Last April 27th, the Department held its 39th Annual Poetry Declamation Contest, which brings Austin area students from K-12 to compete against their peers. The competition consists of two rounds for each group, with one poem chosen by the department which all participants must read and a second one of their choosing.
I had the opportunity to be a judge for the competition for the first time, and I had a group of about 35 first to third-graders who all did a Borges poem with carefully-crafted and memorized choreography plus another poem that they chose. It was very endearing. Kids from each school would sort of have the same choreography because the same teacher helped them prepare, and each kid did his chosen poem in different ways.
The hardest part about the whole thing was having to assign numerical value to their performance. Some of them were very well prepared and only the top three could place. But it made me really happy to see that poetry can still muster that sort of involvement in people, and, particularly, that the Department has this outreach event to promote it. Benedict Hall was packed with kids, teachers, and parents, waiting to watch their little kid recite the poem they had probably been working on for moths.
The awards ceremony recognized the top three participants from each group. It also performances by Kunitan, an Andean instrumental group, and the Ballet Folklorico de America.
It was actually an emotional experience for me, watching young kids worrying about learning poems in Spanish, practicing for a long time in order to do good. Watching kinds dancing ballet folklorico and playing quenas and cajones.
I was very glad to be able to be a part of this endeavor and look forward to participating again next year. For those of you who can be a part of it, I highly recommend it. It’s a beautiful experience.