Poetry Out Loud: 2010 National Book Festival

>> From the Library of
Congress in Washington D.C. >> My name is Mary Flanagan I'm
representing the National Endowment for the Arts and I'm here today
to showcase with the help of some of our state international champions
the Poetry Out Loud program. Poetry Out Loud, national recitation
contest is a unique program with an ambitious goal to
bring poetry into the lives of high school students by having
them learn and perform great poems. Students from each state,
the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands in Puerto
Rico compete for the national title of Poetry Out Loud
champion each year. The program with a structure
like the national spelling bee and entering its sixth year
has been a smashing success. Poetry Out Loud is a partnership
between the National Endowment for the Art the Poetry
Foundation and state art agencies. Statistics for the
2009-2010 Poetry Out Loud, nearly 325,000 students
competed nationwide. This program starts in the classroom
and students have robust anthologies from which to choose the poems
they want to learn and recite. Approximately, 2,000 schools
participated nationwide. And all of you local residents and
those in the neighboring states, mark your calendars for the
2011 National POL finals in Washington DC. They're going to be this April
29 at the Lincoln Theater. So, what I'm gonna do is I'm
going to introduce the students, there's going to be three of them
and they're gonna come up here and perform and the first I'm
gonna introduce, Youssef Biaz. Born in Morocco, Youssef Biaz
now lives in Auburn, Alabama and represented his state as a
national finalist at the 2010 Poetry Out Loud competition in
Washington D.C. along with running and playing a guitar, Youssef
enjoys practicing Michael Jackson dance routines. Maybe he'll do that for you. His favorite authors are
Hemmingway, Sartre and Camus. Please welcome Youssef Biaz. [ Applause ] >> Mrs. Krikorian by Sharon Olds. She saved me. When I arrived in 6th grade, a known
criminal, the new teacher asked me to stay after school the first day,
she said I have heard about you. She was a tall woman,
with a deep crevice between her breasts
and a large, calm nose. She said, this is a
special library pass. As soon as you finish your
hour's work that hour's work that took ten minutes and then
the devil glanced into the room and found me empty, a house standing
open you can go to the library. Every hour I'd zip through the work
in a dash and slip out of my seat as if out of God's side and
sail down to the library, solo through the empty powerful
halls, flash my pass and stroll over to the dictionary to look up
the most interesting word I knew, spank, dipping two fingers into
the jar of library paste to suck that tart mucilage
as I came to the page with the cocker spaniel's
silks curling up like the fine steam of the body. After spank, and breast, I'd move
on to Abe Lincoln and Helen Keller, safe in their goodness till the
bell, thanks to Mrs. Krikorian, amiable giantess with the kind eyes. When she asked me to write a play,
and direct it, and it was a flop, and I hid in the coat-closet,
she brought me a candy-cane as you lay a peppermint on the
tongue, and the worm will come up out of the bowel to get it. And so I was emptied of Lucifer and
filled with school glue and eros and Amelia Earhart,
saved by Mrs. Krikorian. And who had saved Mrs. Krikorian? When the Turks came across
Armenia, who slid her into the belly of a quilt, who locked her in a
chest, who mailed her to America? And that one, who saved her,
and that one who saved her, to save the one who saved Mrs.
