Reading & Literacy

Tonight: National Poetry Recitation Contest

By Catherine Gewertz — May 15, 2012 1 min read
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Okay, this is one of those posts that require a full confession: I’m a poetry freak. I can’t seem to get over the idea that connecting students to poetry would be awesome. Why do I say ‘would be’? Because I know people teach it; and some teachers even teach it well. But honestly, in most places it’s just overlooked. And where it isn’t overlooked, it’s often numbingly dry and boring.

This is a crying shame, since our students are surrounded by poetry daily (the kind that’s set to music), giving us about a zillion open doors to reach them and connect that cool stuff to other cool stuff from before they were born. Poetry offers us the same chance that music does to respond to rhythm and rhyme, to dig into relevant topics. But only if it’s taught well.

In that spirit, I like to flak the National Poetry Out Loud contest each year. And it’s tonight. You can watch the finalists compete via livestream on the National Endowment for the Arts website. The NEA partners with the Poetry Foundation to put this showcase on annually.

This isn’t a poetry slam; this is about students reciting poetry from memory. In an age when folks trumpet analysis over rote memory, is this a hopelessly dated, irrelevant practice? Hardly. Knowing poetry by heart is like the muscle memory of playing an instrument or dancing. Speaking it aloud offers a dimension that reading it from the page can’t do. Thank goodness for poetry slams, which bring young people’s original work to the stage and showcase the performing talent that goes with it. But thank goodness, also, for this event, which brings students to life in a different way, through other poets’ work.

Tonight’s showcase will feature nine state finalists who will compete for the national title, which carries a $20,000 cash prize. It takes place here in Washington at 7 p.m. Eastern time.

As fabulous as the live webcast is, unfortunately it is a one-time-only broadcast. There are some videos of past winners on YouTube, but no organized archiving of the finalists’ performances, something I griped about last year. For those of you who teach, the lack of full archiving is really a shame. But if you catch it, maybe it will offer instructional ideas as well as entertainment and inspiration.

You can get more information about Poetry Out Loud on the program’s website,, and on Twitter, at @PoetryOutLoud and @NEAarts.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.