Poetry Out Loud: 2010 National Book Festival

Uploaded by LibraryOfCongress on 13.10.2010

>> From the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.

>> My name is Mary Flanagan I'm representing the National Endowment
for the Arts and I'm here today to showcase with the help of some
of our state international champions the Poetry Out Loud program.

Poetry Out Loud, national recitation contest is a unique program
with an ambitious goal to bring poetry into the lives
of high school students by having them learn and perform great poems.
Students from each state, the District of Columbia,
the U.S. Virgin Islands in Puerto Rico compete for the national title
of Poetry Out Loud champion each year.
The program with a structure like the national spelling bee
and entering its sixth year has been a smashing success.
Poetry Out Loud is a partnership between the National Endowment
for the Art the Poetry Foundation and state art agencies.
Statistics for the 2009-2010 Poetry Out Loud,
nearly 325,000 students competed nationwide.
This program starts in the classroom and students have robust anthologies
from which to choose the poems they want to learn and recite.
Approximately, 2,000 schools participated nationwide.
And all of you local residents and those in the neighboring states,
mark your calendars for the 2011 National POL finals
in Washington DC.
They're going to be this April 29 at the Lincoln Theater.
So, what I'm gonna do is I'm going to introduce the students,
there's going to be three of them and they're gonna come up here
and perform and the first I'm gonna introduce, Youssef Biaz.

Born in Morocco, Youssef Biaz now lives in Auburn, Alabama
and represented his state as a national finalist at the 2010 Poetry
Out Loud competition in Washington D.C. along with running
and playing a guitar, Youssef enjoys practicing Michael Jackson
dance routines.
Maybe he'll do that for you.
His favorite authors are Hemmingway, Sartre and Camus.
Please welcome Youssef Biaz.
[ Applause ]
>> Mrs. Krikorian by Sharon Olds.

