Talk the Poem is a national poetry recitation competition for students aged 13 to 18, which was launched between February and May 2016. This competition is to be an annual event which will provide the opportunity and space for students to meaningfully engage with Caribbean and British poetry, written between the early 20th century and the present time. Through memorization and recitation of these poems, Jamaican high and junior high school students will experience the pleasure of learning and reciting poems which have helped to both shape and articulate their colonial and postcolonial history. This engagement with poems of various genres will allow students to connect with a variety of worlds, emotions and figures present in the poems with which they will engage.
The focus of this competition is on the presentation of the poem through the spoken word, without the use of props, costume or dramatic performance. Although this is an independent competition, the idea and structure of ‘Talk the Poem’ were inspired by the dynamic Poetry By Heart competition which takes place in the UK annually and which showcases the talent of young people across Britain as they reveal to audiences across the country the power which comes from the interrelation between sound and sense in poetry.
Many students in our Jamaican high schools have various fears about poetry. Likewise, many teachers prefer to have minimal contact with the genre, usually as a result of their own negative pedagogical experiences with poetry while in school. Research on poetry pedagogy (Dymoke, Lambirth, & Wilson, 2013; Bryan & Styles, 2014) clearly suggests that personal connection with poems is vital if students are to learn how to read, interpret and respond to poetry. ‘Talk the Poem’ supports the idea that ‘…students need direct encounter with poetry, not just abstractions’ (Middlebrook in Showalter, 2003). Through participation in the competition, students will not simply hear about poetry but will be actively involved in their own experience of the poem as they read, interpret, memorize and recite it.
The ‘Talk the Poem’ competition will take place over a period of three months. Students will be provided with a list of 100 poems (50 Caribbean poems and 50 British poems [some of which will be taken from the Poetry by Heart online anthology]) from an online anthology which will be placed on the ‘Talk the Poem’ webpage on the School of Education, Mona campus website. Students will be asked to participate at three different levels: the school level, the county level and the national level. Each student will be required to memorize and recite two poems at the school and county level and three poems (including the two completed at the school and county levels) at the national level. Teachers will be expected to host and identify judges for their own competitions at the school level (with guidance from the ‘Talk the Poem’ Executive Committee). At the county and national levels, students will be evaluated by a team of judges made up of poets, language and literature educators, and other qualified individuals in the Arts.
All participants will receive certificates of participation. The winner of the event will receive a scholarship through The Principal’s office at the UWI, Mona, which will cover three years of study in any FHE UGC-funded programme, a trophy and a few small tokens; the first runner-up will receive a cash prize of J$15,000, a plaque and a few small tokens and the second runner-up will receive J$10,000, a plaque and a few small tokens. The participating teacher of the winning school will receive JA$20,000.00, a certificate of participation and a small trophy. Participating teachers of the runners-up in the competition will receive a gift basket. The school of the winning student will receive a winning trophy, which the school will keep for the year.
The competition is endorsed by Jamaica’s first Poet Laureate, Professor Emeritus Mervyn Morris and is guided by an advisory panel comprising poets and educators. The members of the advisory panel are: Professor Emeritus Mervyn Morris, Professor Beverley Bryan, Dr. Velma Pollard, Dr. Lorna Down, Ms. Tanya Shirley, Professor Morag Styles and Dr. David Whitely. The members of the Executive Committee are: Dr. Aisha Spencer (Founder and Director), Dr. Schontal Moore, Dr. Clavia Williams-McBean, Ms. Nadine Valentine, Ms. Althea Aikens, Ms. Heather Munro.