Poetry Out Loud

by Abigail (’14)

Poetry Out Loud is a national contest created so high school students have a chance to get to know the art of poetry better, recitation-style. Along with several other CWs, I’ve been doing it for two years, and I recommend it to all of you–especially to all those freshpeople who haven’t tried it before.

Here’s how it works: You memorize two poems (from well-known authors, not ones you’ve written) over the course of perhaps six weeks, and you learn to recite them creatively. Body movement is not involved in these recitations, and they are not slam poetry, but they are completely different from what we do when we CWs read our own work.

Local poet Joan Gelfand helps you and your fellow SOTA competitors to prepare, which you do during school hours. Sometime in February, the San Francisco competition is held. You recite your poems in front of a panel of judges. If you win, you go on to the statewide competition in Sacramento. If you win there, you compete nationally.

In my experience, people don’t do POL to win–they do it because memorizing and reciting poetry transforms it. The poems become yours, because you have learned them and built upon them. Who could say no to having a hand in the way the world thinks about Sylvia Plath or Robert Frost? Poetry becomes a familiar, yet completely unique art form. You’ll keep the poems you’ve learned by heart with you forever. POL has addicted me to the practice of memorizing poems; so far, my total score of poems committed to memory is 12 (and counting).

Plus, you get the opportunity to meet important figures in the modern poetry world. Last year when I made it to Sacramento, I met Dana Gioia and Juan Felipe Hererra, the former of whom invited me to recite one of my POL poems at his San Francisco reading, the latter of whom agreed to visit our class this year. Just talking to them gave me a much better picture of where US (or at least California) poetry is today.

To get a better feel for what POL recitations are like and to view the rules in more detail, check out the website, where you can find videos of performances from previous years: http://poetryoutloud.org

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