They don't want to call it a "slam," but the N.E.A. has sought out the help of Poetry Magazine, and they are establishing a student anti-slam of sorts—The National Poetry Recitation Contest. They have begun with a few pilot programs in Chicago, including a major city competition to be held at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater on April 11, and they hope to introduce the idea nationally during the next school year.
Based in structure on the National Spelling Bee, students will be asked to recite not their own work, but work by published poets, and competitors would rise through local, state or regional rounds. Winners will receive cash prizes for themselves and for their schools. The organizers hope to depart "from the innumerable" poetry slams by highlighting the work of "established" artists. In a Chicago Tribune article, Stephen Young, program director of the multi-million dollar "Poetry Foundation" (publisher of Poetry Magazine) argues that "mastering" the "great" poems requires "an act of interpretation rather than expression . . . we want to emphasize the importance of reading poetry as well as performing it."
Students will not be allowed to pick any old "great" poem. They must pick poems that Poetry Magazine and the N.E.A. have predetermined to be "classics," from a "Contest Kit," including two poetry anthologies that were distributed in February to Chicago students in English, Drama and Speech classes. Along with the poetry anthologies were distributed an "original N.E.A. recording," a compact disc that features recitations of "renowned" poems recited by actors (Anthony Hopkins, James Earl Jones, and David Schwimmer) and writers (Rita Dove, David Mason, Kay Ryan), along with "performance tips" narrated by the N.E.A. Chairman Dana Gioia himself.
The Poetry Foundation is investing $100,000 into the program. It has teamed up with After School Matters, a city-sponsored group. After School Matters has set up an after-school program at Collins High School on Chicago's West Side. There it recruited 20 students to help organize and "market" the contest. The students have been meeting after school, three times a week since February, corresponding with school officials and plotting the publicity and logistics for the finals. They have contacted over 100 principals and over 600 teachers and have distributed over 900 books and over 700 CDs to classrooms. The result? Over 30 of Chicago's 107 high schools are expected to compete on April 11 at 6:00 p.m. at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier. A panel of judges comprised of "civic and arts leaders" will choose the "Chicago Region Recitation Champion" who will receive the grand prize, $1000 for the winning student and $2000 for her school, with runner-up prizes of $500.
Next spring, Poetry Magazine and the N.E.A. will most likely invest $1 million on the national contest as well as a new poetry anthology "tailored to the event."
Kevin Stein, Illinois' poet laureate, thinks the contest is okay "as long as performance is not the be-all and end-all."
The competition is open to all Chicago high school students in grades 9-12. Teachers who are interested in participating in the project should visit Poetry Magazine or call The Poetry Foundation at (312) 799.8013.
A similar pilot program is being held in Washington, D.C. The Foundation and the Endowment will evaluate the pilot programs from Chicago and Washington, D.C., later this year. There are plans for the resulting standards-based curriculum to be made available to high school students nationwide.
The Chicago finals are free and open to the public, but seating is limited and reservations are required. For reservations, please call (312) 787.7070.
--C. J. Laity
Quraysh Ali Lansana is the new featured artist on PoetryPoetry.com. Quraysh is Director of the Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing at Chicago State University. To learn of his many other accomplishments and hear him read, just click on the feature on the poetrypoetry home page. And, of course, their past features such as Ted Kooser, Cin Salach, Lucien Stryk, Jimmy Santiago Baca are still available for your listening pleasure in the Vault. The feature reading was recorded at Molly Malone's Pub in 2003 and, as an added treat, the entire open mic portion of that evening is documented as well.
For another cool poetry audio site, check out Naropa Audio Archives.
Chicago poet Jared Smith will be hitting the venues in April with a string of features.
On April 11th, Jared will be giving a featured reading at the Lincoln / Belmont Park Branch of the Chicago Public Library at 7 pm. On April 12th, he will be hosting, reading, and presenting awards for the Lisle Township poetry contest at the Lisle Township Public Library at 7 pm. And on April 22nd, he will be reading and hosting a Poetry Cafe with an open mic. at the Woodridge Public Library at 7 pm. Everyone present is of course invited to read their best material for the open mic.
OAK PARK LIBRARY POETRY READING SERIES
834 Lake Street, Oak Park, Illinois
Co-Sponsored by MILK MAGAZINE
SATURDAY, MARCH 19, 2PM
FEATURING WILLIAM ALLEGREZZA & KRISTA FRANKLIN
William Allegrezza lives the U.S. and teaches at Indiana University
Northwest. His poems, translations, essays, and reviews have been
published in several countries, including the U.S., Holland, Finland, and
Australia, and are available in many online journals, such as Aught, Milk
Magazine, sidereality, La Petite Zine, and The Drunken Boat. His chapbook lingo
(2002) was published by subontic press and his e-book Temporal Nomads
(2003) can be downloaded from xPress(ed). He is the editor of moria, a
journal dedicated to experimental poetry and poetics, and he hosts a blog at
allegrezza.blogspot.com. He holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature
from Louisiana State University.
Krista Franklin is a poet, visual artist, and educator who hails from
Dayton, OH, and currently works and resides in Chicago, IL. Her poems
and visual art have appeared in/on several literary journals and websites,
including Nexus Literary and Art Journal, Warpland, Obsidian III,
nocturnes 2: (re)view of the literary arts, www.semantikon.com, www.milkmag.org,
www.ambulant.org, and www.errataandcontradiction.org. She has also been
published in the anthologies The Bust Guide to the New Girl Order and
Bum Rush The Page: a def poetry jam. She is a Cave Canem Alum, and was a
featured poet in the 2000 New Voices New Worlds Series in St. Louis,
Note: The National Endowment for the Arts is establishing a student poetry contest with cash prizes. Click on the headline for this story, as well as the most recent gossip about Quraysh Ali Lansana, Jared Smith and Milk Magazine.