In March I mentioned the beginning of a nation-wide poetry recitation tournament modeled after the National Spelling Bee. A few weeks ago, Nigerian born Stephanie Oparaugo, a high school senior, was named the Washington Regional Champion in the National Endowment for the Arts National Poetry Recitation Contest. Instead of writing and performing their own work, the students are required to study and recite known works by established poets. Oparaugo’s selections included Yeats’ “The Second Coming”, “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll and “The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter” by Li Po. Whether or not the poetry tournaments continue to expand remains to be seen, however the initial contests seem to have generated an intense interest in poetry for the schools involved. We hope this is a trend that will continue.
The popularity and prevalence of the “poetry slam” appears to be on the rise and has precipitated similar interest in the more traditional poetry reading and poetry itself. Of course it doesn’t hurt that many poetry readings have evolved into more colorful and varied affairs. Does this mean interest in poetry by the general public is making a comeback? Is poetry itself in the first stages labor for a long overdue rebirth? It seems that with National Poetry Month (which was in April) fresh on our minds, and the efforts of US Poet Laureate Ted Kooser to make poetry more accessible and an everyday event, there are a lot of literati asking that same question.
Most students are required to study poetry in school at some point and it’s up to the teacher to make the poems, their impact and their construction a magical event. More than a lesson on literary history with memorization and a study of form, poetry can be a valuable tool in the classroom for inspiring students to take another look at the possibilities of expression. In addition to the poetry tournament, I recently read of two examples that give me hope that poetry is experiencing a revival. Gary Glazner, the poet-in-residence at The Santa Fe Desert Academy, coaches the Precision Poetry Drill Team. These students not only recite and appreciate the poetry they perform, but take poetic interpretation to a whole new level — you can hear a sample of their performances here. Also, young students at an Iowa elementary school are learning the fun of poetry as they read poetry during the school’s morning announcements.
Is poetry making a comeback? Most of us have always known that it never really died, but it’s still nice to see examples of the art (and its appreciation) alive and well, especially in our schools.