The Westmoreland to host Poetry Out Loud Regional Finals |
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JoAnne Klimovich Harrop

The compelling words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Emily Dickinson, William Wordsworth, Edgar Allan Poe and William Shakespeare are among the choices of participants to recite at the Poetry Out Loud Regional Finals on Feb. 4 at The Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.

Since 2005, Poetry Out Loud has grown to reach more than three million high school students and 50,000 teachers from 10,000 schools in every state, Washington D.C., the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

“The arts are the great equalizer in education,” says Gayle Cluck, of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and Poetry Out Loud manager. “Students learn better when they are exposed to the arts. Kids in under-served communities who have an art experience have better attendance and do better across the board academically. We celebrate their courage and poise.”

Students must recite their poem from memory. All poems must be selected from the Poetry Out Loud anthology, which is updated every summer.

The event is free, but registering online is recommended.

The museum has been happy to participate in this competition for seven years, says Maureen Zang, public programs coordinator. Happenings like this are part of being a community partner and the poetry competition is a way to bring other art forms to the public, Zang says.

“Poetry is definitely a form of art and literature,” Zang says. “We often ask children in galleries to write haikus about a piece of art they see. So this is all a natural connection.”

This is one of 15 regional sites in Pennsylvania, which must decide winners by Feb. 14. Each region will send a winner to Harrisburg March 5 and 6 with the hopes of advancing to the finals in April in Washington D.C..

Participants are judged on physical presence, voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness, evidence of understanding and overall performance. Each winner at the state level receives $200 and an all-expenses paid trip with an adult chaperone to the national championship. The state winner’s school receives a $500 stipend for the purchase of poetry books. The first runner-up in each state receives $100, with $200 for his or her school. A total of $50,000 in awards and school stipends is awarded annually at the national finals.

This event was started 12 years ago by the Poetry Foundation and National Endowments for the Arts. Its intention was to introduce students to great works of literature and public speaking, giving them the confidence to stand in front of an audience and recite poetry.

If they can do that they can do a lot of other things in life, Cluck says. She recalls the 2013 national champion, Langston Ward, who was named after poet Langston Hughes, and went on to play football at Harvard.

“You don’t necessarily think of poetry and football, but…,” Cluck says.

Poetry can be powerful in ways you may not consider. It certainly has fueled a passion in Derry Area High School teacher Mark Curcio. He says his love of this art form inspired him to having tournaments of student-written poems in his classes.

Two years ago, Derry became part of the Poetry Out Loud competition. Curcio says having colleagues such as Heather Deemer, Charla Huber, Jo Ellen Harr and Steve Shaw partner with him on the school’s poetry competition has made it successful.

This year, junior Kiersten Stauffer will represent Derry, Last year’s regional winner, Renee Short is a Derry alum.

“This event represents so many important aspects of education from not just reading, but reciting to memorization to presentation to confidence building, things students often struggle with,” Curcio says. “Poetry is meant to be heard.”

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-853-5062 or [email protected].

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