Poetry Out Loud

Surfing the internet I found some old videos of myself competing at the North Carolina finals for Poetry Out Loud. So for this throw back Thursday post I decided to write a little about that. Poetry Out Loud is a program sponsored through The National Endowment for the Arts where high school students across the nation memorize and recite poems from a selected anthology, of mainly American poets if I remember correctly, sent to them by the NEA containing pieces from various movements and decades. The exact criteria for selecting poems for the competition, as quoted from the Poetry Out Loud website, is:

Poem Criteria: At the state and national finals, students must have 3 poems prepared. One must be 25 lines or fewer, and one must be written before the 20th century. The same poem may be used to meet both criteria, and may be the student’s third poem.

Much like a poetry slam the competition is judged by a group of strangers, though by a panel of pre-selected experts (published poets) rather than randomly selected drunks at a bar, and then the winners move onto the next round(s). First you compete in your class room, then if you win you move onto your school, then if you win there you represent your school at the state level and if you win the state competition you represent your state at the nationals.

The experience was pretty incredible! I made it to the state level both years I competed and got to perform in Raleigh on a stage at the North Carolina Museum of History. Poetry Out Loud was my first serious interaction with page poetry outside of a classroom setting. Interacting with a text that closely, finding my own voice, ryththm and unique meaning in some one else’s work, had a profound impact on both my perception of poetry as an art form and my writing.

This one is from my junior year, I’m performing “Old Men Playing Basketball” by B. H. Fairchild

And this one is my senior year, here I’m performing what is still one of my favorite poems by one of my favorite poets, and one I occasionally still cover in shows and readings, “Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg” by Richard F. Hugo

I can’t help but laugh watching these videos now. In another five years or so I’ll probably look back on videos of my current performances and say something similar. But that to me is one of the most exciting things about being an artist: no matter how far you think you’ve come, you always have more room to grow.


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