Poetry Out Loud



Last week my teenage son participated in a regional poetry recitation competition called Poetry Out Loud. He didn’t want me to attend, him being a teenager and all, but I went anyway. I’m stubborn.

It was heartening to hear the poems, and to see teenagers reciting them. There’s no better way to inhabit a writer’s work than to speak their words out loud, and poetry is an art form that seems meant to be a shared experience. I confess that I was disappointed to see there were but six participants–only four schools in the Southern Illinois area participated. There were as many judges, scorekeepers, and prompters as there were participants.

I didn’t read much poetry in high school beyond Shakespeare, and I fear there’s even less of it taught now. Poetry encapsulates experience in a way that prose cannot. In our lack-of-atttention-span world, you would think that small, intense doses of experience would be perfect for students. And is there anything that focuses the mind like memorization?

I had a beloved painter friend who was in his eighties when he died a few years ago. When I sat for him–or even if we were just visiting–he would quote poems he learned as a young man. He told me that having those poems was one of the things he held onto and kept him going when he was fighting in the South Pacific in World War II. His experience is one of the reasons I required my own children to memorize poems when we homeschooled. They are words they will always carry with them.

The competition program didn’t list the participants’ names or the poems they recited. I wish I’d written down all the titles.

Here are the public domain poems that I remember from the program. My son recited Shelley’s Ozymandias, and Stephen Crane’s In The Desert. (If the final lines of Crane’s poem seem familiar, it’s probably because Joyce Carol Oates has a book the uses much the final line of the poem as a title.)


Sonnet 29: When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes

By William Shakespeare

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.


In the Desert

By Stephen Crane

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter—bitter,” he answered;

“But I like it
“Because it is bitter,
“And because it is my heart.”


By Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”


Fire and Ice

By Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.


The New Colossus

By Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

One of the most amusing poems recited was Very Large Moth by Craig Arnold. The student who recited it was beyond chill. Unfortunately, he didn’t have all the lines completely memorized, but it was still a great poem. (I can’t put it here for copyright reasons, but you can follow the link.)
The two girls who won will go onto the state competition in Chicago. All of the state winners will go on to compete in Washington, D.C. in April.
Do you read poetry? Do you have poems you’ve memorized?
March 2nd Words
Journal: 150  words

Long fiction: (Edited 1 chapter)

Short fiction: 0

Non-fiction: 0 words

Blogging: 918 words

Exercise: 45 minutes Kinect–cardio and strength training.

5 thoughts on “Poetry Out Loud”

  1. skyecaitlin says:

    Beautiful; there is a true knack for reading poetry, it isn’t easy. This must have been quite an event. I adore Shakespeare’s Sonnets and Robert Frost is wonderful pick ( in real life, he was swanky and quite the lady’s man—a real life Jay Gatsby and not the humble farmer quality of his amazing poems). The Emma Lazarus poem is magnificent, and sigh, no Emily Dickinson? ( she was the bestest). Thank you for sharing this extraordinary experience.

    1. Laura Benedict says:

      I was disappointed that there was no Emily Dickinson. No Maya Angelou, either. Funny about Frost–one does think of him as humble. That’s a good description. Just one of his personas, I guess.

  2. Phyllis Jean Moore says:

    I have poetry memorized from childhood (my mom liked poetry) and from high school.

    One of my favorites is “My Last Dutchess” by Browning. I thank my marvelous English teacher, Louise Smith for teaching many poems.

    1. skyecaitlin says:

      Lovely, sometimes our English teachers have a great impact.

    2. Laura Benedict says:

      What a treat to have had such a good teacher, Phyllis. I will have to look up the Browning poem. Louise McNeill Pease is one of my very favorite poets. We met her at the Governor’s Mansion a year or two before she died–I think she was poet laureate then. Maybe you were there? I disremember. I miss WV.

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