I’ve been involved with the program Poetry Out Loud for almost a year. I’ve done recruiting and organized regional events for my corner of Alabama. It’s been one of the most rewarding parts of my masters’ education. In my travels, both personal and for the program, people ask me, “Why Poetry Out Loud? Why poetry at all?” I would say all sorts of things: literature helps you figure out who you are, a poem can help you find a voice, the program provides unexpected success in the classroom, particularly in regards to individuals. I believe all of these things, but I had not seen the depth of them until I watched Alabama students get up and recite their poems, first at the school competition in Loachapoka, Alabama, then at the region workshop, and later at the region competitions.
Today, however, I had the privilege of attending the state competitions, held at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. I say competitions, because there are two: One for students to recite their original poetry and a national competition in which students recite poems from an extensive anthology (www.poetryoutloud.org). The original competition started the day off and it blew my mind. The students read poems about over-reliance on technology, parents that weren’t there, being bullied and forced to change schools, what’s going on in the Middle East, 9/11, race, gender, creed. These students, all under 18, not yet old enough to vote, made one thing very clear: We hear you and we see you. Students in our high schools hear the jokes that are made about guns, gender roles, violence against women, cruelty to those who don’t share your religion. They hear you say something ugly and then laugh it off (of course you don’t mean it, you’re not a racist) and they know the truth. So these students got on stage and they showed me a part of their world and they said it’s not okay and they said do something. Maybe you’re thinking to yourself, well that was original poetry. The students in the anthology competition had voices that were just as strong. They read poems by others, yes, but poems that they felt. Poems that resonated. Poems that said, “we’re here. We see you. We see this.”
So now, when I’m asked, “Why Poetry Out Loud?,” I’ll still say because students find a voice, but it will have a new meaning, one that I’ll explain. This program, both the original competition and the national competition, gives students an opportunity to raise their voice for the peers and their teachers, eventually their region and state. One even gets a voice in our nation’s capital. Allowing students to discover poetry is a truly beautiful thing. The students do find a voice and it is deep and it is complex and he or she comes to that stage with something to say. I’m listening.
If you want to hear a few poems, please check out the link above to the national program website, or click here to see some poems’ from the last year’s region competition.