Art Works Blog

Connected: A Reflection on Poetry Out Loud

As a freshman participant in the National Poetry Out Loud competition, I knew that one day, I wanted to be among the finalists. I sat in the front row, heart pounding, riveted by the stories, the subtle manipulation of the crowd. I acknowledged my peers on stage that night as angels, near perfect in that moment. And so I began to see myself on stage, envisioning the room silent followed momentarily by the sink and swell of my own voice moving the crowd. I left fiercely aware that the competition would be relentless, the work even more so, yet my vision came true two years later. "Representing Tennessee! Anita Norman." I floated onto that stage, far above the crowd. I was there because of words.

Poetry Out Loud added itself into the equation my freshman year, and has consumed everything up to this point. I studied musicians, speakers, and poets alike, and what I noticed most, was their ability to shift the energy in the room. The most invaluable lesson in speaking has been the emotional power necessary to release an audience from the world inside their heads, so they are free to see what I see.

My interest in Poetry Out Loud led to my discovery of words. I know them not to be simply spoken, but rather letters that are born on the tip of my tongue, weaved into messages and sent with each breath. I know them to be fragmented pieces that transcend ancient barriers of time and tell stories that hold a person's attention better than the newest technology. Words allow me to align my experiences as a young black girl, and those of my history, with the experiences of people from every background.

Words are powerful, of course, but so is the voice that speaks them. I had to become comfortable with my sound, pleased with the natural intricacies that made me me. There were times when I would have rather been a drop of water than standing on stage, but every drop of water makes a puddle. I know those to be unavoidable. That poor self image and connecting with my peers has been a true struggle throughout high school, yet I had so much to say. I was always scrutinizing, hoping, and believing, but found it more embarrassing to open my mouth when nothing came out right. And then there was poetry. Its gift was a mixture of love and hate--without both there is no story to be heard. Overcoming my apprehension of speaking was gift number two.

Thus is poetry. Stepping onto a stage and outside myself to give a listener a glimpse of something imagined but truthfully always there, a connection to savor.

That connection proved most moving as people young and old thanked me for my passion, my own way of making words shift through air. I began desiring that people listen, but then realized what really counted was how they felt.

When I returned to the national stage my junior year, I recognized that I had come into my own, comfortable enough to give myself fully to the spotlight. I remember each step and every breath to the microphone, but most poignant is my memory of chests rising and falling in the audience. I inhaled all that they offered with their presence, and gave all that I had of mine. The greatest success and happiness was in knowing I was never alone.

Save the Date! The two-day 2015 Poetry Out Loud National Finals will be streamed live at arts.gov on April 28 and 29. Learn more about Poetry Out Loud: National Recitation Contest here.

Read Anita Norman's post about participating in the National Storytelling Festival here, and stay tuned for her column next month on how to memorize and recite poetry. 

Comments

Submitted by L (not verified) on

Very proud of Ms. Norman!   Liked this article and will stay tuned to see what happens at the two-day 2015 Poetry Out Loud.  : )

Add new comment