Especially at a time when arts and humanities activities for high-school aged students are growing more scarce, it might be hard to believe that a poetry-related competition, judged by memorization and performance, is gaining popularity nationwide. But that’s just what the Michigan Humanities Council, the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts intended to do with Poetry Out Loud, a national poetry recitation competition for high school students that encourages youth to learn about great poetry through memorization and performance.
Judith Dworkin is Michigan’s Poetry Out Loud coordinator. She noted the many benefits the program brings to students other than the chance to win a substantial scholarship or other prizes.
The program works by starting out at the community level. Participating high schools host their own competitions and select a student to represent their school at the state finals. The state champion will advance to the national finals in Washington, D.C. and compete for a $20,000 college scholarship.
“The champion and runners up also receive cash rewards, as well as book rewards for their school,” Dworkin said. “School champions are then invited to participate in the Michigan Youth Arts Festival, a three-day event featuring the finest artistic talent in Michigan high schools.”
Perhaps most important is that the competition fosters an appreciation for the arts and humanities among young adults across the state of Michigan.
“Students are engaged in reciting poetry and are excited about learning about it,” Dworkin said. “At the state competition, a poet in residence engages the student in a workshop writing and reciting poetry. The poet also showcases his/her own work with a performance.”
The 2011 state champion, Harron Atkins, is now a sophomore at Carnegie Mellon University.
“It is important that young people are exposed to this kind of art,” Atkins said. “It is important that they have a place to express themselves in such an intelligent and constructive arena. Poetry Out Loud nurtures the creative mind and the effects of that kind of gift expand far beyond competition.”
And Randi Laundre is the current state champion.
“Before I got involved with the program, I didn’t know that much about poetry,” Laundre said. “My teacher introduced Poetry Out Loud to us, and we were asked to memorize a poem. I found poems that really meant something to me, and [the process] helped me learn more about myself and what I stand for. I learned so much about literature and recitation, and it was an amazing program to be a part of.”
Since 2005, more than 15,000 students from at least 50 Michigan high schools have participated in Poetry Out Loud programs. Participation in the program is free. Dworkin is currently accepting applications from interested schools, which will then have until Jan. 16, 2013 to host their own competition and submit a school champion. The State Championship will be held in East Lansing in February, followed by National Finals in Washington D.C. in April. The Michigan Youth Arts Festival takes place in May.
For more information, visit PoetryOutLoud.org or contact Judith Dworkin at 517-372-7770.