by Tim Storhoff
On Saturday, March 9, forty-four high school students from across the state of Florida came to Tallahassee to compete in the Poetry Out Loud Florida State Finals. This year, the Poetry Out Loud program in Florida assisted nearly 20,000 Secondary-Level students in learning about poetry in their classrooms. Program outreach to Florida’s many school districts included suburban, inner-city and rural community schools around the state. Poetry Out Loud uses a pyramid structure that starts at the classroom level. Winners advance to a school-wide competition, then to a regional and/or state competition, and ultimately to the National Finals. Teachers at more than fifty Florida high schools completed this program through to the end, and forty-four schools sent one student winner each to represent their school in the State Finals competition.
The photos below depict the full and enlightening weekend these students had.
Participation in this program requires commitment from teachers and parents, and many teachers take on this process in addition to their regular duties because of how strongly they value the program and because of the results they see in their students. These results go beyond the literary knowledge, public speaking skills, and self-confidence already mentioned. John Coleman, in the Harvard Business Review, has recently written about the benefits of poetry for professionals, and now these Poetry Out Loud students can reap those benefits. Coleman argues:
For one, poetry teaches us to wrestle with and simplify complexity. Harman Industries founder Sidney Harman once told The New York Times, “I used to tell my senior staff to get me poets as managers. Poets are our original systems thinkers. They look at our most complex environments and they reduce the complexity to something they begin to understand.” Emily Dickinson, for example, masterfully simplified complex topics with poems like “Because I could not stop for Death,” and many poets are similarly adept. Business leaders live in multifaceted, dynamic environments. Their challenge is to take that chaos and make it meaningful and understandable. Reading and writing poetry can exercise that capacity, improving one’s ability to better conceptualize the world and communicate it — through presentations or writing — to others.
Additionally, poetry can help people develop a more acute sense of empathy, foster creativity, and teach us to infuse life with beauty and meaning. Through engagement with poetry, these students will be better prepared to tackle professional challenges when they arise.
You can learn more about Poetry Out Loud by visiting the national recitation contest’s website at http://poetryoutloud.org. Teachers interested in participating in Poetry Out Loud next year should watch for updates at http://www.florida-arts.org/programs/poetryoutloud/. Thank you to all of the partners and sponsors who made this event possible, including the National Endowment for the Arts, the Poetry Foundation, Citizens for Florida Arts, the Sign Language Resource Center, Habana Boardwalk, Quality Inn & Suites, Subway, and Anhinga Press. We want to wish Kourtney the best of luck as she goes on to compete against all the other state champions in Washington, D.C. in April!
All photos by Tim Storhoff