Saturday, March 31, 2007

Poetry Out Loud

I can't keep silent anymore; I have to blog (or brag) a bit about Poetry Out Loud, the high school poetry recitation contest that I'm involved with here in Sacramento. The brainchild of Dana Gioia, this nationwide contest gets kids to memorize a classic or contemporary poem, recite it (with dramatic gestures, if possible), and compete for prizes including a college scholarship. It's a great idea, and it has brightened up the last two winters for yours truly. The Sacramento Bee published a little write-up just before the California state competition, and I followe up with this poem, written just after it was over.

I get to participate in the event in my own way, too: when I go and visit high schools to publicize the contest, they usually want me to give a demonstration of how to recite a poem, so I oblige them. Anyway, here's the poem that tries to sum up the experience of a performance.

The Recitation

First, the shyly confident greeting,
then the poem’s title and author.
Deep, deep breaths. Head up. Begin
with words, clearly enunciated,
projecting subtle determination.

I am a presence and a person
to be reckoned with. I open
my heart to you, syllable
by syllable. Pay more attention.

May I offer you this gesture
as proof that I’m not just up here
floating bodiless in space?

I do have hands, arms, wrists,
shoulders, elbows, fingers, teeth.
Don’t look now, but my young face
is staring at you, an imperious mask
forged out of vowels and consonants.

I’d eat you alive, given half a chance,
but thankfully, these sounds control me—
and they need you for their performance.

Endings are for the audience,
and so I slowly withdraw my life,
leaving you, at last, with this:
the object I have memorized—
to leave, or take; to kill, or kiss.

If you have any questions about Poetry Out Loud or would like to get involved in next year's contest, don't hesitate to email me.


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