Thursday, April 29, 2010

Go Poetry!

Quick background:  My student Will was the 2-time Maine state champion for Poetry Out Loud, an amazing national poetry recitation contest.  Last year, I went to Washington DC for Nationals with him, where he placed in the top 12.

Will just got home from this year's trip to Nationals yesterday, where he placed in the top 24 but was unfortunately eliminated after the 2nd round.  An oral interpretation of a poem is an art, and therefore it's difficult to predict how the judges will choose a winner.  And having watched the 53 performers last year, I can tell you, there are all so amazing.  Will is so talented at reciting poetry, and has such a beautiful voice, that he has gotten quite a lot of local attention (poetry readings, school board meetings, an all-school pep rally,  and an NPR interview).  After hearing him recite one of his poems at the school committee meeting, a school administrator said to me:  "The world stops when that kid starts reciting poetry, doesn't it?"  It sort of does, actually, yes.

But even cooler has been watching Will's confidence grow immensely over the course of this experience.  Last night, 2 hours after he got off the plane from DC,  he recited one of his poems at the event "Poets Speak" at the Bangor Public Library, and he was so comfortable up there talking about his experience in front of a room full of people, that I had to give him the slice-across-the-neck signal to get him to wrap it up. 

I can report from the front lines, that Poetry Out Loud has made teenagers talk about, care about, and love poetry in a way that I had never seen before.   It is a beautiful thing.  And Will, though he is bummed that he didn't advance to finals this year, can now focus on graduating from high school and moving on to Harvard.  Can't wait to see what this boy does from here.

Quick story:  Last year in Washington, during our semi-final round where 18 state finalists competed, I sat in the audience with my Aunt Ann and cousin Paige (both former English teachers) and Will's family.  We were rapt by the performers, took frantic notes on our thoughts, and predicted that two of the performers would most definitely go on to the finals:  Will (of course) and a young woman named Amber from Rhode Island.  When the winners were chosen, Will's name was read, but Amber's was not.  We had all chosen her as a sure pick, and were shocked that she didn't move on.  I even went and talked to her family after the competition and told them that we all thought she had been robbed. 

So, it turns out that 4 of last year's state champs, including Will, won their state again, and returned to Nationals.  Amber of Rhode Island was one of them, and I found out on Monday that she made the final round this year, so I was really excited because I knew she would feel totally redeemed.  Okay, there's your back story.

Now, check THIS out.  Even the British are talking about it.


Nancy said...

I think I need to start working on someone NOW to get POL going at Orono.
Seriously. Wow.

Michelle said...

Wow! Is this for public schools only or can private schools and even homeschoolers participate in this too?

This would have been so incredible to see in person. Makes me sorry all over again that I couldn't get to it last year with you and Ann and Paige :(