Poetry Out Loud: The Poems We Carry With Us
Poetry Out Loud is a recitation competition founded in 2005 to inspire students and encourage their literary development. Through this competition, students obtain confidence, a critical knowledge of both traditional and contemporary writing, as well as a mastery of public speaking. Since its start, the competition has reached over 3 million students in over 10,000 schools in the nation. The Minnesota State Competition for Poetry Out Loud will take place at The Loft Literary Center this spring.
A recent conversation with a friend about Poetry Out Loud led to an experience that made me think about the value of poetry as a communal experience.
Over the holidays, I was happily reunited with some old family friends at a dinner party. Mary, my best friend’s mother, studied English in college and is always quick to ask me what I’ve been reading, or writing, or doing in that field. We talked about our favorite authors and books from the fall, and then I started to tell her about working with Poetry Out Loud.
Mary was thrilled about the program. She said that she hadn’t heard a poem recited in a long time, looked around the table, and asked what poems we each carried inside of us. Her youngest son began reciting a poem in Chinese, surprising everyone. My mother recited a poem as well—something about a man mounting his horse before leaving home for the last time. I recounted my favorite poem, "In My Dreams" by Stevie Smith, which begins:
In my dreams I am always saying goodbye and riding away,
Whither and why I know not nor do I care.
And the parting is sweet and the parting over is sweeter,
And sweetest of all is the night and the rushing air.
We all looked at each other, a little surprised by what we really were, as Mary said, carrying inside of ourselves. I feel like each of us left that night knowing the others a little bit better, through the various words we had chosen to keep and then share.
We also all realized how lucky we felt to have these poems memorized. I am so thankful for the words that bring me a sense of comfort and company when I need it, and I got the sense that everyone at the table felt similarly about their poems too. It seemed that the poems our parents shared had been kept by them for nearly their whole lives.
It’s never too early to start learning about poetry, and memorizing it not only for personal enjoyment, but also with the intention of sharing joy or beauty with others. Poetry Out Loud helps high school students feel the impact of poetry, and facilitates the process of memorization and presentation. Through the competition, they are likely to discover meaningful poems that they will then carry—and share—for a long time after it ends.
Jessie Lee-Bauder is the Loft’s Poetry Out Loud intern for 2017-18. She is a recent graduate of Macalester College, with a degree in English (Creative Writing), and minors in American Studies and Environmental Studies. In addition to her work at the Loft, Jessie has a show at Macalester’s radio station (“tweenies”, Mondays 2-3pm), serves gyros at a Greek restaurant, and reads and writes quite a bit.