High School Students Discover Self-Confidence through the Power of Poetry

2017 Poetry Out Loud competitors
2017 Poetry Out Loud competitors

by Meredith Callis, Arts Education Special Projects Coordinator

This article was originally published in the December 2017 issue of Nashville Arts Magazine. 

When considering high school activities that typically ignite students’ school spirit, we tend to recall the rush of a campus-wide pep rally or the sound of the school band playing from the bleachers of a home game. Across Tennessee, students are currently cheering on one another through a different type of competition: poetry. In its 14th year, the national Poetry Out Loud (POL) program invites all public, private, and homeschool high school students to memorize and recite the works of classic and contemporary poets in a fun classroom competition. For many students, this is a first-time interaction with poetry. The poems give them an opportunity to engage with completely new perspectives of the world or find surprising reflections of their own story woven throughout powerful, timeless classics.

Similar to the National Spelling Bee, the POL competition begins at the classroom level to see who will then compete at the Tennessee 2018 POL competition, held at Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on March 10, 2018. The state champion will receive $1,000, along with a trip to represent Tennessee in Washington, DC, at the National POL Finals, competing against 52 other high school students from across America. The National POL Champion will receive $20,000—an honor received by Tennessee’s state champion Anita Norman in 2014. POL provides the unique platform for all students to succeed, and because of this, students are often impressed by their own abilities. “I learned that I enjoyed poetry—a lot,” says Marquavious Moore, Tennessee’s reigning State Champion. “I’m known as the ‘football guy’ at my school, and it surprised me, and others, that poetry would be a big part of my life.”

As the complementary materials are aligned with NCTE ELA (National Council of Teachers of English – English Language Arts) Standards, teachers of all subjects can easily teach the content by itself or in addition to other lessons. If you know of a school or educator that would be interested in Poetry Out Loud, refer them to the Tennessee Arts Education website for registration.