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Poetry Out Loud: An Inspirational Night!

Posted on Thu, Mar 22 2018 12:00 pm by Jessie Lee-Bauder

image: poetry out loud runner-ups and championRunners-up Sarah Most from Eastview High School in Apple Valley (right) and Signe Stromgren from Harbor City International School in Duluth (left), with Minnesota State Champion Cheryl Minde of The Blake School in Minneapolis (center).


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 traditional/contemporary writing, and a mastery of public speaking. Since its start, the competition has reached over 3 million students in over 10,000 schools in the nation. MN State Competition for Poetry Out Loud will take place at The Loft Literary Center this spring.

Working with Poetry Out Loud has led me to reflect on my own experiences (or lack thereof) with public speaking, and think about the importance of developing confidence in front of an audience.

After many months of planning, it was surreal to watch the Poetry Out Loud state competition finally come together in the second week of March. My own high school didn’t have a Poetry Out Loud program, and I had never been to a competition of this kind. I had no idea what to expect as students from all over Minnesota arrived with a varied and beautiful array of poetry.

It was incredibly moving to watch them perform with boundless levels of energy, passion, and dignity. Each student brought something entirely new to the stage—their poems ranged in theme from the personal to the political, and the event seemed to celebrate diverse voices as much as it did the power of youth and of literature in general. Many of the poems felt particularly timely in our social and political moment.I was particularly affected by one, “America, I Sing You Back,” recited by Cheryl Minde, who would go on to be awarded the title of state champion.


      America, I Sing You Back

      By Allison Adelle Hedge Coke

      for Phil Young and my father Robert Hedge Coke;
      for Whitman and Hughes

      America, I sing back. Sing back what sung you in.
      Sing back the moment you cherished breath.
      Sing you home into yourself and back to reason.


      But here I am, here I am, here I remain high on each and every peak,
      carefully rumbling her great underbelly, prepared to pour forth singing—

      and sing again I will, as I have always done.
      Never silenced unless in the company of strangers, singing
      the stoic face, polite repose, polite while dancing deep inside, polite
      Mother of her world. Sister of myself.

      When my song sings aloud again. When I call her back to cradle.
      Call her to peer into waters, to behold herself in dark and light,
      day and night, call her to sing along, call her to mature, to envision—
      then, she will quake herself over. My song will make it so.

      When she grows far past her self-considered purpose,
      I will sing her back, sing her back. I will sing. Oh I will—I do.
      America, I sing back. Sing back what sung you in.


Tremendous thanks and congratulations to the students who shared such beautiful poetry with us, and to their teachers who supported them along the way. And special congratulations to Cheryl Minde of The Blake School in Minneapolis: Good luck at the Poetry Out Loud Nationals in Washington DC this April!

Jessie Lee-Bauder is the Loft’s 2017-18 Poetry Out Loud Intern. She is overwhelmed at the prospect of graduating from Macalester College in December, 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 2-3 p.m.), serves gyros at a Greek restaurant, and reads and writes quite a bit.