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Interview with Poetry Out Loud (POL) Teacher Organizer at Indian Creek School Anne Arundel County

Interview with Poetry Out Loud (POL) Teacher Organizer at Indian Creek School Anne Arundel County


Find out what the POL experience is like from the teacher's perspective

May 25, 2018

Poetry Out Loud is a national poetry recitation competition for high school students, co-created and cosponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and The Poetry Foundation, in partnership with all state arts agencies.

MSAC recently chatted with Matt McCormick, Associate Head of Upper School at Indian Creek School in Anne Arundel County whose student, Cayla Turner, is the 2018 Maryland Poetry Out Loud State Champion, to find out what the Poetry Out Loud experience is from the teacher’s point of view.


MSAC: What inspired you to organize Poetry Out Loud at your school?  

MM: As an English teacher, I’ve always appreciated poetry, so when a former teacher started our relationship with Poetry Out Loud, I was very excited.  Now that I’ve taken over as the organizer of the competition at school, I appreciate the recitation aspect of it so much more in regards to how it affects students.  They really do try to ferret out all the hidden meaning and portray the sense of emotion within each poem. I am lucky to teach at a school where kids of every ilk have no issues getting in front of their peers and teachers to speak poetry in a meaningful way.

MSAC: Tell us about Cayla's journey to Maryland State Champion.

MM: What’s great about Cayla is her work ethic.  On this most recent run to state champion, we met maybe for twenty minutes to talk about her choice of poems and I may have coached her three times total.  Thanks to her experience as school champion the year prior, she already knew what it was going to take. She also advocated for herself upon losing in the regionals her junior year, and approached the judges to ask what she needed to improve.  She took their advice, applied it to this year’s crop of poems, and the payoff was obviously very sweet for her and for our entire school. We have a tradition of playing “We Are the Champions” after our athletic teams win championships – we did the same for Cayla after she won the state competition.  It was awesome.

MSAC: Indian Creek School has been participating in POL for many years now, what would you say is the biggest impact POL has on students?  

MM: Self-confidence for sure.  But also an appreciation for poetry as an art form.  We get far less pushback than we used to when talking about poetry in our classes, and often students automatically see them as spoken and not written.

MSAC: What is your best recitation tip?  

MM: Be sure to understand the poem inside and out – not just memorization of the word, but actual analysis:  Context, imagery, goal of the poet, intended audience, diction and syntax – poetry is economy of word. Every single word is chosen for a reason.  That deep understanding makes recitation almost an afterthought because the meaning will come out vocally and through the speaker’s body.

MSAC: What tips for do you have for teachers to assist them with organizing a POL competition in their school?  

MM: Start small if you have to.  Find a partner teacher who shares your enthusiasm and simply run a two-classroom competition.  Make it part of your poetry or creative writing or theater unit. Reach out to other teachers who’ve gone through it as well.  We’re happy to help! As a school, we were pretty scattershot and disorganized in our first couple of years, but once everyone saw the passion of the competitors on stage, it was a short jump from “What’s Poetry Out Loud?” to people asking when we were going to have the competition months in advance of its actual occurrence.  Whatever you have to go through – it’s worth it!

View the WMAR-2 Midday television interview with 2018 Maryland Poetry Out Loud State Champion Cayla Turner and her teacher, Matt McCormick, from Indian Creek School in Anne Arundel County.

Interested teachers may register their school for the 2019 Maryland Poetry Out Loud program via this link through October 5, 2018.