For me, one of the greatest pleasures of reading poetry is the way poetic language feels both when I hear it and when I make it. (Hence the audio and video supplements I’ve been sharing with you.) Not only do I enjoy hearing and making poetic language, though, I believe that experiencing poetry in performance can help me better understand the sense–the meaning–of poems. Additionally, I’m convinced that reading and performing poetry has practical value. Poet and teacher Dana Gioia says something similar in this clip from the Poetry Out Loud Audio Guide. (Poetry Out Loud is a national recitation contest that encourages America’s youth “to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation.” You can learn more about the program here.) In Gioia’s clip, which is titled “The Power of Poetry,” he offers four reasons why poetry might be one of the most practical and important things we learn in school: “Language, perception, communication, compassion,” he says: “these are the practical gifts that mastering poetry can develop.”

For this discussion, you’ll put the premise behind Poetry Out Loud to the test by preparing to perform, then by performing and discussing your performance of, a short poem or a brief excerpt from a longer poem (like “Howl”). To get started, follow these simple steps:

Step 1: Pick your favorite poem from this unit module’s reading (this could include, as always, what you read for individual choice).

Step 2: Read and reread the poem and, if needed, do some simple research to familiarize yourself with the narrative’s timing, flow, language, tone, symbolism, characters and their personalities, setting, dialogue, etc.

Step 3: Review these tips on reciting poetry. The following may be particularly useful as you prepare to record your performance: Voice and ArticulationDramatic Appropriateness, and Evidence of Understanding. If you like, watch the video examples provided for each criterion to get a sense of how others have used them to guide performance. These clips from the Poetry Out Loud Audio Guide might also be useful: “Conveying Emotion, with Excerpts from Hamlet and “Punching Words.”

Step 4: Practice presenting the narrative aloud until you’re comfortable enough with the language, timing, and flow that you don’t stumble and so it doesn’t sound like you’re simply reading from the text. If you’re game, you could practice reading in front of friends and/or family members and ask them to help you fine tune your performance to make it more compelling.

Step 5: Record your performance of the poem using audio or video recording software; begin your performance by stating the title of the poem and the poet’s name so we know what poem we’ll be hearing. If you have access to your own software, you’re free to use that; just be sure you save the file in a widely-accessible format (like .mp3). If you don’t have access to your own software, here’s a link to a few sites that allow the easy recording and sharing of .mp3 files: Record MP3Vocaroo, and SoundCloud.

Step 6: Paste a link to your recording in the Pleasures of Poetry page in our G+ Community. (You should also feel free to share the link with your other social networks: Twitter, Facebook, etc. See how your followers/friends respond to your recording.) In the same post, reflect on your experience in at least 150 words in which you discuss a) why you chose this particular poem to perform and b) how preparing to perform the poem–then how performing the poem–influenced your understanding of and interaction with it. You might discuss, for instance, what the experience taught you about the four practical gifts of poetry: language, perception, communication, and compassion.

After you’ve made your initial post, comment on at least three other posts by the week’s end with replies of at least 50 words.