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Students Take the National Stage to Recite Poetry

It's that time of year again—for poetry, and confessions.

Next Monday and Tuesday are the national finals of the annual Poetry Out Loud contest. The biggest event of its kind in the country, Poetry Out Loud draws the top 50 or so students to Washington to vie for poetry-recitation honors. They made it to the finals out of more than 375,00 students who've been competing in more than 2,000 schools all year long.

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And this is where I need to come clean and declare my bias: I am an unabashed poetry lover. So I won't pretend to be indifferent here. As I said last year, I think this contest is great stuff, and offers an all-too-rare opportunity to nurture in students a love of words, not only for their meaning, but for their sounds and rhythms.

It's not all that common for students to study poetry, let alone read it out loud. And these young people are going further: They're committing great works to memory and performing them. The recitation finals are broadcast only once, live, so take a tip from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, which co-sponsor it, and organize a viewing party. The live webcast will be at www.arts.gov. You can register your viewing party and get tips on organizing it this page of the NEA's website.

The first round of the finals will be held at George Washington University here in Washington from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern time. Nine competitors will advance from that round to the finals on Tuesday, which will take place from 7 p.m. to 9:15 p.m. Eastern. Both events are free to the public. The program is online.

The Poetry Out Loud website has an archive of selected video and audio clips from previous competitions, as well as a host of other resources for teachers, such as a 650-poem library, lesson plans and background material. It also has information about how to get students involved in the competition (hint, hint).

Photo: Illinois state champion Carolyn M. Muller. Image provided by Poetry Out Loud.

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