Education column: Poetry competition inspires students

In the midst of this frantically busy, digitally infused world, why should we care about poetry?

Clearly it touches us in some way, since it’s been around for a few thousand years.

Although poetry seems inscrutable to many, it does appeal to a great diversity of people, including our youth, as evidenced by the recent “Poetry Out Loud” competition held last week at Clovis High School.

Carol Singletary, veteran teacher of 25 years, believes poetry is important enough to further encourage students by introducing the art of recitation through the “Poetry Out Loud” competition, an event she has spearheaded the last few years.

“Poetry Out Loud” (http://www.poetryoutloud.org/) is the result of a partnership between the National Endowment for the Arts, the Poetry Foundation, and state arts agencies to “encourage the nation’s youth to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation.”

It all begins with initial competitive classroom recitations, the winners of which then participate in the finals held one day last week after school in the CHS Lecture Hall. A surprising number of students had taken the time outside normal school hours to attend the finals.

Even though some students received extra credit for attending, what was noteworthy was the dramatic hush that fell in the hall as each participant mounted the stage to present their recitation; pin-drop silence throughout, with not a cell phone in sight.

The winner of the event was delightful young poet, Savannah Armijo, who has a clear passion for poetry. She will now compete in Santa Fe at the state level, and the winner at state will then head to Washington D.C. to compete nationally.

The unique art of reciting a poem by memory lies somewhere between a thorough understanding of the piece and an appropriately dramatic recitation, combined with physical presence, articulation, and accuracy. The delivery should not be confused with a theatrical dramatic interpretation, as the emphasis on evidence of understanding is paramount.

Poetry can hold a mysteriously broad appeal to a considerable diversity of students, represented by some of the “Poetry Out Loud” participants that have made it to the national level: From students already accepted to Ivy League schools, to students with disabilities, to students from juvenile justice facilities.

When Singletary’s students were asked, “What is poetry?” none hesitated, but all bubbled over spontaneously to explain enthusiastically what poetry means to them. Singletary’s teaching obviously remains true to her own influences: “I had a teacher in high school that epitomized grace and style. She made us think and write regularly and never accepted any less than what she knew we could give her.”

We can never underestimate the influence a teacher can have, and as far as poetry goes, it has been suggested there are as many definitions of poetry as there have been poets.

Robert Frost offered, “A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom.”

Perhaps writer Mark Flanagan is close to the mark: “Defining poetry is like grasping at the wind; once you catch it, it’s no longer wind.”

Cindy Kleyn-Kennedy is the Instructional Technology Coordinator for the Clovis Municipal Schools and can be reached at cindy.kleyn-kennedy@clovis-schools.org