I found myself amazed by what each student accomplished on-stage: full memorization of a poem they themselves did not write, recitation of that poem in a manner that was not overly dramatic or stylistic while standing at the microphone with the most minimal of gestures, and yet completely owning the poem, almost entirely through eye contact and voice…. I was inspired by their successes. — Poetry Out Loud judge Joanie DiMartino
Poetry Out Loud (POL) is a nationwide program that encourages high school students to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation. Students who participate in Poetry Out Loud practice public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about their literary heritage. In honor of National Poetry Month, Connecticut Humanities would like to highlight the efforts of poets who serve as teaching artists, judges, and masters of ceremony for the competitions, all of whom contribute greatly to the success of Poetry Out Loud.
An important component of the Connecticut POL program is the opportunity for students and teachers to interact with teaching artists—poets who can teach the finer points of poetry interpretation and performance. Teaching artists conducted training at the Teacher Professional Development Workshop, led workshops for students at participating schools, and helped the school champions prepare for competition at the School Champion Workshop. This year our teaching artists were John Stanizzi, Kate Rushin, Ameen-Storm Abo-Hamzy, and Mariah Sage.
While we had judges from many different career backgrounds, the majority were published poets, including Kim Bridgford, Joanie DiMartino, Leslie McGrath, Reggie Marra, and John Surowiecki. Five of them were poets laureate of their towns: Christine Beck of West Hartford, Tarn Granucci of Wallingford, Julia Morris Paul of Manchester, Lisa Schwartz of Newtown, and Davyne Verstandig of Washington. Bonnie Koba, arts in education programs manager at the Department of Economic and Community Development, Connecticut Office of the Arts, believes it is critical to have performance judges who are professional poets because they have the expertise needed to evaluate poetry recitations.
In 2016 we had three tremendously talented women serving as Masters of Ceremonies for the POL semi-finals and state finals competitions. The MC for the Eastern Region Semi-Finals was Adriane Jefferson, the program director and senior director of Writer’s Block Ink in New London, an arts education non-profit organization dedicated to connecting urban youth to the arts, which she co-founded in 2003. Afaq Mahmoud, our MC for the western region semi-finals, is a writer, poet, and human rights activist originally from Darfur. She impressed the audience with her powerful spoken-word poetry. Attallah Sheppard, our MC for the state finals, is a passionate spoken-word poet hailing from New London, Connecticut, where she co-founded Writer’s Block Ink. She was also the 2007 Connecticut Poetry Out Loud state champion.