POETRY OUT LOUD: I visited my first school for the Poetry Out Loud project yesterday. As I've mentioned before, the NEA and state art councils have selected poets to give "master classes" on the performance of poetry. The students will memorize a classic poem and compete for scholarship money at the state and national level. Those who go to nationals receive an all-expenses paid trip to Washington DC and $200. The scholarship purse is $20,000...definitely nothing to sniff at.

My POL class was at Riverwood High School on the northside of Atlanta. They have a poetry club that meets after school and that's who I spoke to. There were seven in attendance, but should have been about 10, but some had to work, doctor appointments, etc. I brought one of my own poems (Short Time from Better To Travel) and performed it, then I had each student read a poem (even if wasn't the one they have selected to memorize) so I could critique them and offer tips. I used the NEA guidelines about projection, poem selection, etc.

I actively encouraged them to pick "hard" poems. If you go to the POL site you will see there are many easy poems to recite -- chestnuts by Frost and Dickinson -- but there are some more dense, formal poems that I know many kids will shy away from. I encouraged these students to challenge themselves and learn something difficult. The guidelines say the judges will be looking for the kids who choose these types of poems.

We also just chatted about poetry in general, coming to practice at open mics and, most of all, picking the poem they will memorize (some of these students had not) and get a move on! I told them to use the tape recorder trick and learn it like a song.

It was a rewarding afternoon and I think some of these budding poets have a chance of going far in the competition. Several stepped up to the challenge of learning Edna St. Vincent Millay, Marilyn Nelson and ee cummings. Many thanks to teacher Yvette Appiah for her support and asking me to come back again.


Aidan said…
So, sorry, have I somehow cack-handedly, blur-eyedly missed the Barney Rubble poem in all its glory somewhere on this page yet...? Sounds intriguing...!
Though perhaps my appetite has been strangely whetted my a recent glut of Flintstones-related trivia I somehow seem to have come by for the first time in my life... eg. they were originally called the Flagstones / the initial scripts had 'Yabba-Dabba-Doo' as 'Yahoo!' / when sponsored by One-A-Day Vitamin Tablets, the supposedly 'unpopular' Betty was the only character not to adorn a packet of her own...
And yet she was always my favourite... Odd.
Anyway, hope the readings and classes continue to go well...
Have just finished reading a novel called 'Modern Ranch Living', by Mark Poirier, an entertaining little read - especially some excruciating satirical scenes set in a poetry evening class... ;)
Collin said…
No...you haven't missed it. I'm still revising the poem and will probably post a version later this week. Thanks for asking...and reading. :)

nolapoet said…

Classics, well-worn, perhaps...but chestnuts?!...

Would that I wrote such a chestnut someday!

I'm glad you introduced them to Marilyn Nelson. She's one of my favorite poets and people.

The books that you and Alice donated were VERY MUCH appreciated.

I have some more specific actions for us here in Atlanta in mind. More later. We are exhausted.

Collin said…
LOL Robin. I don't know...there's only so many times you can hear "Because I Could Not Stop For Death" and "The Road Not Taken" before you slip into coma. When the kids have Marilyn Nelson, Yusef Komunyakaa, Rita Dove, Sharon Olds and Millay to choose from, falling back on familiar "well-worn" poems seems lazy to me. It will be interesting to see if the students step up to the plate.

Get some rest. We'll talk soon.
Anonymous said…
Diversity is good, but we should not throw out good work merely because we are familiar with it. I would submit that poorly-done readings are responsible for your reactions to these two pieces. For example, listen to the recordings of Frost reading "The Road Not Taken." He has perfect control of his intonation as well as of his meter and rhythm.

This is a prime example of why solid knowledge of scansion IS so important. Not knowing how to scan--or specifically, where the stressed syllables REALLY are--leads to wooden readings. Poetry Out Loud, actually, has this understanding at the root of its conception. I've demonstrated this before as a Poet in the Schools for Jean Mahavier, as well as in my own classes here (as have many of us associated with West Chester) and am glad to do so anytime. We should talk about this later in greater depth!
Collin said…
I didn't suggest the work be thrown out, just that the students look beyond the familiar. I think there will be many students who will fall back on the Dickinson and Frost poems because they are easy to memorize and recite. However, I believe the judges seleceted by the NEA for the national POL will be looking for someone who steps up and tackles a poem that isn't so rhythmical and easy to memorize. The NEA guidelines do say the judges will consider the poem selection as part of their scoring.
nolapoet said…
Novelty is good. If difficulty were a consideration, I would submit that "Lycidas" would be a relatively tough poem for a high school student to master--but not any tougher than a part in the school play or orchestra or "The Message" by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.

No matter how novel a piece is, though, my point is that a thorough understanding of scansion is an important part of delivery. Too many people assume "spitting" like a pissed-off slammer or declaiming like a bluehaired schoolmarm or preaching like a minister will get them through.

I can recommend some perfect sources, or, better yet, come in and do a session anytime.

BTW, sorry this was anonymous. Sometimes Blogger gets into a loop with security codes on posts.

jenni said…
Sounds like a rewarding, yet difficult task. It sounds like you managed to get them passionate about poetry, and that's an accomplishment. hats off.

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