Poetry Out Loud Nationals, Day 3

by:  Lynn Johnson, Associate Director of Education at 04/30/2010

Tuesday morning the POL participants, their parents, chaperones and State Art Association representatives (me) went to the Congressional Breakfast on Capitol Hill. What a stroke of genius on the part of the National Endowment of the Arts and Poetry Foundation to put students involved in poetry into the offices of our State Senators! Speakers at the breakfast were Rocco Landesman, Chairman for the NEA, and John Barr, President of the Poetry Foundation. While we ate and listened to the speakers, various State Senators came away from their busy schedules to speak with students and take pictures. Others met their senators in their individual offices after the breakfast and some even recited poetry for the office. It was only a few years ago when our Mass. State Champ Gabrielle Guarracino, her parents, our friends from M.C.C. and I were taken on a special visit to meet Senator Ted Kennedy.

There is no better way to promote the arts, than to have our Senators in the same room with students, and to see what the arts can do for so many of our nation's youth.

I was fortunate to sit with Wilmene and her family as well as with the participant from Maine and his entourage. I spoke with the SAA from Maine and we shared some ideas about marketing and media for POL, which is his area of expertise. I also found out that the student from Maine will be attending Harvard next year and gave him my contact info, invited him to the Huntington to see some shows next season, and gave him the contact info of our 2007 and 2008 POL State Champ, Gabrielle Guarracino so they can talk about there experiences at Poetry Out Loud (he is also a two time state champ) poetry, and Harvard. He was thrilled. 

After the breakfast we were on our own for a while and I urged Wilmene and her family to go sight seeing, since they hadn't done it the day before. I handed them a map and pointed out the National Mall and White House and told them how to get there. Later in the day I ran into Wilmene's aunt Edna, and they said they had taken my advice and had a wonderful time. I was so glad they had. 

I attended a meeting with other SAA's and teachers in the afternoon where we shared information, sought new ways to recruit students and schools, talked about judging criteria, and discussed ways to improve the program overall. It was very informative, and I was proud to share some of our experiences and methods here in Boston with people from around the country. There will be some changes for next year to make things better for all who experience the competition. 

On to the National Finals. I met Wilmene's teacher at 6:30 in front of the Lisner Auditorium. Wilmene's mother didn't feel well and she and her sister and niece stayed back at the hotel and did not attend the finals. 

The finals were amazing as usual, and much more "colorful" this year. Hosted by actor/comedian John Lequizamo, it was a boost for the kids and adults alike. A bit out of his realm at first, he got off to a shaky start, but soon won over the audience. Our humorous host interviewed each contestant after the second round with a list of prepared questions, and he embellished with his humor, bringing an interesting and humorous personal twist to the competition. He was hysterical! 

The recitations at the finals were inspirational and it was a tight race throughout. It was difficult for the judges to choose only three students to participate in the third round. Amber Rose Johnson from Rhode Island (Yay New England!) took the top honor winning $20,000. Ruth Haile from North Dakota took second and $10,000. In third came Nora Sandler from Maryland winning $5,000. Each of the finalists will receive $1,000 and $500.00 for poetry books for their individual schools. Amber was certainly deserving of the honor. She was fabulous! I was sitting behind her parents and sister. It was such a wonderful reaction to watch unfold as she come on stage to receive her trophy. Priceless! As a parent of a theatrical son, I appreciated their nervous tension and then extreme elation because it was palpable. 

Prestigious judges this year included author and public radio variety show Prairie Home Companion host Garrison Keillor, poet and author Jane Shore and television, theater and film actress Alfre Woodard. And did I mention that Ms Woodard is a graduate of Boston University? I was sure to shake hands with her and introduce myself at the after party, and she was very gracious to take some pictures with Wilmene and myself (below). She gave Wilmene and I some special treatment when I mentioned BU and the Huntington Theatre Company. She was very nice to the kids and walked around talking to them all and signed autographs. She was lovely in every sense of the word. I think we should invite her to next years gala. She is tremendously gracious.

I ended the evening saying good night to Wilmene and reminding her that we were so very proud to have her represent Massachusetts for us. She is truly a champion in every sense of the word and we will be hearing more from her. She is special and very talented on so many levels. This years' experience at POL was one of the best for me. I truly appreciated the opportunity to attend. 

Poetry Out Loud...another great success for the Huntington Theatre Company!

- Lynne


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One of the most extensive and admired programs in the country, the Huntington’s Education Department serves more than 30,000 students, teachers, and community organizations each year with student matinees, state-wide Poetry Out Loud and the August Wilson Monologue Competition

This blog will feature updates from Donna Glick, Director of Education, Meg O'Brien, Manager of Education Operations, Alexandra Truppi, Education Manager for Curriculum & Instruction, as well as students and community members who have been involved the Huntington's programs.

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