up in front of even one other person to recite a poem from memory. I would have hidden somewhere. Even today, there’s a slim chance of my memorizing and presenting a poem.
Poetry Out Loud gives young people a space to learn about themselves while learning about poetry and to grow as literary citizens as well as fantastic human beings.
The students need to choose a poem from the Poetry Out Loud anthology. The poems vary in length and era. Here are some of the many poems these young students presented during competition.
“Happiness” by Jane Kenyon, from Otherwise: New and Selected Poems
“Flowers” by Cynthia Zarin, from Orbit
“I Am Offering This Poem” by Jimmy Santiago Baca, which you can find in Immigrants in Our Own Land and Selected Early Poems
“Coy Mistress” by Annie Finch, from Eve
“Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou, from Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing?
“For Love” and “The Rain” by Robert Creeley, from Selected Poems of Robert Creeley
“Brian Age Seven” by Mark Doty, from Source
“After The Winter” and “If We Must Die” by Claude McKay, from Claude McKay: Complete Poems
“The Paradox” by Paul Laurence Dunbar, which you can find in African-American Poetry of the Nineteenth Century: An Anthology
“I Sit and Sew” by Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson, from The Works of Alice Dunbar-Nelson
“Yellowtail” by Mary Morris
“Gulf Memo” by Stephen Sandy, from The Thread
“Self-Portrait” by Chase Twichell, from Dog Language
“Where The Wild Things Go” by D. Gilson
You might notice that some of the Poetry Out Loud poems are long. (Like incredibly long.) Some of the older verses use words not used in everyday chatting today, like bosom and nursling. They also use those weird contractions like ev’ry and aggriev’d. The ones with epigraphs require the memorization of that, too. These are elements that can be challenging, yet the contestants rise to the occasion.
And by the way, each student has memorized three poems for the competition. It’s not just one and done. It’s three.
If you hear about a competition in your area, go. It’s phenomenal.
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