And the powerful play goes on

Andrea W. Doray

Not surprisingly, I am in love with the written word. I love the power of the pen on the page to move, amuse, anger, or delight. The power to take us places we’ve never been before. The power to take us back to times and places we have come from.

Lately, though, I’ve also become enamored of the spoken word. I’ve done my share of readings from my own writing and I have to say that I do like the way it sounds. And it appears that a lot more of us are enjoying literature out loud. Look at the popularity of slam poetry (which I have yet to try myself) and the unending supply of stunning performances on YouTube.

Poetry has found its way further into the mainstream, too, and now into the commercial realm as well. In an ad for the iPad Air, we hear Robin William’s voice in his portrayal of John Keating, the beloved English teacher in the film

In the sound track, replicated in the ad, Williams/Keating quotes the poet Walt Whitman but it’s far more than a quote, more than just a reading of words on the page. When Williams recites from “O, Me! O, Life!”, it is a performance that is as much a celebration of Whitman’s poetry as of the life about which Whitman writes. And for those of us who need a reminder of the power and beauty of Walt Whitman’s words, Williams gives it to us with this tantalizing invitation: “…the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”

Even if we don’t know it’s him or that the scene is from , (which I just found out myself last week), it is the way Robin Williams’ delivers these lines that makes the poetry of Walt Whitman so accessible to us, that makes us part of the celebration, part of the powerful play.

I’m fortunate to be part of another celebration of the spoken word as Colorado’s coordinator of Poetry Out Loud, a nationwide contest for high school students that helps young people master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about our literary heritage. Students memorize and recite great poetry in school-wide competitions, and school winners advance to the state finals being held this year on March 11 at the Lakewood Cultural Center. Our Colorado state winner will then represent us at the National Finals in Washington, DC, in April.

As I’ve visited high schools around the state, I’ve heard students recite, interpret, and perform great poetry, and I am personally inviting you to join us for the Poetry Out Loud State Finals on March 11 at the Lakewood Cultural Center. You’ll be inspired, delighted, and awed by these students as they bring the power of words on the page to life with their performances.

To quote from Walt Whitman:

“/ That you are here—that life exists and identity, / That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”

To quote John Keating from :

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race.”

And that is indeed something to celebrate.