Krikorian, who was standing there on the sill of 6th grade,
a wide-hipped angel, smoky hair standing up
weightless all around her head? I end up owing my soul to so
many, to the Armenian nation, one more soul someone jammed behind
a stove, drove deep into a crack in a wall, shoved under a bed. I would wake up, in the
morning, under my bed– not knowing how I had got
there– and lie in the dusk, the dustballs beside my face
round and ashen, shining slightly with the eerie comfort of
what is neither good nor evil. [ Applause] >> Playing dead by Andrew Hudgins. Our father liked to play a game. He played that he was dead. He took his thick black glasses
off and stretched out on the bed. He wouldn't twitch and didn't
snore or move in any way. He didn't even seem to breathe! We asked, Are you okay? We tickled fingers up and down
his huge, pink, stinky feet. He didn't move; he lay as
still as last year's parakeet. We pushed our fingers up his
nose, and wiggled them inside. Next, we peeled his eyelids back. Are you okay? We cried. I really thought he might
be dead and not just playing possum, because his eyeballs didn't twitch
when I slid my tongue across 'em. He's dead, we sobbed-but to be
sure, I jabbed him in the jewels. He rose, like Jesus, from the dead,
though I don't think Jesus drools. His right hand lashed
both right and left. His left hand clutched his scrotum. And the words he yelled-I know damn
well I'm way too young to quote 'em. [ Applause ] >> Thank you, Youssef that
was very, very impressive. I wanted to just keep you up here for a little bit longer
to ask you a question. Poetry Out Loud has over 300
poems an online anthology, you can all look at them,
it's at poetryoutloud.org and click on online anthology. And how it works is these
students, they pick the poems that they want to learn and recite. So can you tell me, you can either
pick one of those poems or both of them and talk about out of those
300 what attracted you to develop to those and why did
you choose those? >> Umm, when I first was going to do
the school contest for Auburn High. I just went blandly on the
website and looked for a poem that I was looking for
something that spoke to me and I found Mrs. Krikorian
and it was really strange, I relate to the character
who is speaking, because I remember those
days in middle school when I would just be
really bored by busy work and that hours work would just take
ten minutes and then I have nothing to do and cause a lot of
trouble for my teachers and I really enjoyed the idea of
a teacher that saved you and so when I found that I was like, this
is for me and that was the poem that I first chose and that
initially won me the school contest since that was that. Thank you. [ Applause ] >> Thank you, Youssef. Next, I would like to introduce Will
Whitham , Will is a two-time Poetry Out Loud state champion from Maine, now a freshman at Harvard
University. Will loves to fly kites, acting
plays, and read the newspaper. Among his favorite poets are
Shel Silverstein, John Donne, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Walt Whitman Please
welcome Will Whitham. [ Applause ] >> Hi. Come Up From The
Fields Father by Walt Whitman. Come up from the fields father,
here's a letter from our Pete, and come to the front door mother,
here's a letter from thy dear son. Lo, 'tis autumn, Lo, where the
trees, deeper green, yellower and redder, Cool and sweeten Ohio's
villages with leaves fluttering in the moderate wind, Where apples
ripe in the orchards hang and grapes on the trellis'd vines,
Smell you the smell of the grapes on the vines? Smell you the buckwheat where
the bees were lately buzzing? Above all, lo, the sky so calm,
so transparent after the rain, and with wondrous clouds, Below too,
all calm, all vital and beautiful, and the farm prospers well. Down in the fields
all prospers well, but now from the fields come
father, come at the daughter's call, and come to the entry mother, to
the front door come right away. Fast as she can she
hurries, something ominous, her steps trembling,
She does not tarry to smooth her hair
nor adjust her cap. Open the envelope quickly. O this is not our son's
writing, yet his name is sign'd. O a strange hand writes for our
dear son, O stricken mother's soul! All swims before her
eyes, flashes with black, she catches the main words only. Sentences broken, gunshot
wound in the breast, cavalry skirmish, taken to hospital. At present low, but
will soon be better. Ah now the single figure to me. Amid all teeming and wealthy Ohio
with all its cities and farms. Sickly white in the face and
dull in the head very faint. By the jamb of a door leans
grieve not so, dear mother, the just-grown daughter
speaks through her sobs. The little sisters huddle
around speechless and dismay'd. See, dearest mother, the letter
