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NEA, Folger Help Revive Poetry Recitation

Recitation, once required for a young person’s education, is making a comeback.

On Tuesday at the Washington Region finals of the National Endowment for the Arts’ National Poetry Recitation Project, students from 10 Washington-area middle schools and high schools will recite from the “100 best-loved poems” and “101 great American poems.” The event is co-sponsored by NEA and the Poetry Foundation with collaboration from the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation. Libbie Rifkin, Folger’s poetry coordinator, will host the event.

The three panel judges for the Washington event are: Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va); Gal Kern Paster, director of the Folger Shakespeare Library and; and E. Ethelbert Miller, poet and director of the African American resource center at Howard University.

NEA and the Poetry Foundation recently co-sponsored a similar event with Chicago-area high schools at the Chicago Shakespeare Library. The Chicago program was “very positively received,” said Stephen Young, program director for the Poetry Foundation. The pilot program had more than 100 students in the semifinals and 24 in the finals. Like the Washington, D.C., program, the 19 students’ recitations were judged on 10 different categories such as volume, level of difficulty and posture.

In a further effort to encourage America’s youth to learn about poetry, the NEA and the Poetry Foundation have also produced school curriculum and an audio CD. The CD has poetry readings from everyone from famous poets to Hollywood actors. Participating high schools in both cities were given a contest kit to prepare for the projects. Teachers were given guidelines on how to approach poetry in their curriculum, and students were given the poetry CD to help them practice.

The purpose of the projects, said Cliffe Becker, director of Literature for NEA, is for “students to approach poetry starting with pleasure. To allow them to take a poem they did not write, to memorize the poem, to make it their own.”

Each of the 10 finalists for Tuesday’s event will receive two tickets to the Folger Shakespeare Library and a plaque. The winner will receive $1,000 from the Poetry Foundation, and the top two runners-up will receive $500. The Poetry Foundation will also award $2,000 to the winner’s school library and $1,000 to the schools of the top two runners-up for the purchase of poetry books.

The event will take place at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol St. SE. The event is free and open to the public; however, guests are encouraged to reserve seating by calling the Folger Shakespeare Library box office at (202) 544-7077.

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