Poetry competition on stage Saturday at Ron Robinson Theater

Verse and performance take center stage Saturday during the state finals of Arkansas Poetry Out Loud, a statewide poetry recitation competition, at Ron Robinson Theater in Little Rock.

High school students from 10 schools from across the state will compete for a chance to represent Arkansas at the national competition in Washington this spring where the grand prize is $20,000.

Matthew Greenhill, a 19-year-old senior at the Arkansas School for the Blind and Vision Impaired in Little Rock, will be among the competitors on Saturday. He also competed last year and was a runner-up to eventual champ Drew Pirtle of the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts.

"I like that I can use poetry to express emotions," he said in a email interview, adding that he plans to recite "In Heaven" by Stephen Crane, "The Collar" by George Herbert and Ada Lemone's "How to Triumph Like a Girl" on Saturday.

Alisha Allred is Greenhill's teacher.

"He lost his vision recently, and he has had to overcome many obstacles over the last couple of years," she said in an email. "He has begun to learn Braille and has persevered through any struggle with a smile. ... . He tells me all the time that he is so glad that he had to participate in this event in the beginning because it has really helped his public speaking skills while having a blast learning and reciting poetry."

Arkansas Poetry Out Loud is presented by by the Arkansas Arts Council along with Arkansas Heritage, a division of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism. The program is in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, Poetry Foundation and high schools.

Matt Boyce is the education programs manager for the arts council and oversees the Poetry Out Loud program. The council provides teaching artists and poets to visit schools and present workshops.

"This year alone we've served about 2,000 students," Boyce said. Ten of the schools held Poetry Out Loud competitions and the winners advanced to the state round.

Judges will assess the students on "physical presence, voice and articulation, their understanding of the poems and their overall performance," Boyce said. "It's not just about reciting the words, it's about gesturing, dramatic appropriateness and understanding these poets' words."

Hosting Saturday's contest, which is free to the public, will be Little Rock Poet Laureate Leron McAdoo. There will also be music and free lunch provided by Rx Catering, Boyce said.

First-time attendees can expect "a show," Boyce added. "Leron is really enthusiastic, and we will have musicians in between students reciting. It's really amazing to watch these kids recite these words that might be from 400 years ago or four years ago. There is such an array of poems. There will be something for everybody."

Allred, who teaches sixth-grade science, math and English and seventh-grade science, says the program can serve as a catalyst for students who might not have paid much attention to poetry and poets.

"A lot of students do not realize they even like poetry until this event takes place at our school, and I have had some students really get into it and enjoy it. We make connections to different things in the real-world that contributes to poetry.''

Last year Greenhill won a $100 gift card at the state finals and the school for the blind won $200 for poetry materials. He's not planning on anything outrageous should he make it to the national championship and win the $20,000 grand prize.

"If I won, I would save up the money for my future," he said.

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Arkansas Poetry Out Loud

  • 10:45 a.m. Saturday, Ron Robinson Theater, 100 River Market St., Little Rock
  • Admission: Free
  • (501) 324-9150
  • arkansasarts.org

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