She saved me.
When I arrived in 6th grade, a known criminal, the new teacher asked me
to stay after school the first day, she said I have heard about you.
She was a tall woman, with a deep crevice
between her breasts and a large, calm nose.
She said, this is a special library pass.
As soon as you finish your hour's work that hour's work
that took ten minutes and then the devil glanced into the room
and found me empty, a house standing open you can go to the library.
Every hour I'd zip through the work in a dash and slip out of my seat
as if out of God's side and sail down to the library,
solo through the empty powerful halls, flash my pass and stroll
over to the dictionary to look up the most interesting word I knew,
spank, dipping two fingers into the jar of library paste to suck
that tart mucilage as I came to the page
with the cocker spaniel's silks curling
up like the fine steam of the body.
After spank, and breast, I'd move on to Abe Lincoln and Helen Keller,
safe in their goodness till the bell, thanks to Mrs. Krikorian,
amiable giantess with the kind eyes.
When she asked me to write a play, and direct it, and it was a flop,
and I hid in the coat-closet, she brought me a candy-cane
as you lay a peppermint on the tongue, and the worm will come
up out of the bowel to get it.
And so I was emptied of Lucifer and filled with school glue and eros
and Amelia Earhart, saved by Mrs. Krikorian.
And who had saved Mrs. Krikorian?
When the Turks came across Armenia, who slid her into the belly
of a quilt, who locked her in a chest, who mailed her to America?
And that one, who saved her, and that one who saved her,
to save the one who saved Mrs. Krikorian, who was standing there
on the sill of 6th grade, a wide-hipped angel,
smoky hair standing up weightless all around her head?
I end up owing my soul to so many, to the Armenian nation,
one more soul someone jammed behind a stove, drove deep into a crack
in a wall, shoved under a bed.
I would wake up, in the morning, under my bed--
not knowing how I had got there-- and lie in the dusk,
the dustballs beside my face round and ashen, shining slightly
with the eerie comfort of what is neither good nor evil.
[ Applause]
>> Playing dead by Andrew Hudgins.
Our father liked to play a game.
He played that he was dead.
He took his thick black glasses off and stretched out on the bed.
He wouldn't twitch and didn't snore or move in any way.
He didn't even seem to breathe!
We asked, Are you okay?
We tickled fingers up and down his huge, pink, stinky feet.
He didn't move; he lay as still as last year's parakeet.
We pushed our fingers up his nose, and wiggled them inside.
Next, we peeled his eyelids back.
Are you okay?
We cried. I really thought he might be dead and not just playing possum,
because his eyeballs didn't twitch when I slid my tongue across 'em.
He's dead, we sobbed-but to be sure, I jabbed him in the jewels.
He rose, like Jesus, from the dead, though I don't think Jesus drools.
His right hand lashed both right and left.
His left hand clutched his scrotum.
And the words he yelled-I know damn well I'm way too young to quote 'em.
[ Applause ]
>> Thank you, Youssef that was very, very impressive.
I wanted to just keep you up here
for a little bit longer to ask you a question.
Poetry Out Loud has over 300 poems an online anthology,
you can all look at them, it's at poetryoutloud.org
and click on online anthology.
And how it works is these students, they pick the poems
that they want to learn and recite.
So can you tell me, you can either pick one of those poems or both
of them and talk about out of those 300 what attracted you to develop
to those and why did you choose those?
>> Umm, when I first was going to do the school contest for Auburn High.
I just went blandly on the website and looked for a poem
that I was looking for something that spoke to me
and I found Mrs. Krikorian and it was really strange,
I relate to the character who is speaking,
because I remember those days in middle school
when I would just be really bored by busy work
and that hours work would just take ten minutes and then I have nothing
to do and cause a lot of trouble for my teachers
and I really enjoyed the idea of a teacher that saved you and so
when I found that I was like, this is for me and that was the poem
that I first chose and that initially won me the school contest
since that was that.
Thank you.
[ Applause ]
>> Thank you, Youssef.
Next, I would like to introduce Will Whitham , Will is a two-time Poetry
Out Loud state champion from Maine,
now a freshman at Harvard University.
Will loves to fly kites, acting plays, and read the newspaper.
Among his favorite poets are Shel Silverstein, John Donne,
and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
and Walt Whitman Please welcome Will Whitham.
[ Applause ]
>> Hi. Come Up From The Fields Father by Walt Whitman.
Come up from the fields father, here's a letter from our Pete,
and come to the front door mother, here's a letter from thy dear son.
Lo, 'tis autumn, Lo, where the trees, deeper green, yellower
and redder, Cool and sweeten Ohio's villages with leaves fluttering
in the moderate wind, Where apples ripe in the orchards hang and grapes
on the trellis'd vines, Smell you the smell
of the grapes on the vines?
Smell you the buckwheat where the bees were lately buzzing?
Above all, lo, the sky so calm, so transparent after the rain,
and with wondrous clouds, Below too, all calm, all vital and beautiful,
and the farm prospers well.
Down in the fields all prospers well,
but now from the fields come father, come at the daughter's call,
and come to the entry mother, to the front door come right away.
Fast as she can she hurries, something ominous,
her steps trembling, She does not tarry
to smooth her hair nor adjust her cap.
Open the envelope quickly.
O this is not our son's writing, yet his name is sign'd.
O a strange hand writes for our dear son, O stricken mother's soul!
All swims before her eyes, flashes with black,
she catches the main words only.
Sentences broken, gunshot wound in the breast,
cavalry skirmish, taken to hospital.
At present low, but will soon be better.
Ah now the single figure to me.
Amid all teeming and wealthy Ohio with all its cities and farms.
