Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Reciting poems more than memorizationh Carolina | NC poet laureate

Local News | News for Charlotte, North Carolina | WCNC.com | North Carolina News


By MARTHA WAGGONER / Associated Press

Anyone who recalls nervously reciting poems in school might question the North Carolina poet laureate's belief that it's the best way to learn verse.

But Kathryn Stripling Byer says that recitation is about more than just memorization. It's actually about performance, much as musicians do with a song.

"You learn about language and sound and how it flows by hearing it aloud," Byer said Tuesday before leading a workshop for teachers at Knightdale High School. "And it takes the emphasis off explaining it, off paraphrasing it. As if you could ever paraphrase a good poem."

Byer was meeting with the teachers to talk about "Poetry Out Loud," a student initiative sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Chicago-based Poetry Foundation. Although the NEA is covering all costs, the North Carolina Arts Council is working with the NEA to hold the competition in this state.

Students will compete at the classroom level, then advance to schoolwide and state capital competitions. North Carolina's competition will be April 10, and the national finals are scheduled for May 16 in Washington. State winners will get $200 and a trip to Washington, while the national champion will win a $20,000 college scholarship.

Students from seven Wake County schools will participate in the program, and Byer hopes the program will expand statewide in 2007.

"The message is getting out that poetry is not something to be afraid of," Byer said. "You can pick up the sound, rhythm and images, even if it's a difficult poem. You can look for immediate pleasure, then delve into some of the complicated aspects later."

Byer, 61, is the former poet in residence at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, where she lives. Gov. Mike Easley appointed her the state's poet laureate in February 2005. As poet laureate, she's called on to write poems for various events and mentors other writers, as well as leading various workshops.

She believes that poetry isn't limited to the academic world, where poets tend to focus on their inner selves, but also can be funny. Latin American poetry includes pop culture and folklore, while rap music, a form of poetry, often focuses on politics. Kanye West, for example, sings about children losing their arms in the diamond mines of Sierra Leone.

"You can make a connection between rap and what we call more traditional poetry, the canon of Amerian and English poetry," she said.

Both poetry slams and rap music are encouraging indications that there is again growing interest in reciting, performing and understanding poetry, Byer said.

"We're getting back to a tradition that was unfortunately forgotten about for awhile," Byer said. "But it's a real gift to go into your life with a store of poems to call up when you need them."


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