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Poetry In Motion: The Best Of The Best From Idaho’s Poetry Out Loud Competition

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True Leavitt and Elisabeth Edmonds
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Nearly 2,000 Idaho students, from every corner of the Gem State, participated in this year's Poetry Out Loud competition - sponsored by the Idaho Commission on the Arts and across the U.S. by the National Endowment for the Arts and The Poetry Foundation. Simply put, it gives students a voice — quite literally. It combines memorization, supreme public speaking skills and a passion for the art form.Morning Edition host George Prentice visited with two of the best from this year's Idaho competition — one of whom is heading to the national finals — and Laura Roghaar, who coordinates the Gem State competition for the ICA.

“It's a really beautiful arts education program that leverages the power of teachers and schools in order to promote poetry and performance. And it's a powerful way to use memorization and performance in order to inhabit poetry and bring it to life.”

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News, good morning. I'm George Prentice.  Let's take a moment or two this morning for some Poetry Out Loud. It is exactly as promised: great poetry out loud. And we've got the best of the best this morning: two of the finalists from Idaho's Poetry Out Loud competition where students from across the state competed. Let's meet True Leavitt from Xavier Charter School in Twin Falls. True. Good morning.

TRUE LEAVITT: Good morning.

PRENTICE: And Elisabeth Edmonds from Lake City High School in Coeur d’Alene. Elisabeth, good morning.

ELISABETH EDMONDS: Good morning.

PRENTICE: And also, let's say good morning to Laura Roghaar from the Idaho Commission on the Arts. Laura, is the Poetry Out Loud Idaho Coordinator. Laura, I had to reread this a couple of times: 1,982 students and 91 teachers participated in Idaho?

LAURA ROGHAAR: It's true.  We had just under 2,000 students at twenty six schools and libraries participate in the program in some way, and that's actually down from our normal participation because of the pandemic. But we were really thrilled to see so many teachers and librarians waving the Poetry Out Loud flag even through this tricky time.

PRENTICE: So, talk to me about how Poetry Out Loud folds into the mission for the Commission on the Arts.

ROGHAAR: Well, Poetry Out Loud is a national poetry recitation contest. It's funded through the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation.  Contests for poets are held in all 50 states and D.C. and all the US territories. So, it's a pretty big deal.  In Idaho, Poetry Out Loud is funded and run by the Idaho Commission on the Arts. Poetry Out Loud is a contest. Students choose poems to memorize. They perform them first in their schools; and if they are successful, at the statewide level. And it's a really beautiful arts education program that leverages the power of teachers and schools in order to promote poetry and performance. And it's a powerful way to use memorization and performance in order to inhabit poetry and bring it to life.

PRENTICE: Elizabeth. OK, tell me about you. What year school are you in at Lake City High School?

EDMONDS: Yes, I'm a junior at Lake City High School in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, which is in the Panhandle.

PRENTICE: OK, so what's the big dream for you? What's life going to be like beyond high school?

EDMONDS: I'm for-sure keeping arts and performance as a part of my life. But at this point, I'm seeking a degree in nursing after high school. My dream is to hopefully go international and be able to help people on an individual level. Wow.

PRENTICE: Boy, do we need you. What poem did you choose for us?

EDMONDS: I chose The Paradox by Paul Laurence Dunbar.

PRENTICE: Ok, so take a breath and let's have it.

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Credit Elisabeth Edmonds
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EDMONDS:

I am the mother of sorrows,

   I am the ender of grief;

I am the bud and the blossom,

   I am the late-falling leaf.

I am thy priest and thy poet,

   I am thy serf and thy king;

I cure the tears of the heartsick,

   When I come near they shall sing.

White are my hands as the snowdrop;

   Swart are my fingers as clay;

Dark is my frown as the midnight,

   Fair is my brow as the day.

Battle and war are my minions,

   Doing my will as divine;

I am the calmer of passions,

   Peace is a nursling of mine.

Speak to me gently or curse me,

   Seek me or fly from my sight;

I am thy fool in the morning,

   Thou art my slave in the night.

Down to the grave will I take thee,

   Out from the noise of the strife;

Then shalt thou see me and know me—

   Death, then, no longer, but life.

Then shalt thou sing at my coming,

   Kiss me with passionate breath,

Clasp me and smile to have thought me

   Aught save the foeman of Death.

Come to me, brother, when weary,

   Come when thy lonely heart swells;

I’ll guide thy footsteps and lead thee

   Down where the Dream Woman dwells.

PRENTICE: Bravo…Brava. That is wonderful. True?  OK, you're up, True Leavitt. What year school are you in?

LEAVITT: Yeah, I'm a senior at Xavier Charter School in Twin Falls, Idaho.

PRENTICE: And what's on the horizon for you?

LEAVITT: I'm not exactly sure where I want to go to college next year, I'm still hearing back from different programs I've applied to, but I'm looking to pursue theater.

PRENTICE: OK, and what do you have for us this morning?

LEAVITT: Yeah, I'll be reciting Dyed Carnations by Robin Schiff.

PRENTICE: OK, here we go.

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Credit True Leavitt
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LEAVITT:

There’s blue, and then there’s blue.

A number, not a hue, this blue

is not the undertone of any one

but there it is, primary.

I held the bouquet

in shock and cut the stems at a deadly angle.

I opened the toxic sachet of flower food

with my canine and rinsed my mouth.

I used to wash my hands and daydream.

I dreamed of myself and washed

my hands of everything. Easy math.

Now I can’t get their procedure

at the florist off my mind.

The white flowers arrived! They overnighted

in a chemical bath

and now they have a fake laugh

that catches like a match

that starts the kind of kitchen fire

that is fanned by water.

They won’t even look at me.

Happy Anniversary.

PRENTICE: Wow. Oh, my goodness. Laura, there are prizes with this competition.

ROGHAAR: There are indeed. At the state level, the winner - this year it’s True - will win $200 and the first runner-up $100. And True also has the opportunity to compete in the final in Washington, D.C., where a total of $50,000 in awards are up for grabs.

PRENTICE: When will this be True? Do you do you know when this competition is?

LEAVITT: I know that my videos are due March 31.

ROGHAAR: And we will look out for True’s results the first week of May… and we're rooting for him so hard.

PRENTICE: Elisabeth, did you have an opportunity to meet any of your fellow competitors this year?

EDMONDS: We did not get to meet each other. So, just right now, seeing True is the first time I've had interaction with someone else. But we did have the opportunity to watch videos that other people submitted. So, I did get to look through some of those and listen to other people's poems.

PRENTICE: Well, Elisabeth, congratulations, because indeed you are among the very, very best.  And True, good luck to you in the weeks to come and more importantly, True and Elisabeth, All the best for this year and next. We can't wait for you to take over the world. And they are Idaho's best in Poetry Out Loud. Have a great morning and a great rest of your week.

LEAVITT: Thank you.

EDMONDS: Thank you.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio

Corrections have been made to the originally published story

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