Poetry Out Loud – Virginia State Finals A Huge Success

Article from Richmond Times Dispatch
March 6, 2009
By Lisa Crutchfield

105Will Farley got choked up when his name was announced as winner of the state Poetry Out Loud competition.

“Oh, the cool thing just went away,” he said.

The senior at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington took top honors yesterday at the poetry-recitation contest at the Library of Virginia. He goes on to the national championship in Washington next month.

Farley, who plans to attend Bucknell University next year, beat out four other finalists in the third round with William Carlos Williams’ “Dance Russe.” He said Langston Hughes’ “Theme for English B” — which he recited in the first round — is his favorite poem.

Farley’s momentary lapse of cool notwithstanding, many of the 35 students in the contest — and others who perform regularly at poetry slams and readings — scoff at the notion of poetry as uncool, stuffy or elitist.

“Our English teachers definitely have taught us to appreciate the value of poetry,” said Kyle Wittenauer, an 11th-grade student at St. Christopher’s School in Richmond.

“Some kids might think its uncool, but the guys at our school have a good time with literature.”

Contestants — including last year’s winner, Tia Robinson of Rappahannock High in Warsaw — enjoyed the chance to interpret the words of modern and classical poets.

Wearing bright-orange spike heels, she launched into “Walking Down Park” by Nikki Giovanni. She nailed the rhythm and inflection, then stepped back and took a bow. Robinson made it into the finals for the second year.

Seth Mayberry, of New Covenant Schools in Lynchburg, lurched about the stage and flapped his arms as he dramatically presented Lewis Carroll’s nonsensical “Jabberwocky.”

The Poetry Out Loud competition was created to capitalize on the latest trends in poetry: recitation and performance.

“Poetry is meant to be heard,” said second-place finisher Julia Douglas, an 11th-grade student at George Mason High School in Falls Church. “You can’t enjoy it as much just by reading it.”

Contestants were judged on physical presence, voice and articulation, dramatization, level of difficulty, understanding, overall performance and accuracy.

The School of the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community, more commonly known as SPARC, operates the Poetry Out Loud program in Virginia for the Virginia Commission for the Arts. The National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation created the competition.

Farley receives $200 and a trip to the national finals in Washington in late April. His school gets $500 for the purchase of poetry books.

Laine Satterfield, who coordinates the program for SPARC, said she enjoys watching the students connect with the poetry.

“They become conduits for the words,” she said.

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