I had a new experience this week: I was a judge for the regional finals (in Virginia) of Poetry Out Loud, the national high school poetry recitation competition. This is such a great project that I don’t know why more schools in our area don’t participate. (As it was, we had as many judges as contestants, which was kind of silly.)
It really couldn’t be simpler. Students memorize and recite poems. The school runs a competition and then the winners of that competition go to the regionals. The top two from the regionals get a paid trip to the state finals. The winners from the state finals go to the national championship, and the top finishers there get some great scholarships–the grand champion gets $20,000. Not chump change.
In the regional round, each student recited two poems. (We did one round, took a break, and then came back for round 2.) The organizers did what they could to ease the nerves of the kids, which was nice: they all got a chance to try out the microphone, and then before they recited they each had a little conversation with Tom, the emcee, so they’d get comfortable standing on stage. They were still nervous, but I think it helped some.
The job of the judges was to give scores based on presence, voice, difficulty, understanding, and dramatic appropriateness. This was tough, but I’ve seen hundreds of poetry readings over the past decade, so I have a pretty good sense of these categories. Difficulty is the hardest to score, I thought, and depended on my own reading of the poems (which I did in advance).
Winners were declared. Refreshments were served.
I wouldn’t mind doing this again next year, but I hope more schools send students to the contest.