Sickly white in the face and dull in the head very faint.
By the jamb of a door leans grieve not so, dear mother,
the just-grown daughter speaks through her sobs.
The little sisters huddle around speechless and dismay'd.
See, dearest mother, the letter says Pete will soon be better.
Alas poor boy, he will never be better, nor may-be needs
to be better, that brave and simple soul.
While they stand at home at the door he is dead already.
The only son is dead.
But the mother needs to be better.
She with thin form presently drest in black.
By day her meals untouch'd,
then at night fitfully sleeping, often waking.
In the midnight waking, weeping, longing with one deep longing.
O that she might withdraw unnoticed,
silent from life escape and withdraw.
To follow, to seek, to be with her dear dead son.
[ Applause ]
>> Dona Josefina Counsels Dona Concepcion Before Entering Sears
by Maurice Kilwein Guevara Conchita debemos to speak totalmente
in English cuando we go into Sears okay Por que Porque didn't you hear
lo que paso it say on the eleven o'clock news anoche que two robbers
was caught in Sears and now this is the part I'm not completely segura
que I got everything porque channel 2 tiene tu sabes
that big fat guy that's hard to understand porque his nose sit
on his lip like a elefante pues the point es que the robbers the police
say was two young men pretty big y one have a hairy face
and the other is calvo that's right he's baldy
and okay believe me que barbaridad porque Hairy Face
and Mister Baldy goes right into the underwear department takes all the
money from the caja yeah uh-huh the cash register
and mira Mister Baldy goes to this poor Italian woman
that I guess would be like us sixty o sixty-five who is in the section
of the back-support brassieres and he makes her put a big bra
over her head para que she can't see nothing and kneel like she's talking
to God to save her poor life
and other things horrible pero the point como dije es que there was two
of them and both was speaking Spanish y por eso is a good thing
Conchita so the people at Sears don't confuse us with Hairy
and Baldy that we speak English only okay ready, Oh what a nice day
to be aque en Sears Miss Conception .
[ Applause ]
>> Thank you Will.
Will has had a great success at Poetry Out Loud.
You can see why and I don't think I'll ever read Walt Whitman
without hearing his voice.
You do a great a job.
You had won very serious poem, and one funnier poem
and you don't over do it.
You have exactly the right tone.
Would you mind telling us a little about your methodology
and how do you go about memorizing a poem?
>> Umm. That's a pretty good question.
Basic like it's different for different people I guess
but I usually just try to take it a few lines a time, a few sentences
at a time and you just drill it in and it's incredible
because you know, if you try to memorize something one night
and then you come back with the next day like you'll find
that you've retained a lot of the material but if you try to do it all
at the same day it's like you'll forget it,
so it's sort of a gradual process and yeah, you just take it in steps.
I remember this year from my school competition I only had
to recite one poem for that and then I won my school competition
and then we had a regional that was the next week and I had
to have an additional two poems memorized so I had about five days
to memorize two poems and yeah, you just sit down and do it
and it's hard but you know, its like studying for a test, I guess.
You just go through it.
You say it to yourself, say it in the shower and say it before you go
to bed and just really, just let it sink in
and let it become a part of you.
>> Thank you Will.
I have one more question for you.
>> Oh.
>> So, how did you know to do recitation so well
and how do you avoid the over dramatization?
Was their a coach involved?
Or did you just figure out the materials and--
>> That's-I'm not really sure.
There is a really thin line between, you know like over dramatizing it
and then doing it really, you know subtly, you definitely see
that at the competition even at Nationals.
I remember last year during my junior year,
the kid who won William Farley was just--
I mean obviously Amber was like awesome but I remember Will,
Will left a really strong impression on me because he was
so ridiculously un dramatic.
He was so honest and like, almost dead pan in a sense but like,
he was just, I don't know he was just so straight forward about it,
and I think that's what Amber was able to convey as well.
I think that's what the judges try to look for,
it's just that honesty instead of that you know sort
of an exaggerated tone that you might see sometimes
at like some poetry readings but I'm, yeah, I am trying to make it
as honest as possible it's really important, and yeah,
I think we all try to do the best we can but yeah, just trying to be true
to yourself and sure to the poem and that's all you can do.
[ Applause ]
>> And that's not easy to do--
what they do, all three of them here today.
Next I want to introduce Amber Rose Johnson.
Last April, Amber Rose Johnson, a junior at Classical high school
in Providence Rhode Island won the title of National Champion
of the 2010 Poetry Out Loud national finals.
She advanced from a very competitive field
to claim a 20,000 dollar price.
As the POL national champion, Amber has been a guess on MPRs the best
of our knowledge, alongside Natalie Merchant, Bobby McFerrin
and Rae Armantrout, and others.
Amber also participated in the poetry--
the panel on poetry at the American Library Association Conference held
in D.C. this summer and will perform along Rhode Island poets
at The Library of Congress', Poetry at Noon Series on October 19.
Her favorite poets are Maya Angelou and Nikki Giovanni and she hopes
to pursue a career in public policy and political science.
Welcome Amber.
[ Applause ]
>> Hello, hello.
Oh, my dad is right there [laughter].
I was looking for him but he is right there.
Aren't they amazing [applause] Umm, so, I'm gonna do the last piece
that I did at the national competitions this year.
It's called For My People by Margaret Walker
[ Pause ]
>> For my people everywhere singing their slave songs repeatedly,