says Pete will soon be better. Alas poor boy, he will never
be better, nor may-be needs to be better, that
brave and simple soul. While they stand at home at
the door he is dead already. The only son is dead. But the mother needs to be better. She with thin form
presently drest in black. By day her meals untouch'd, then at night fitfully
sleeping, often waking. In the midnight waking, weeping,
longing with one deep longing. O that she might withdraw unnoticed, silent from life escape
and withdraw. To follow, to seek, to be
with her dear dead son. [ Applause ] >> Dona Josefina Counsels Dona
Concepcion Before Entering Sears by Maurice Kilwein Guevara
Conchita debemos to speak totalmente in English cuando we go into Sears
okay Por que Porque didn't you hear lo que paso it say on the eleven
o'clock news anoche que two robbers was caught in Sears and now this is
the part I'm not completely segura que I got everything porque
channel 2 tiene tu sabes that big fat guy that's hard to
understand porque his nose sit on his lip like a elefante pues the
point es que the robbers the police say was two young men pretty
big y one have a hairy face and the other is calvo
that's right he's baldy and okay believe me que
barbaridad porque Hairy Face and Mister Baldy goes right into the
underwear department takes all the money from the caja yeah
uh-huh the cash register and mira Mister Baldy goes
to this poor Italian woman that I guess would be like us sixty
o sixty-five who is in the section of the back-support brassieres
and he makes her put a big bra over her head para que she can't see
nothing and kneel like she's talking to God to save her poor life and other things horrible pero the
point como dije es que there was two of them and both was speaking
Spanish y por eso is a good thing Conchita so the people at Sears
don't confuse us with Hairy and Baldy that we speak English
only okay ready, Oh what a nice day to be aque en Sears
Miss Conception . [ Applause ] >> Thank you Will. Will has had a great
success at Poetry Out Loud. You can see why and I don't
think I'll ever read Walt Whitman without hearing his voice. You do a great a job. You had won very serious
poem, and one funnier poem and you don't over do it. You have exactly the right tone. Would you mind telling us a
little about your methodology and how do you go about
memorizing a poem? >> Umm. That's a pretty
good question. Basic like it's different
for different people I guess but I usually just try to take it
a few lines a time, a few sentences at a time and you just drill
it in and it's incredible because you know, if you try
to memorize something one night and then you come back with
the next day like you'll find that you've retained a lot of the
material but if you try to do it all at the same day it's
like you'll forget it, so it's sort of a gradual process
and yeah, you just take it in steps. I remember this year from my
school competition I only had to recite one poem for that and
then I won my school competition and then we had a regional that
was the next week and I had to have an additional two poems
memorized so I had about five days to memorize two poems and yeah,
you just sit down and do it and it's hard but you know, its
like studying for a test, I guess. You just go through it. You say it to yourself, say it in
the shower and say it before you go to bed and just really,
just let it sink in and let it become a part of you. >> Thank you Will. I have one more question for you. >> Oh. >> So, how did you know
to do recitation so well and how do you avoid
the over dramatization? Was their a coach involved? Or did you just figure
out the materials and– >> That's-I'm not really sure. There is a really thin line between,
you know like over dramatizing it and then doing it really, you
know subtly, you definitely see that at the competition
even at Nationals. I remember last year
during my junior year, the kid who won William
Farley was just– I mean obviously Amber was like
awesome but I remember Will, Will left a really strong
impression on me because he was so ridiculously un dramatic. He was so honest and like, almost
dead pan in a sense but like, he was just, I don't know he was
just so straight forward about it, and I think that's what Amber
was able to convey as well. I think that's what the
judges try to look for, it's just that honesty
instead of that you know sort of an exaggerated tone that
you might see sometimes at like some poetry readings but
I'm, yeah, I am trying to make it as honest as possible it's
really important, and yeah, I think we all try to do the best we
can but yeah, just trying to be true to yourself and sure to the
poem and that's all you can do. [ Applause ] >> And that's not easy to do– what they do, all three
of them here today. Next I want to introduce
Amber Rose Johnson. Last April, Amber Rose Johnson,
