A Poetry Out Loud Special Report by Steve Clark
With the state finals of the 2010 Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Competition under way around the country, Poetry Daily has been following the competition in Virginia. Last week, in Part I of a three-part series, we talked with poet and teacher Ron Smith about poetry recitation at St. Christopher’s School, in Richmond, Virginia, a tradtion that predates Poetry Out Loud. In Part II we asked poet Elizabeth Seydel Morgan about her experience judging the St. Christopher's competition for the first time. In this week's final installment Steve Clark, long-time reporter and columnist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch and other newspapers files a special report on the Virginia state finals competition:
A STELLAR RECITATION of three poems has earned Tia Robinson a second chance to represent Virginia at the national finals of the Poetry Out Loud competition for high school students.
The senior at Rappahannock High School in Warsaw became a two-time Virginia champion by winning this year's state finals on March 11 at Theatre IV's Empire Theatre in Richmond. Tia also was state champion two years ago when she was a high school sophomore.
As Virginia's champion, Tia receives a $200 award and an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington to compete in the Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest, April 25-27 at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium. Her competition will be champions from the other 49 states, plus winners from the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Having been through the experience of competing on the national stage two years ago, Tia is confident she will perform well.
"I'm a veteran now," she said.
Her "veteran" status has been earned. For the past three years, Tia has experienced the pressure of reciting poems on stage in competition with other smart, talented and poised high school students. That experience served her well in this year's state finals, in which the judges selected her as the top performer over 21 other students from throughout Virginia.
Here are the three poems she recited:
"Thoughtless Cruelty," by Charles Lamb (1775-1843), an English essayist and poet.
"Learning to Love America," by Shirley Geok-Lin Lim, a contemporary poet of Chinese ancestry who is a professor in the English department at the University of California-Santa Barbara.
"I'm a Fool to Love You," by Cornelius Eady, a contemporary African-American poet currently teaching creative writing at the University of Notre Dame.
The main credit for Tia's success goes to Rappahannock High School teacher Cleveland Winfield, who teaches English, creative writing, African-American studies and is the coach of the Poetry Out Loud students.
"I didn't know anything about Poetry Out Loud until he (Winfield) encouraged me to try it two years ago," said Tia, who plans to attend Virginia State University.
Winfield thought Tia would excel at poetry recitation because he had seen her take part in open-mike competition. Her voice and the way she projected on stage in front of audiences impressed him.
In Washington, Tia will try to repeat what last year's Virginia champion did. William Farley III, of Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, won the national championship. He received a $20,000 award and his high school received a $500 award for the purchase of poetry books.
(Watch a You Tube video of William Farley reciting a Langston Hughes poem at last year's national contest...)
Finishing second to Tia at the state finals was DaNiesha Carr, a student at Halifax County High School in South Boston, who gave an impressive recitation of these three poems:
"It Couldn't Be Done," by Edgar Albert Guest (1881-1959), a newspaper reporter whose poems were published in the Detroit Free Press for nearly 60 years.
"She Walks in Beauty," by Lord Byron (1788-1824), one of the most famous English Romantic poets.
"Ballad of Birmingham," by Dudley Randall (1914-2000), an African-American poet, publisher and Civil Rights crusader who was Poet Laureate of Detroit.
After two rounds, in which all 22 students recited a poem in each round, 10 were selected to recite a third poem in the final round. In addition to Tia and DaNiesha, the Top 10 finalists were:
Will Campbell, Grace Christian School, Staunton; Stephanie Curtiss, Virginia High School, Bristol; Alexis Foxworth, Landstown High School, Virginia Beach; Anna Hicks, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria; Imani Jones, Fredericksburg Academy; Matthew Mirliani, St. Stephen's and St. Agnes School, Alexandria; Colleen Murphy, William Monroe High School, Stanardsville, and My-Anh Nguyen, Washington-Lee High School, Arlington.
The other 12 students who advanced from regional contests to the state finals were:
Julia Douglas, George Mason High School, Falls Church; Toriana Foster, Landstown High School, Virginia Beach; Ronald Jernigan, Kellam High School, Virginia Beach; Jessica Kraemer, Sherando High School, Stephens City; Sara Mason, Rockbridge County High School; Asher McGlothlin, Grundy High School; Cassandra Medcalf, Sherando High School, Stephens City; Sarah Poole, John Battle High School, Bristol; Janessa Reid, Tunstall High School, Dry Fork; Julia Simon, Halifax County High School; Ashley Thompson, Rockbridge County High School, and Jeremy Weiss, Albemarle High School, Charlottesville.
The regional contests were held in Abingdon, South Boston, Staunton, Arlington, Middletown, Richmond and Norfolk.
Judges for the state finals were: Vivian Teter, poet and professor at Virginia Wesleyan College; Frank Fuller, free-lance writer and former Virginia Department of Education official; d.l. Hopkins, actor and adjunct faculty member at the University of Richmond, and Jeanie Rule, Theatre IV's arts and education director.
They used several criteria to score each student's recitation, including physical appearance, voice and articulation, appropriateness of dramatization, the poem's level of difficulty and accuracy.
The Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and The Poetry Foundation. Last year, some 300,000 high school students participated in contests.
In Virginia, the contest is supported by the Virginia Commission for the Arts in partnership with Richmond's Theatre IV and Barksdale Theatre. Jeanie Rule is state coordinator. Her assistant is Christina Billew.
For information about Poetry Out Loud in Virginia, visit Theatre IV online.
For information about the national contest, visit the Poetry Out Loud web site.
Steve Clark is a retired Richmond Times-Dispatch (Va.) reporter and columnist who wrote for daily newspapers in five different cities for nearly 40 years. A North Carolina native and Davidson College graduate, he wrote poetry in the early years of his newspaper career. Two of his poems were published in The Georgia Review which paid 50 cents a line at the time. His two poems totalled 28 lines, so his lifetime income from poetry is $14.