their dirges and their ditties and their blues and jubilees,
praying their prayers nightly to an unknown god,
bending their knees humbly to an unseen power;

For my people lending their strength to the years, to the gone years
and the now years and the maybe years, washing, ironing, cooking,
scrubbing, sewing, mending hoeing plowing digging planting pruning
patching dragging along never gaining never reaping never knowing
and never understanding; For my playmates in the clay and dust
and sand of Alabama backyards playing baptizing and preaching
and doctor and jail and soldier and school and mama and cooking
and playhouse and concert and store and hair and Miss Choomby
and company; For the cramped bewildered years we went to school
to learn to know the reasons why and the answers to and the people who
and the places where and the days when, in memory of the bitter hours
when we discovered we were black and poor and small and different
and nobody cared and nobody wondered and nobody understood.

For the boys and girls who grew in spite of these thing to be man
and woman, to laugh and dance and sing and play and drink their wine
and religion and success, to marry their playmates and bear children
and then die of consumption and anemia and lynching.
For my people walking blindly spreading joy,

losing time being lazy, sleeping when hungry, shouting when burdened,
drinking when hopeless, tied and shackled and tangled among ourselves
by the unseen creatures who tower over us omnisciently and laugh;
For my people thronging 47th Street in Chicago and Lenox Avenue
in New York and Rampart Street in New Orleans,
lost disinherited dispossessed and happy people filling the cabarets
and taverns and other people's pockets and looking for bread
and shoes and milk and land and money and something--
something all our own; For my people walking blundering and groping
and floundering in the dark of churches and schools and clubs
and societies, associations and councils and committees
and conventions, distressed and disturbed and deceived and devoured
by money-hungry, glory-craving leeches, preyed on by facile force
of state and fad and novelty, by false prophet and holy believer;
For my people standing staring trying to fashion a better way
from confusion, from hypocrisy and misunderstanding,
trying to fashion a world that will hold all the people, all the faces,

all the Adams and Eves and their countless generations.

Let a new earth rise.
Let another world be born.
Let a bloody peace by written in the sky.
Let a second generation fill of courage issue forth;
let a people loving freedom come to growth.
Let a beauty full of healing and strength of final clenching
by the pulsing in our spirits and our blood.
Let the martial songs by written, let the dirges disappear.

