Poetry Out Loud
Photo: 2019 School Champions and their teachers. (Photo by Scotty Hall @stealyoursoulphotography)

Poetry Out Loud Allows Students to ‘Keep a Poem in Their Heart’

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Each year, schools across America prepare for the 15th annual Poetry Out Loud recitation contest, an arts education program where thousands of students will perform memorized poems for judges at school and state levels in the hope to make it to nationals. This year, four schools in Southeastern Ohio will be participating: Nelsonville-York, John Glenn High School, Logan High School, and River Valley High School.

“For the classroom contest, you only have to memorize one poem. It’s not a slam competition and it’s not a writing competition- it’s a recitation competition.” said Emily Prince, education director at Stuart’s Opera House and co-coordinator for Southeast Ohio Poetry Out Loud.  “At regionals, they have to do two poems, and the judging has to be done exactly the same way for each contest. The judging is very specific to make it fair. At the state and national level, they have to have three poems prepared: one 20th century, one pre 20th century, and one with a line requirement.”

Poetry Out Loud offers a free online anthology of over 1,000 poems for students to choose from. Teachers are then responsible for integrating the program into the curriculum and are encouraged to help the students develop their skills through practice and research.

“It’s something different. We’re a really non-competitive program — which I love — but I understand that we’re preparing the students for life, and sometimes competition is apart of that. They behave very much like they’re all on The Great British Bake Off: they’re so kind to each other and really supportive, and everybody is lifting everybody up which is great,” Prince said. “It’s a completely free competition from start to finish, and we try to reduce as many barriers to participation as we can.”

The judges for this year are Becca Lachman, Jadey Gilmore, and Renard Phillips, with Luke Bentley serving as the accuracy judge. Jim Parsons will be scorekeeping and Celeste Parsons will be the prompter.

“‘We do it to celebrate students and to come and celebrate community,” said Prince. “We invite guest poets too. Deni Naffziger, a local poet, is this year’s guest. It gives the students a chance to be celebrated by their community; we do it to make them feel great about themselves.”

This year’s Southeast Ohio Poetry Out Loud competition will be held on January 31 at 7 p.m. at Stuart’s Opera House (52 Public Square, Nelsonville). This is a free event and is open to the public.

“It’s a way to honor and celebrate the community, and this seems to be a good way to do it,” said Prince. “Poetry recitation seems to be somewhat old-fashioned, but it’s a gift you always have with you: having a poem in your heart.”