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Massachusetts’ Participation in National Poetry Recitation Contest Celebrates Fifth Year


The Poetry Out Loud: National Recitation Contest celebrates its fifth anniversary in Massachusetts with a record 14,000 students from 60 high schools participating. The Huntington Theatre Company facilitates the national contest that brings poetry into the English classroom in a dynamic way and grows students’ speaking skills and self-confidence. The Massachusetts Cultural Council and the Huntington Theatre Company sponsor the MA contest; the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Poetry Foundation sponsor the competition on the national level.

Poetry Out Loud seeks to foster the next generation of literary readers by building on the resurgence of poetry as an oral art form as seen in the slam poetry movement and the popularity of rap music among youth. Through Poetry Out Loud, students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about their literary heritage. Now in its fifth year of national competition, Poetry Out Loud has inspired thousands of high school students to discover classic and contemporary poetry. To learn more about the national contest, visit huntingtontheatre.org/pol.

High schools across the state have recently completed classroom and school-wide competitions, winners of which will compete at one of four regional semi-final rounds held this March in conjunction with the Massachusetts State Legislature’s Arts Education Month. Competitions will occur on Saturday, March 6 at the Cultural Center of Cape Cod in Yarmouth (1pm) and Springfield Museums (10am), and on Sunday, March 7 at the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA in Boston (9:30am) and the Masonic Temple in Framingham (9:30am). Judges will choose students from each of these contests. These semi-final winners will compete at the State Finals on Sunday, March 14, beginning at 9:30 a.m. at Boston’s Old South Meeting House, site of the historic meeting of colonists that led to the Boston Tea Party and a continued haven of free speech today. All competitions are open to the public.

Finals judges will include First Lady of Massachusetts Diane Patrick, WCVB-TV’s Director of Public Affairs and Community Services and host and executive producer of CityLine Karen Holmes Ward, Senior Manager of Client Services for the Boston Red Sox Carole Alkins, and author Connie Bennett. The event will also include a performance by local poet Frannie Lindsay. The state champion will travel to Washington, D.C. to represent Massachusetts in the National Finals in April. Last year’s Massachusetts champion was Wilmene Hercule of Prospect Hill Academy in Cambridge. Gabrielle Guarracino, the 2007 and 2008 MA winner, placed in the top 10 at the national level in 2008.

This year’s Massachusetts Poetry Out Loud competition includes schools from the following communities: Abington, Avon, Boston, Brighton, Brookline, Burlington, Cambridge, Canton, Devens, Dorchester, Dover, East Sandwich, Fairhaven, Falmouth, Framingham, Great Barrington, Harwich, Hingham, Hyannis, Jamaica Plain, Lawrence, Lowell, Malden, Marblehead, Mattapoisett, Melrose, Methuen, Newburyport, Newton, Northborough, Pittsfield, Provincetown, Randolph, Rockland, Roxbury, Salem, Sheffield, South Hadley, South Yarmouth, Springfield, Swampscott, Topsfield, Tyngsboro, Waltham, Westfield, West Newton, West Roxbury, West Springfield, Wilbraham, and Worcester.

The NEA awards all state champions $200 and an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington to compete in the national championship. The state champion’s school will receive a $500 stipend for the purchase of poetry books. A runner-up in each state will receive $100, with $200 for his or her school library. A total of $50,000 in scholarships and school stipends at the National Finals will be awarded to the winners. The Huntington will provide all school winners with a certificate of participation, t-shirt, poetry books, and a subscription to Ploughshares.

“Each year, more Massachusetts students participate in Poetry Out Loud, a testament to the unique learning experience it offers,” says Anita Walker, MCC Executive Director. “At a time when budget pressures are forcing many schools to cut arts programs, we are delighted to partner with the talented educators at the Huntington Theatre Company to bring this great program to more schools.”

“The Huntington is proud to lead Massachusetts’ support of Poetry Out Loud,” says Huntington Theatre Company Artistic Director Peter DuBois. “Its growth over the past five years speaks to its success. Poetry Out Loud provides a forum for the next generation of orators and creative voices to be heard. The Huntington welcomes audiences from across Massachusetts to come and hear these talented students bring great poems to life on stage.”

2009 Massachusetts state champion Wilmene Hercule explains, “Poetry Out Loud allowed me to step outside myself and made me more thoughtful about those around me and what they feel. For example, “A Song in the Front Yard” made me wonder whether or not the quieter people I know are looking for the same kind of freedom poet Gwendolyn Brookes’ speaker was looking for. Poetry Out Loud has given me a deeper understanding of poets and their personalities. You never truly understand a poem or where the poet is coming from until you’ve analyzed it, defined it, and recited it for others as if you were the poet him or herself.” Hercule will once again represent Cambridge’s Prospect Hill Academy at the regional semi-final competition on March 7.

“Participating in Poetry Out Loud changes you – how you think and how you feel; about the world and about yourself. It makes you consider who you are,” says Gabrielle Guarracino, the 2007 and 2008 MA State Champion. “A process that began as a fun diversion my sophomore year became a lifestyle. Now when I read poetry, I hear it in my head in a different way. This experience has impacted more parts of my life than I ever could have expected at the start: academic, social, cultural, and everything in between. Every single student should have the opportunity to discover this impact for themselves.”

Compiled from the press release courtesy of the Huntington Theatre Company (website | profile | tag archive).

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