Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Judging Poetry Out Loud

This past week I had the honor of judging the Statewide Poetry Outloud Competition. This is competition sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation. Check out this great video of last year's winners performing.

The competition was held in Anchorage and high school students from 11 different cities and villages from all over Alaska came. They had each memorized three poems and they performed them for the audience. I was amazed at the power these kids evoked. One student performed "Unknown Girl in the Maternity Ward" by Anne Sexton. Her performance reduced two of us judges to tears and made me realize the amazing value of this project. To perform well a student has to really get the poem--has to internalize it and make it their own. And we could immediately tell who has really gotten into the poems. The Alaskan winner, Alev Kelter, from Chugiak High School in Achorage was wonderful.--I have rarely seen such passion in a high school student for anything, much less for poetry. We talked to her afterwards and she told us she's a hockey player too. Now there is a well-rounded Alaskan student!

After the judging, all of us judges (John Straley, Erin Hollowell, Anne Hanley, and Jerah Chadwick) along with Susan Olson, the State Arts Council staff member who runs this project, went out for dinner at Sacks. John bought everyone champagne and we spent hours just chatting about poetry, about life in Unalaska (where Jerah lives), and about our various teaching lives. It was such a treat to hang out with two former and one current poet laureate of Alaska.

Moments like this...they remind me why we are doing what we're doing. We aren't alone in the love of poetry, and when we get our little tribe together, and discover we all speak the same language, it feels like coming home. Bliss!