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The deadline for teachers to register their schools in the Poetry Out Loud Competition is November 2nd. Click here to register. With this in mind, we here at Wordplay would like to introduce you to Amanda Bressler, one of the Semi-Finalists from last year's Poetry Out Loud Regional Semi-Final Competition. Amanda is a sophomore at University High School. In addition to poetry, Amanda enjoys playing the flute and acting. She is an excellent student and is involved in the math club at her school. Amanda was kind enough to sit down with Wordplay and tell us about her experience with Poetry Out Loud, competitions, and more!
1) When/how did you first hear about the Poetry Out Loud program? Who were your teachers that got you involved in POL at University High?
I first heard about Poetry Out Loud in my English class at school. Everyone in the class was required to memorize and recite a poem in front of our class for a grade. We did not have to, but were given the option to be judged by our teacher to hopefully go on to the school competition. My English teacher was Mr. Herring, and I also spoke with Mrs. Balzer several times because she was in charge of the school competition and helped me with registering and preparing for the regional competition.
Jeannie Wood is a junior at the University of Arizona studying poetry, astronomy, and Latin. She’s from Northern Arizona and spends her time writing for the Daily Wildcat, playing rough with UA’s Derby Cats, and biking. She enjoys disappearing into different areas of the state, and parts of California, on weekends.
It’s October, which is the greatest month of the year because it brings Halloween. I don’t know about you, but Halloween is my favorite holiday -- we get to dress up wildly (or not) and gorge on sweet delicious things (or not) and spend a whole night having fun and enacting another world for a while (or not...but why not?) Not to mention, Tucson starts cooling down a little bit, giving us all a little break. In honor of this ghoulish month, we’re going to look at elegies, poems for the dead.
According to the Academy of American Poets, the elegy started as a poetic response to death in a metrical form. These days, an elegy isn’t always in metrical form, in fact, the two we’ll listen to aren’t, but all elegies traditionally mirror the three stages of loss 1.) expression of grief and sorrow 2.) idealization of the dead by admiration, and 3.) consolation.
David Wojahn’s White Lanterns is a seven-part elegy about the speaker’s accountant mother. Listen here, and read along here. What’s neat about this poem, is that it plays with time throughout the whole piece. Wojahn takes us back and forth from the 1960’s to the late 1980’s, showing the mother in her younger years from a child’s perspective, and then to her aging and ultimate death. Wojahn also weaves us through the three stages previously mentioned, but they aren’t in any overt order-- something the temporal changes aid. The speaker is obsessed with his mother’s lipstick, a characteristic that represents her younger vitality and precision, the latter being an important and constant attribute the speaker is sure to bring to our attention.
Zaza Karaim is thirteen years old and is an eighth grader at St. Michael's Parish Day School. She loves writing poetry and playing guitar. Zaza volunteered this past summer at the Poetry Center's annual Creative Writing camp. Below are a selection of her poems that she has graciously shared with Wordplay.
—a poem from Lady Gaga’s point of view
It’s a book.
But it could be a hat.
Or a shoe.
Or an earring.
Perhaps I could have it surgically attached to my knee
Or I could weave the pages together
And make it into a mitten.
Or I could sing a song about it
Or have it tattooed on my shoulder!
Maybe, just maybe,
I could read it.
Hilary Gan is an MFA candidate in Fiction at the University of Arizona, and the Field Trip Intern for the UofA Poetry Center. This is her first major foray into performance.
I chose my poem because it was funny—funny in the way that I liked: ironic and absurd and not immediately obvious as funny. Good poetry evokes feelings, and I certainly consider “amused” to be a highly desirable feeling to evoke. But funny in poetry is not enough, and my poem, “After working sixty hours again for what reason,” by Bob Hicok, really brings it home in the last line, when the brother who has been taking lessons from the speaker in how to get paid to do nothing, gets up and shaves, “as if the lack of hair on his face has anything to do with the appearance of food on an empty table.”
When I started working with “Backdrop Addresses Cowboy” nearly two months ago, I thought I had cultivated the necessary persona. I knew that I was speaking from nature’s perspective (the backdrop), and I even knew my audience (star-spangled cowboy). From my understanding of her in the poem, nature needed to be detached, yet quietly seething. She neither fears nor despises the cowboy, neither adores nor disregards him. The relationship is complex.
