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School Competitions Start for Poetry Out Loud

Arkansas Arts Council - Thursday, December 12, 2019

YoZen Lin, student competing at his school's Poetry Out Loud competitionYoZen Lin, an 11th grade exchange student from Taiwan, stood under dramatic lighting on a recent Monday afternoon and recited two poems before three judges.

“For me, reading poetry, or writing poetry, is a kind of path that you forgive yourself and find yourself,” Lin said.

Lin was among several students at Wilbur D. Mills University Studies in Little Rock to participate in the school-level Poetry Out Loud poetry recitation competition. At least 17 high schools are planning their own competitions with the winners of each school going to the state championship competition in March. The winner of the Arkansas Poetry Out Loud competition will head to D.C. in April to compete for $20,000 at the national level.

Performing poetry is more than memorization. Lin said he made sure to make eye contact, change expressions, build a cadence in his voice and make gestures that represent the poem. Poetry Out Loud is an arts education program that aims to help students build self-confidence, gain public speaking skills and learn about literary history.

Since October, Drekkia Morning, the arts in education program manager at the Arkansas Arts Council, visited schools, encouraged student participation and met with poetry coaches to make sure students and teachers have access to poetry materials. Morning is still accepting schools to participate, but competitions at the school level must wrap up before February, she said.

Arkansas Poetry Out Loud is open to public and charter schools, private schools and home-schooled students who are in grades ninth through 12th. The program is a partnership of the National Endowment for the Arts, the Poetry Foundation and the Arkansas Arts Council.

The program is important because it exposes students to poetry and instills a love for it, Morning said. Studies show poetry stimulates the brain, increases self-awareness and becomes an outlet for self-expression. Poetry can improve communication skills, and students who read and learn poetry are likely to see higher academic achievements.

For Lin, poetry – including Poetry Out Loud -- is a way to find his “heart” and to fight depression. He chose poems that reflected himself, he said.

Morning said she has known artists whose lives were saved by writing, reading or performing poetry. “The voice is powerful,” Morning said.

Arkansas Poetry Out Loud will start at 9 a.m. Saturday, March 14, at CAL Robinson Theater in downtown Little Rock. More than 50 free tickets have been reserved so far, and space is limited. For more information about Poetry Out Loud, contact Drekkia Morning at 501-324-9348 or at drekkia.morning@arkansas.org.


Students compete for a spot at the Arkansas Poetry Out Loud, 2019.