Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

Judging the Poetry Out Loud Regional Contest–how I got through it

Once again this year I judged a regional Poetry Outloud contest. It's sponsored by The Poetry Foundation, State art agencies, and the National Endowment for the Arts. It's now in its sixth year of national competition.

Melissa Crockett Mustain, director of The Jacoby Art Center in Alton, organized the event. I love that the students memorize and perform poems from classic and contemporary poetry rather than presenting their own poems.

Although I've been a judge in many contests, I always feel edgy, because judging seems to be so subjective despite whatever rubric or criteria one is working within. In this case there are 8 categories to judge within a minute! Talk about demanding. There are three judges on the panel. One of my fellow judges recommended that I simply stay true to myself and not worry about the rest of it.

"Go from your gut," he said, "and keep your scores in a consistent range. That'll keep it fair." I did this and ended up having a pretty good time. The performances from all the students were outstanding. The winners and their families were glowing afterwards. These students go onto state. The winners at state go onto the national competition.

Let's hear it for the young people!
Poetry Out Loud seeks to foster the next generation of literary readers by building on the resurgence of poetry as an oral art form,

as seen in the slam poetry movement and the popularity of rap music among youth. Through Poetry Out Loud,

students can master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about their literary heritage.

Now in its sixth year of national competition, Poetry Out Loud has inspired thousands of high school students to discover classic and contemporary poetry.

Next Regional Contest

Saturday, February 5

1 p.m.

At Lincoln Middle School Auditorium

Edwardsville, IL

To learn more about the national Poetry Out Loud program, visit the website at

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