Loud and Proud
A Pacific Grove student vies for national POETRY OUT LOUD title.
Thursday, April 28, 2011
What is a poem? The question pops into my head as I’m driving home, exhausted and satisfied after hosting another weekly edition of The Rubber Chicken Poetry Slam & Open Mic at East Village Coffee Lounge. My hands are dirty with the night’s poetry, music and dance, my body aching from being beautifully battered by all the songs of humans sung for other humans to hear.
In the last school year alone, 40,000 California high school students in a record 34 counties have pondered, studied, talked about, and debated this very question.
That led to Robert Marchand, senior at Pacific Grove High School, competing in Washington, D.C. today, April 28, as the 2011 California champ in a national competition that impresses with audience size, enthusiasm, and $50,000 in cash prizes for students and schools.
“POETRY OUT LOUD, a National Recitation Contest” was started by the National Endowment of the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, with later participation by state arts agencies. To compete, students first select one to three poems from the official Poetry Out Loud print and online anthologies. They then spend two-to-three weeks memorizing and exploring the poems in their classrooms through lesson plans, writing exercises and practice contests, as well as watching DVDs of past contest winners. They compete at the classroom level, move to the school level, then onto regional and national contests. At each step, they are judged on a scale of one to six by the same criteria: physical presence, voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness, level of difficulty, evidence of understanding, overall performance and accuracy. With his powerful voice, Marchand consistently impressed the judges in all categories.
“I was attracted to the performance aspect,” Marchand says. “As for the competition, I try not to think about it that way, I just want to get far enough to show off all my work. When they announced my name at state finals I was stunned – there were so many great performers there I couldn’t believe I was even in the running. It was beyond an honor.”
The NEA and the Poetry Foundation envisioned an arts education program that used the age-old techniques of memorization, recitation and competition to bring poetry into the lives of young people who are looking to their futures, and just beginning to create their adult identities.
Larry Haggquist, chair of the English department at P.G. High School, and Marchand’s English teacher and coach, believes deeply in the power of that process.
“A poem has emotion at its core,” he says. “It carries the reader to another time and place where his senses are heightened, where the moment arrests him, and where he is as alive as he will ever be.”
Paulette Lynch, executive director of the Arts Council for Monterey, echoes the sentiment. “We have found over the years that the arts are the answer,” she says. “This program is a great example.”
I agree, and know that any student who does POETRY OUT LOUD – because he didn’t shy away from hard work, passion and a chance to better himself – is a champion. No matter what happens in Washington D.C., Marchand has already won.
Garland Thompson Jr. is POETRY OUT LOUD’s county coordinator and a former Pacific Grove poet-in-residence. To follow the contest live, visit www.poetryoutloud.org.