Art Works Blog

Poetry Out Loud: Through the Judges' Eyes

Without a doubt, the young competitors of Poetry Out Loud have a tough job---not only do they have to memorize three poems word perfect, but they then have to recite those poems in front of a crowded auditorium knowing they are being judged on their accuracy, physical presence, voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness, level of difficulty, and understanding of the poem.

Turns out that the judges have an equally tough job. By the time this year's national competitors arrive in Washington, DC in late April, they will have bested 350,000 other students to win their state championships. In other words, the judges will be looking not just to select the best competitor, but the best of the best. Talk about pressure!

Today we're chatting with two past Poetry Out Loud judges---poet and American University professor Kyle Dargan and former Alaska State Writer Laureate Peggy Shumaker---about their experience as judges.

At #POL11, a state champ takes to the hallway to go over her poems one last time. Photo by James Kegley

KYLE DARGAN

NEA: What three words would you pick to describe Poetry Out Loud?

KYLE DARGAN: Inspiring. Thrilling. Heartbreaking (if your favorite doesn't make it).

NEA: When and where were you a POL judge? How did you get involved?

DARGAN: I was a semi-finals judge for the national competition held last year (2012) in Washington, D.C.

NEA: What do you think is the most important thing to remember about judging a competition like POL?

DARGAN: Passion and precision---as well as performance and recitation---are different things. Is an enthralling performance of a poem exhibiting an awareness of poem's content, the inherent tenor and tone in its language? I value when the voice of the reciter leaves enough space to have a conversation with the voice of the poem.

NEA: What was your favorite part of the experience? Any moment or moments especially stand out to you?

DARGAN: There was a young woman from Tennessee, Anita Norman---only a high school freshman, I think, but she handled herself, and the poem, with such grace and pathos. (To me, that is.) She did not make the grand finals cut, but I had to seek her out afterwards and encourage her to try again. I was glad she drew me in enough for me to want to encourage her further.

NEA: What would you say to encourage more students and schools to take part in POL?

DARGAN: The range of roles in the poetry world is wide. Though we all should be writers and readers and critics and reciters of poetry, you also need people who specialize in those different roles. So if you are not taken with writing or writing about poetry, maybe you are meant to be a reciter of poetry. We need everyone thriving and challenging themselves in their preferred roles in order to keep the poetry ecosystem vibrant and healthy. As a writer, I almost felt inadequate judging these students because I knew they could do things with recitation that I could not ever do. Again, everyone has something necessary to contribute to this adoration of language we call poetry.

The scholarships don't hurt either.

 

At #POL2011, some young competitors nervously wait to find out who's moving on to the next round of competition. Photo by James Kegley

PEGGY SHUMAKER

NEA: What three words would you pick to describe Poetry Out Loud?

PEGGY SHUMAKER; Vibrant. Essential. Human.

NEA: When and where were you a POL judge? How did you get involved?

SHUMAKER: I judged in 2012, in Juneau, Alaska at the Alaska State Finals. I was invited because I was the Alaska State Writer Laureate.

NEA: What do you think is the most important thing to remember about judging a competition like POL?

SHUMAKER: Honor each performer, each young person who has prepared in mind, heart, body, and soul to be speaking poems for all of us.

NEA: What was your favorite part of the experience? Any moment or moments especially stand out to you?

SHUMAKER: I loved watching the young people supporting one another. Each of them knew how challenging it had been to make it to the finals, and they were remarkable in their enthusiasm for one another.

NEA: What would you say to encourage more students and schools to take part in POL?

SHUMAKER: Knowing poems by heart will matter to you throughout your life. Having words to rely on will support you in hard times and lift you up in good times. In an MRI tube, for instance, you can say poems over the pounding. In the labor room, you can welcome a new human being with a poem. At your wedding or at the funeral of a loved one, you will reach for poems.

Be an armchair judge during #POL13! Visit our News Room to find out how to watch the April 29-30 Poetry Out Loud National Finals online, and how to register for a viewing party!

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