a junior at Classical high school in Providence Rhode Island won
the title of National Champion of the 2010 Poetry Out
Loud national finals. She advanced from a
very competitive field to claim a 20,000 dollar price. As the POL national champion, Amber
has been a guess on MPRs the best of our knowledge, alongside
Natalie Merchant, Bobby McFerrin and Rae Armantrout, and others. Amber also participated
in the poetry– the panel on poetry at the American
Library Association Conference held in D.C. this summer and will
perform along Rhode Island poets at The Library of Congress', Poetry
at Noon Series on October 19. Her favorite poets are Maya Angelou
and Nikki Giovanni and she hopes to pursue a career in public
policy and political science. Welcome Amber. [ Applause ] >> Hello, hello. Oh, my dad is right
there [laughter]. I was looking for him
but he is right there. Aren't they amazing [applause] Umm,
so, I'm gonna do the last piece that I did at the national
competitions this year. It's called For My
People by Margaret Walker [ Pause ] >> For my people everywhere singing
their slave songs repeatedly, their dirges and their ditties
and their blues and jubilees, praying their prayers
nightly to an unknown god, bending their knees
humbly to an unseen power; For my people lending their strength
to the years, to the gone years and the now years and the maybe
years, washing, ironing, cooking, scrubbing, sewing, mending hoeing
plowing digging planting pruning patching dragging along never
gaining never reaping never knowing and never understanding; For my
playmates in the clay and dust and sand of Alabama backyards
playing baptizing and preaching and doctor and jail and soldier
and school and mama and cooking and playhouse and concert and
store and hair and Miss Choomby and company; For the cramped
bewildered years we went to school to learn to know the reasons why and
the answers to and the people who and the places where and the days
when, in memory of the bitter hours when we discovered we were black
and poor and small and different and nobody cared and nobody
wondered and nobody understood. For the boys and girls who grew
in spite of these thing to be man and woman, to laugh and dance and
sing and play and drink their wine and religion and success, to marry
their playmates and bear children and then die of consumption
and anemia and lynching. For my people walking
blindly spreading joy, losing time being lazy, sleeping
when hungry, shouting when burdened, drinking when hopeless, tied and
shackled and tangled among ourselves by the unseen creatures who tower
over us omnisciently and laugh; For my people thronging 47th
Street in Chicago and Lenox Avenue in New York and Rampart
Street in New Orleans, lost disinherited dispossessed and
happy people filling the cabarets and taverns and other people's
pockets and looking for bread and shoes and milk and land
and money and something– something all our own; For my people
walking blundering and groping and floundering in the dark of
churches and schools and clubs and societies, associations
and councils and committees and conventions, distressed and
disturbed and deceived and devoured by money-hungry, glory-craving
leeches, preyed on by facile force of state and fad and novelty, by
false prophet and holy believer; For my people standing staring
trying to fashion a better way from confusion, from
hypocrisy and misunderstanding, trying to fashion a world that will
hold all the people, all the faces, all the Adams and Eves and
their countless generations. Let a new earth rise. Let another world be born. Let a bloody peace by
written in the sky. Let a second generation
fill of courage issue forth; let a people loving
freedom come to growth. Let a beauty full of healing
and strength of final clenching by the pulsing in our
spirits and our blood. Let the martial songs by
written, let the dirges disappear. Let a race of men now
rise and take control. [ Applause ] >> Thank you Amber, I wanted
to ask you a question too. Beside the cash prize, you are about
half way to your 10 year as Poetry Out loud national champion. >> Yeah. >> And in my introduction,
I read up a series of public appearances you've been
making and even talking about poetry as well as about your life and I know you have a political
career paths ahead of you. I want you to talk a little about
what it has meant to be a Poetry Out Loud national champion
to you and you know what– is there any difference before
you won the title and now, and what you've learned and
what this has meant to you? >> Wow, that's quite a question. Umm, becoming national champion
has absolutely changed my life. My entire life, woop done. Old Amber is completely
gone, completely changed. It's definitely a big change
from being a state champion to national champion and I remember
