Spoken Word: Don’t Call It a Comeback

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.

3 Responses

  1. The River Merchant’s WifeEzra
    The River Merchant’s Wife

    Ezra Pound’s translation of “The River Merchant’s Wife” by Li Po is one of my all-time favorite poems, but I don’t hear much about it.

    That’s interesting that American school children are reciting it in its native Chinese (the Li Po version, that is). That’s bringing poetry back to a higher form I think.

    Just to share, here’s the text of Pound’s translation if you’ve never read it. I think it’s phenomenal:

    “The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter

    While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead
    I played about the front gate, pulling flowers.
    You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse,
    You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.
    And we went on living in the village of Chokan:
    Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.

    At fourteen I married My Lord you.
    I never laughed, being bashful.
    Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
    Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.

    At fifteen I stopped scowling,
    I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
    Forever and forever and forever.
    Why should I climb the lookout?

    At sixteen you departed,
    You went into far Ku-to-en, by the river of swirling eddies,
    And you have been gone five months.
    The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead.

    You dragged your feet when you went out.
    By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses,
    Too deep to clear them away!
    The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind.
    The paired butterflies are already yellow with August
    Over the grass in the West garden;
    They hurt me. I grow older.
    If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang,
    Please let me know beforehand,
    And I will come out to meet you
    As far as Cho-fo-Sa.”

    — Ezra Pound

  2. Chattanooga Poetry SceneThe
    Chattanooga Poetry Scene

    The only venue around here, outside the university, for poetry is called “The Local”. The coffeehouse and bar is down on MLK Boulevard close to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. There used to be a couple of other places where they had an “open mike” to read poetry called: “The Attic”, “The Blue Angel”, “The Scarlet Tanager”, and “The Bay” but all of those places got closed or bought out.

    There is the Meacham Writing Workshop, at the University, where they have a perennial reading and NO fee is charged to participate. We also recently had the Southern Writers Conference here, but there was no open mike that I know of.

    Places around here need to be encouraged to share their “open mike’s” with the musicians. I play guitar/harmonica/keyboard music as well as read poetry. However, since “The Attic” closed, I have not been on the scene. I’ve visited “The Local” on two occasions. Hopefully, more venues in the Chattanooga Metro area will host “open mikes” for both music and poetry.

    I am considering writing a column about the lack of venues and publications around here for poetry. We have “Poetry Miscellany” and “Sequoyah Review” which operate out of the university. “Bog-Gob” magazine occasionally publishes poetry and so does “Spare Change”. Outside of those four publications, poets
    around here have to write to, or drive to: Knoxville, Nashville, or Atlanta to get published, or to read in open mike settings. Driving costs gas money and, if you are operating on a low budget, is impractical every weekend. So, I recommend using postage for the out of town publications which is cheaper, but takes up more time to get feedback. We occasionally have poetry slams here in Chattanooga–the last one was held at “The Local”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

What we're up to ...

Litkicks is 26 years old! This website has been on a long and wonderful journey since 1994. We’re relaunching the whole site on a new platform in June 2021, and will have more updates soon. We’ve also been busy producing a couple of podcasts – please check them out.

World BEYOND War: A New Podcast
Lost Music: Exploring Literary Opera

Explore related articles ...