Friday, June 16, 2006

Poetry Out Loud

Here's a fun new contest that readers of this blog might like to know about: the Poetry Out Loud annual poetry slam/bee from the Chicago-based Poetry Foundation. The first national contest was held in April of this year. The winner, Jackson Hille of Ohio, walked away with $20,000 in scholarships.

Here are the details. Once upon a time, kids memorized and recited poems as a way of learning about this literary form. This method of learning fell out of favor for awhile, but now it's back. When you memorize a poem, you get closer to it -- and understand it better -- than you do when you're just parsing verses for meter and reading the footnotes about how others have interpreted the words. Indeed, most poetry was meant to be experienced out loud. Our oldest poems (The Odyssey, for instance) were experienced this way. When we're little, we hear nursery rhymes out loud, and delight in how the words sound together.

So now high school kids are reliving that experience, memorizing poems such as Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky, or Billy Collins' Forgetfulness and hamming it up on stage as they recite them. About 500 schools participated last year; the Foundation intends to make it truly national this coming school year.

If your kids are bored for the summer, memorizing great poems (and doing some recitation for neighbors) would be a good way to spend the time and get a jump start on participating in this contest. If you really want to give them a challenge, have them memorize a poem in another language! (and use a language dictionary or online resources to figure out roughly what it means). For more information on Poetry Out Loud, check out the Poetry Foundation's website.


Laura Vanderkam said...

By the way, I will be on vacation in Norway this coming week and will probably not be posting. Please stick around, though-- I'll be back soon!

Mary Vanderkam said...


Sometime you should ask your father to give his dramatic rendition of "The Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers" by Felicia Heman. He must have memorized it 50 years ago plus--but poetry memorized as a child stays with you.

I have a question for you: can you still repeat Psalm 23 by memory? Your blog today reminded me that I have asked your brothers that question and have forgotten to ask you. I hope those beautiful and strong words are still in your long-term memory somewhere!

Have fun in Norway. I enjoy your blog and the responses of your readers.