In 2006, Poetry Out Loud became a national program in which high school students combine memorization and recitation with performance. As the slam poetry movement and the immense popularity of hip-hop music suggest, recitation and performance are current trends in the poetry world. Poetry Out Loud builds on the recent resurgence of poetry as an oral art form. By combining the spoken word, the dynamic nature of slam poetry, and elements of theater, the program brings a vital, participatory approach to poetry into the English class. Poetry Out Loud competitions teach students to appreciate poetry of all types and encourage them to incorporate great poetry into their lives. By taking part in the competitions, whether at the school, regional, state, or national level, students also gain public speaking skills and learn to develop their own poetic voice. Each student selects two poems to memorize from among over 600 selections available in the Poetry Out Loud online anthology. The poems have been carefully chosen to represent a diverse array of authors, eras, styles, and tones so that students can discover something that they connect with. The point is to introduce students the vast cannon of poetry. And in the process they get to:
- discover a new, dynamic approach to poetry
- develop an intimate connection with both classic and modern literature
- learn to interpret the emotions of a poem by giving it a close reading
- engage in active learning by memorizing a poem through the use of “body memory” and gestures
- acquire public speaking skills
- see language arts highlighted on the national stage
The competition levels are structured like the National Spelling Bee. Students compete first at the classroom and then at the school level. Schools select one candidate to send to the regional finals where one winner will continue to the state competition in Tacoma. The state winner receives a cash prize and an expenses-paid trip to Washington DC, where the national finals take place. The national finalist is awarded a $20,000 scholarship. Second- and third-place winners receive $10,000 and $5,000 scholarships, respectively. In addition, state and national winners earn a stipend that enables their school library to purchase books. Last year, over 200,000 students participated in the program. If you are interested in participating, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Poetry Out Loud is sponsored nationally by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation and is administered statewide by the Washington State Arts Commission.