Poetry Out Loud State Finals

In preparation for the upcoming Poetry Out Loud State Finals competition, we asked POL veteran coach Dave Reynolds for some insight into the preparation process, the competition itself, and what to expect next Tuesday night. (There are still tickets available, and it's free!)

What’s the preparation process like for Poetry Out Loud participants?

At Fountain Valley School, the POL is voluntary. That is, we do not mandate it via the classroom. So, this year, we had 9 students compete and they memorized two poems: one had to be from before 1900 and one less than 25 lines. (The winner then adds one more for the state contest). I meet with them on a voluntary basis, and usually the ones who meet more often do better.

As a coach, what aspects of recitation, performance, etc. do you emphasize with the participants?

They need to find poems that speak to them. Poems they understand or are fascinated with. They then have to truly understand the voice and tone of the poem. If they don't get those they can never bring alive the poem. Often, I ask them to find where the mood or tone shifts and to think about shifting gears in a car; they cannot drive in third gear for the whole poem. Monotony is death to the ears.

What did your experience with recent state champions reveal about the process, the tournament, or state of poetry in general?

It was very exciting. I sensed that both students were strong but the main unknown was how strong the competition would be. Will Edelson and David Cendon Garcia really nailed all their poems and had a poise and confidence in their delivery, which helped a lot. Both students were actors here at FVS so I do think that helps; they were comfortable being on stage and performing. One aspect I love about POL is that it exposes students and faculty to a host of poems and genres they may not have seen or read.

What’s your favorite aspect of your involvement with POL? 

Reciting poetry both brings it alive and seals it in one's brain. You can pull it out later in life, whether at a party or while walking in the woods. I love when a student finally, truly understands a poem/poet's voice and can bring it alive.

What should attendees for the upcoming competition expect? 

Nerves. It's intense and nerve-wracking to stand on that stage and recite. But it's also thrilling. The state contest is a big lake compared to the small pond of one's local school. The stakes are high. And they get even higher at nationals!


Dave Reynolds chairs the English Department at the Fountain Valley School in Colorado Springs. He has run the Poetry Out Loud contest there since 2007. FVS students have often finished in the top eight and have won the state title twice (2016 and 2017). His poems have appeared in diverse publications, including The Tipton Poetry Journal, Mountain Gazette, The Broken Bridge Review, and Modern Haiku. He loves hiking, Nordic skiing, cooking, and playing with words.