I competed two years ago, as well. When Shawntay Henry was the national
champion and I remember looking at her and looking at Will
Farley and being like, men they are so cool like, I wanna
be them and now that I'm in it, it's just– it's absolutely
amazing, the way, I– the way I used to see
the national champion, I know that people are looking
at me that way and just knowing that other students are
getting the same feeling but you also have a certain level of
responsibility as national champion, definitely wherever I go, I don't
just wanna talk about myself. I wanna talk about all the
amazing state champions. I wanna talk about the entire
experience and how Poetry Out Loud is still growing,
I don't– it's, insane. I feel like every morning I wake
up and sometimes I'm like whoa, I'm a national champion, like
its never really hits you and never really sinks it. I think I finally understand it
when I'm at the nationals in April and heading off the title maybe
that's when it hit me but as of right now, I'm kinda still
in the whirlwind [applause]. >> Thank you. We have some time to
have one more question. I also wanted to ask you
the methodology question, you know, how do you choose poems? Are you still memorizing poems? And you know? For all the poetry lovers in the
audience, what does it mean to you to internalize a poem and how do
you memorize and how do you go about your work with that? >> Umm, in terms of
choosing my poem, it was always a really
a family experience. I have great family support at home. My dad is here with me today and
it was always the whole family that kind of chose the poem because,
wherever I go I wanna speak life, I wanna carry a positive image. So, I'm kind of didn't want
any poems that were overly sad or depressing or anything like that. I wanted a poem that reflected me
and reflected something positive. And in terms of memorizing,
like Will said, that's definitely a gradual process. It's not something that
happens over night. It's just about, you now,
taking it one step at a time, trying not to get overwhelmed. If you do motions, if ever
you're trying to memorize poems, do motions, that helps it
does, like if you are trying to remember something and you do
a motion it will definitely click. But I mean, I had a
coach for this year, last year when I competed
I didn't have coach and that definitely
helped but it's just, it's trying to find the
heartbeat of the poem. Because, when you do Poetry Out Loud
I think what Will was trying to get at between– the different routine
a recitation and a performance or over dramatize, drama– yeah that
word is when you find the heartbeat of the poem, because I wanna
take Amber out of the poem. I'm sure they wanna take Will
and Youssef out of the poem. That's not what the
performances is about; it's about finding the
heartbeat of the poem. Finding the heartbeat of the
author that wrote the poem, really understanding and letting
the word speaks for themselves and that's really when
you master the poem when you can't let the
word speak for themselves and take yourself completely
out of it so [applause] >> We have time for
one more quick one, and has this helped you
in your writing at all? And do you write poetry? Or is this just a separate
art for you completely. >> Poetry Out Loud kind of has
touched every area of my life, it definitely helps
when it comes, you know, when your English teach tells you
you're doing a poetry segment, I'm like yes. My favorite segment, but it
definitely has changed my writing and the way I looked at words because I understand how
powerful words can really be now and I understand that the way
you structure something on a page or the way you put two words
together can really take like completely change
the impact of the poem and the meaning of the poem. So, I definitely take that into
consideration, but I have also found that now whenever I look at a poem
or whenever I hear a poem I think about so much more
than just listening. I think about what the author
was going through when they wrote that poem, I think about what
that poem was supposed to mean, I think about the time
that it was written. I think about the person
who's reciting it and when you do a competition
like that, you really start to breakdown a poem and it means it
is much more than just, you know, something written on the page. [applause] >> Good answer. That's very interesting. As an organizer for Poetry Out
Loud, it such a privilege to be able to get inside the minds of these
kids, that are so good at this. I want to remind all high school
teachers here that we have kits in the back for Poetry
Out Loud to start that new classroom please
visit the tables in the back and thank you fro being here. [ Pause ] >> This has been a presentation
of The Library of Congress. Visit us at loc.gov

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