Poetry Out Loud, Not The Typical Student Competition

By James Wells, Poetry Out Loud State Program Coordinator and the Tennessee Arts Commission Arts Education Special Projects Coordinator

Tennessee Poetry Out Loud competition at Austin Peay in ClarksviImagine walking into a school and intermingled with the typical buzz of students and teachers, you hear the rhythmic hum of poetry being recited.  Classic poets, Keats, Dickinson and Poe, as well as modern lyrists, Ellis, Clampitt and Clifton, join the lineup of sports teams, hairstyles and math lessons. Across Tennessee, students are celebrating poetry with the same competitive spirit that they root for their favorite sports team.

Here they are working to represent their school this spring at the statewide Poetry Out Loud (POL) competition, which will be held March 14 at the Nashville Children’s Theatre. Each competitor will recite three poems without the use of props, costumes, amplification or music.

Tennessee’s winning student will receive $1,000 and a trip to Washington, DC to represent Tennessee at the national finals and compete against 52 other high school students from across the county and its territories.

“Throughout POL’s 10 years, students have benefited from their time spent in the competition. Through memorization and competitive performance, the students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, improve reading skills and develop an appreciation for poetry and literature,” says Anne Pope, Tennessee Arts Commission Executive Director.

Open to all public, private and home school high school students in Tennessee, POL satisfies more than half of both the National Council of Teachers in English (NCTE) language arts standards and Tennessee’s language arts standards by providing a wide range of poems from many periods and in many genres.

“My students have gained many skills during the POL preparation. They have learned to dig deep to find the meaning behind the words of the poetry they read. They have learned to be students who stand out and don’t blend in with the crowd. They have learned to take pride in being unique and special,” says McEwen High School (McEwen, TN) English and Journalism teacher, Shannon Tolene.

Last year, Tennessee State winner, Anita Norman, went on to win the National Championship. She was the first Tennessean to win, beating out 365,000 students from around the country. I recently received a call from Anita’s father, Edward Norman, who called to tell me Anita had been accepted to Yale. He said that when the competition was as fierce as it was for openings at top schools, you need to have that edge. He felt that Poetry Out Loud was Anita’s edge and was grateful that she had the opportunity to participate.

I would like to encourage high school students and teachers to consider becoming a part of Poetry Out Loud for 2016. And to join us in Nashville on March 14 to size up the competition.

Photo Caption: POL 2014 state finalists from left to right: Sidney McCarty:Clarksville High School, Emily Bass: Cedar Springs Homeschool, Juliet Lang: Fairview High School and Anita Norman: Arlington High School .