Let a race of men now rise and take control.
[ Applause ]
>> Thank you Amber, I wanted to ask you a question too.
Beside the cash prize, you are about half way to your 10 year as Poetry
Out loud national champion.
>> Yeah.
>> And in my introduction, I read up a series
of public appearances you've been making and even talking about poetry
as well as about your life
and I know you have a political career paths ahead of you.
I want you to talk a little about what it has meant to be a Poetry
Out Loud national champion to you and you know what--
is there any difference before you won the title and now,
and what you've learned and what this has meant to you?
>> Wow, that's quite a question.
Umm, becoming national champion has absolutely changed my life.
My entire life, woop done.
Old Amber is completely gone, completely changed.
It's definitely a big change from being a state champion
to national champion and I remember I competed two years ago, as well.
When Shawntay Henry was the national champion and I remember looking
at her and looking at Will Farley and being like,
men they are so cool like, I wanna be them and now that I'm in it,
it's just-- it's absolutely amazing, the way, I--
the way I used to see the national champion,
I know that people are looking at me that way and just knowing
that other students are getting the same feeling
but you also have a certain level of responsibility as national champion,
definitely wherever I go, I don't just wanna talk about myself.
I wanna talk about all the amazing state champions.
I wanna talk about the entire experience and how Poetry
Out Loud is still growing, I don't-- it's, insane.
I feel like every morning I wake up and sometimes I'm like whoa,
I'm a national champion, like its never really hits you
and never really sinks it.
I think I finally understand it when I'm at the nationals in April
and heading off the title maybe that's when it hit me but as
of right now, I'm kinda still in the whirlwind [applause].
>> Thank you.
We have some time to have one more question.
I also wanted to ask you the methodology question,
you know, how do you choose poems?
Are you still memorizing poems?
And you know?
For all the poetry lovers in the audience, what does it mean to you
to internalize a poem and how do you memorize and how do you go
about your work with that?
>> Umm, in terms of choosing my poem,
it was always a really a family experience.
I have great family support at home.
My dad is here with me today and it was always the whole family
that kind of chose the poem because, wherever I go I wanna speak life,
I wanna carry a positive image.
So, I'm kind of didn't want any poems that were overly sad
or depressing or anything like that.
I wanted a poem that reflected me and reflected something positive.
And in terms of memorizing, like Will said,
that's definitely a gradual process.
It's not something that happens over night.
It's just about, you now, taking it one step at a time,
trying not to get overwhelmed.
If you do motions, if ever you're trying to memorize poems,
do motions, that helps it does, like if you are trying
to remember something and you do a motion it will definitely click.
But I mean, I had a coach for this year,
last year when I competed I didn't have coach
and that definitely helped but it's just,
it's trying to find the heartbeat of the poem.
Because, when you do Poetry Out Loud I think what Will was trying to get
at between-- the different routine a recitation and a performance
or over dramatize, drama-- yeah that word is when you find the heartbeat
of the poem, because I wanna take Amber out of the poem.
I'm sure they wanna take Will and Youssef out of the poem.
That's not what the performances is about;
it's about finding the heartbeat of the poem.
Finding the heartbeat of the author that wrote the poem,
really understanding and letting the word speaks for themselves
and that's really when you master the poem
when you can't let the word speak for themselves
and take yourself completely out of it so [applause]
>> We have time for one more quick one,
and has this helped you in your writing at all?
And do you write poetry?
Or is this just a separate art for you completely.
>> Poetry Out Loud kind of has touched every area of my life,
it definitely helps when it comes, you know,
when your English teach tells you you're doing a poetry segment,
I'm like yes.
My favorite segment, but it definitely has changed my writing
and the way I looked at words
because I understand how powerful words can really be now
and I understand that the way you structure something on a page
or the way you put two words together can really take
like completely change the impact of the poem
and the meaning of the poem.
So, I definitely take that into consideration, but I have also found
that now whenever I look at a poem or whenever I hear a poem I think
about so much more than just listening.
I think about what the author was going through when they wrote
that poem, I think about what that poem was supposed to mean,
I think about the time that it was written.
I think about the person who's reciting it
and when you do a competition like that, you really start
to breakdown a poem and it means it is much more than just, you know,
something written on the page.
>> Good answer.
That's very interesting.
As an organizer for Poetry Out Loud, it such a privilege to be able
to get inside the minds of these kids, that are so good at this.
I want to remind all high school teachers here that we have kits
in the back for Poetry Out Loud to start
that new classroom please visit the tables in the back
and thank you fro being here.
[ Pause ]
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