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Poetry Out Loud

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10 Maine Students compete in State Finals at Gracie Theatre

BANGOR Bards used to be big deals. They held court with kings and queens, spoke many languages, and could recite verse and stories from memory. They were highly regarded, valued, and sought after. And for some reason, that regard as faded with time. There is a disconnect between the written word and the audience of today, and poetry in particular seems to have fallen from grace.

But Poetry Out Loud is a contest, put together locally by The Maine Arts Commission, that reconnects poetry with an audience. Students from around the state have been competing and narrowed down to 10 young people who will be reciting various works of poetry in front of a large audience March 20. After the state finals, the winner will participate in the National Finals on April 20 and 30 in Washington, D.C.

According to The Maine Arts Commission, approximately 8,000 students have been competing across the state - first in classrooms, then in bigger and bigger venues in Portland and now Bangor. At the Finals in Bangor, Inaugural Poet Richard Blanco, the Inaugural Poet who recited 'One Today' during President Barack Obama's inauguration in 2012, will introduce the event and conduct a poetry reading. Then the 10 finalists will recite poetry and will be judged to see who will continue on to the national finals. The entire event will be recorded by the Maine Public Broadcast Network (MPBN) to be broadcast at a later date.

Suzanne Nance, director of Music and Performance and Cultural Content executive producer for MPBN, said that anyone who attends the event will be impressed with what they see.

'It is an unbelievable experience. I experienced it for the first time last year. What [the audience] will see and hear is 10 of our finest young people from the State of Maine expressing themselves through poetry,' said Nance. 'These kids get up on stage and deliver these poems from memory and through their own interpretation. It is extraordinary to see these kids in action.'

People may say they 'don't like poetry.' According to Richard Blanco, that's akin to seeing a movie you didn't care for and declaring that you 'don't like movies.'

'Poetry is for everyone. There are a lot of different poets. There is work that will speak to you, and you should seek it out,' said Blanco in a phone interview. 'I don't know where the disconnect happens between readers and poetry. But we need to try to repair that.'

Nance thinks that Poetry Out Loud does a lot to connect young people with the value of poetry.

'To think that all of those kids have taken the time to invest in the program and competition it seems unimaginable. When you get 8,000 kids, you have to think of the siblings, parents, friends and extended family all of them have a bit of investment as well,' she said. 

Nance said that the teachers throughout the state are a big driving force behind motivating and coaching the kids.

'It's done through the English literature classes. Anybody who wants to sign up can, and that leads me to a good point: The other people who should be commended are the English and literature teachers,' said Nance. 'The teachers are the people who spent time with them and helped them fine-tune their thoughts and delivery. The teachers really go above and beyond.'

Hearing poetry recited is a different experience than reading it from a page.

'There is nothing like going to a poetry reading and seeing a poet recite their work from their very soul,' said Blanco. 'I'm really excited about the event on the 20th. I'm looking forward to see what these young poets have in store and supporting them and letting them understand that there is a future in poetry - even if it's not a career, but something they can carry all their lives. You don't have to be just one thing. You can be a well-rounded person, read poetry, write poetry, be an engineer and it can be a part of our lives like music and painting and other arts are a part of our lives.'

The finalists are:

  • Christian E. Heath, Gardiner Area High School;
  • Jai Aslam, Messalonskee High School;
  • Abigail Abbott, Rangeley Lakes Regional School;
  • Brianna Housman, Searsport District High School;
  • Bethanie Brown, Waterville Senior High School;
  • Iman Omar, Deering High School;
  • Skyler Samuelson, Merriconeag Waldorf School;
  • Morgan Wiggan, Thornton Academy;
  • Dyer Rhoads, Waynflete School;
  • Isabelle Fall, Mt.Aratat High School.

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