I took for granted that all of this could be conveyed through tone. I would simply inflect here and pause there and voila: an incredibly dynamic relationship between two imaginary people would magically materialize. What I discovered was that despite all the personality changes I imagined myself to be making, I still sounded a heck of a lot like myself. Therein lies the problem with performance. How do I become not myself?
Blake Whalen-Encalarde is completing his MFA in Poetry this Fall at the University of Arizona. He's also a poet-in-residence for the Poetry Out Loud Program.
Deep Summer. An empty campus, a silent Poetry Center. I think: that cameraman, what does he take out of taping teachers as they attempt to recite poems? Of all things he thinks: poems. If this was my poem, I would say that he closes the tripod, packs the camera in his case, and leaves with a faint aftertaste of the poems hovering in his brain somewhere between lunch and editing.
Or if this is a ruse, I am nervous. If this were my poem, I would be the ham that I pretend to be, the one calm on the dais, the one perpetually smooth in the spot light. (I have held the stage plenty; I still cannot hold my hands perfectly steady.) If this were my poem, I would always embody the words, not speak them, that meter would subliminal flow from my mouth, that meaning would shine out from my eyes. (O on a good day!)
Zaza Karaim is thirteen years old and will be entering eighth grade at St. Michael's Parish Day School this coming fall. She loves writing poetry and playing guitar. Zaza volunteered this past summer at the Poetry Center's annual Creative Writing Camp. Below are a selection of her poems that she has graciously shared with Wordplay.
The White Cat Under a Shredded Black Cloak
The stars are holes in the dark night
The small points where day seeps through
A white cat under a shredded black cloak
The moon was the sun’s dearest friend
Peacefully willing to sleep through the day
But they fought one day and it was never the same
Earth longs to sparkle like the sun
So we light our torches
The sun laughs as our candles flicker and die
The earth and the sun and the moon
The twirling paparazzi and the smiling star
So different from the lonely white spot in the night
Yet still, at dawn, they all hold hands
Joni Wallace recommends…
1. Alphabet Poem, Nonsense Alphabet, Edward Lear, The complete Verse and Other Nonsense, Penguin Books, 2002.
Lear’s abecedarians slyly introduce symbol, i.e. letter as sound, stage, scaffold, prop and actor in a kind of Jack and Jill tumbler. Kindergarten.
2, 3. Snow Piece and Drinking Piece for Orchestra, Yoko Ono, Grapefruit: A Book of Instructions and Drawings, Simon and Schuster (2000).
Ono shows – never tells – how to hear with the acutest ear, how to see with that same eye, how to be listener, artist, poet. Each piece is an irresistible invitation to imagine. Get the book. You’ll fall in love. Kindergarten and up.
4. Maggie and Milly and Molly and Mae, e.e. cummings, The Complete Poems: 1904-1962, Liverwright Publishing Corporation, 1991.
“All that we call the world is the shadow of that substance which you are,” wrote Emerson. Each of four girls finds self-reflection in the sea. Grades 3 – 5, particularly girls.
Our first Family Days of the season is right around the corner. Come to Family Days this Saturday, September 22nd, from 10-1pm at the Poetry Center, for writing activities, multilingual storytime, Book Club, art, dance, yoga, and so much more! In honor of our upcoming Family Days, check out some awesome poetry from past Family Days' students.
What Is Found There
What is found there
the night of stones
the shallow end of sleep
elephants and angels
Did you know that Tucson's own Mayor, Jonathan Rothschild, is also an accomplished poet? Now's your chance to bring your students and hear him read from his work at our Matinee Performance on Friday, October 19th from 12:30-1:30pm.
Matinee performances are designed to make poets and writers accessible to middle and high school audiences. Many of the readers who participate in our matinee program also read in our reading series.
Teachers and students are invited to attend our matinee performances which are held on select Fridays. Matinee performances are underwritten by the Friends of the Poetry Center and are FREE to school groups. To reserve seats for a matinee performance, contact Renee Angle at firstname.lastname@example.org. Lesson plans, poem packets, and other resources are available for teachers to use in their classrooms! We highly recommend pre-teaching the work of these poets prior to attending a matinee performance. Click here for writing exercises based on Mayor Rothschild's poetry collection, The Last Clubhouse Eulogy.