Washington, D.C. or Bust, A Poetry Out Loud Journey

Words by Danielle N. Brown

Arts Education Special Projects Coordinator

Photography courtesy of TN State Photography

It’s an early October morning. You are in class when you hear your school is holding a Poetry Out Loud contest. This is perfect. You listen carefully to the steps to become a contender. Your teacher offers tips and helps you prepare over the next couple of months. You need to find your poems. You dig deep into the anthology and find the pieces that fit you—poems you relate to, enjoy reciting, and think come naturally to your voice.

You practice the poems at home—in front of a mirror and your family. They hear the poems so many times they start to recite them. You get up thinking of your poems and go to sleep dreaming about your time to shine. Classroom finals come and go. Your careful preparation pays off and you win.

Juliet Lang, Fairview High School, competes in the 2014 TN state competition

Juliet Lang, Fairview High School, competes in the 2014 Tennessee state competition

You go on to state finals to compete and recite your poems along with other state qualifiers from all over Tennessee. You arrive in Nashville—the excitement and nervousness build. However, you are reassured when you find other participants just like yourself and immediately have a bond. You meet students from schools across Tennessee. The evening before the contest, everyone gets together for activities and pizza.

This year on the evening prior, we will have a “Get to Know Your Peers” poetry activity. Hip Hues Screen Printing will be on site to integrate a little hands-on art into the competition.

It’s finally the state finals. Time flies by—it’s your turn. You recite in front of a large crowd. The judges watch every detail of your recitation. You, however, are aware only of the poems spilling out just how you practiced. Your performance is perfect. You know you did your best. Now it’s time to wait as other students perform.

Gage Taylor, Baylor School, Chattanooga, competes in the 2014 TN state competition

Gage Taylor, Baylor School, Chattanooga, competes in the 2014 Tennessee state competition

When the last person finishes, the scores are tallied and the winner is about to be announced. The anticipation builds as everyone waits for the results. They announce your name—you have won. The trip to recite at the National Finals is no longer a dream. Washington, D.C., here you come.

The Tennessee Champion will receive $1,000 and a trip to Washington, D.C., to represent Tennessee at the National Finals. He/she will be one of 52 competing high school students from across the country.

Join us at the 2016 Tennessee State competition March 19 at the Nashville Children’s Theatre to see which Tennessee high school student will win the state championship and move on to the national competition. Visit www.tnartseducation.org for more information. Teachers and students can find poems at www.poetryoutloud.org/poems-and-performance.

“Suppose I said the word ‘springtime’

and I wrote the words ‘king salmon’

on a piece of paper

and mailed it to you.

When you opened it

would you remember that afternoon we spent

together in the yellow boat

when the early whales were feeding

and we caught our first fish of the year?”

Except from the poem every single day by John Straley

(After Raymond Carver’s Hummingbird)

Recited by Gage Taylor, Baylor School


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