I very, very much enjoyed the New Jersey Poetry Out Loud finals, which were held last Friday at the NJ Performing Arts Center in Newark. The ten finalists generated a good portion of that enjoyment with their recitations of great poems such as Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold and Sestina: Like by A.E. Stallings. But another portion of my enjoyment came from being reminded how much New Jersey, my home (first by birth, now by choice) state, enthusiastically supports Poetry Out Loud, and therefore poetry, to the nth degree. Through their hard work and commitment, Robin Middleman and Tammy Herman, the NJPOL staff, (with help from John Pietrowski from Playwright’s Theatre of NJ) have made New Jersey’s program #1 in the nation for teachers participating and #2 for both number of schools and number of students participating.
At the finals, I got such a kick out of watching Nick Paleologos, the Executive Director of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, who was just about levitating with enthusiasm for the students, teachers, the poems recited at the competition, and poetry in general. On top of all of that, as if all of that wasn’t enough for this Jersey girl to be proud of, New Jersey’s Assistant Secretary of State Dr. Carol Cronheim was present, really present, for the entire event. I loved her remarks, given between Rounds 2 & 3, because they reminded me why CavanKerry does what it does, why NJPOL does what it does, why teachers do what they do, and, most importantly, why we poets do what we do. Thank you, Dr. Cronheim, for allowing us to share your remarks on the CKP blog.
-Teresa Carson, Associate Publisher
NJ Poetry Out Loud State Finals
March 14, 2014
Remarks delivered by
Assistant Secretary of State Carol Cronheim
Good morning, and thank you for inviting me. On behalf of the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor, I’d like to offer warm congratulations to the finalists, and their teachers, for making it this far. You can all be extremely proud.
Last year, I opened with a few lines from Homer’s Odyssey. This year I’d like to zoom ahead to a much more modern work – Virgil’s Aeneid from 19 BC. These two poems have a lot in common. Some would say charitably that’s because The Aeneid is an homage to The Odyssey, while others might say less charitably that it’s more of a copycat epic, with the now-conquering Romans taking the opposing role of the descendants of Troy.
For our purposes today, it’s enough to note that these road warrior stories open in very similar ways – The Odyssey in Greek with “Sing to me of the man, Muse,” versus the Latin “Arma virumque cano…” — “Arms and the Man I sing.” Both are specifically referencing the role of the poet right in the beginning of the work — heralding the fact that what you are about to hear is important – truly an epic poem.
Why? Because Augustus Caesar realized that great civilizations need great poems. They need those poems to tell their story, to create their larger-than-life myths, both for their present military and social purposes and for their place in history.
This is not just an ancient practice. It goes across boundaries and ages. We are engaged in it now with our celebrations for New Jersey’s 350th anniversary. To see how we are telling our state’s story, go to www.officialNJ350.com .
Today you are following in a long and proud tradition – one that I am happy to see is being revived. Certainly in my parents’ day it was part of the curriculum. Then it fell out of fashion. I was blessed with teachers who made us memorize poetry when it was no longer being done – not just for the academic benefit, but because they felt deeply that knowing those fertile phrases, those hallowed words, would be a boon and a balm to us for our entire lives.
Today’s competition – the 9th annual – is the culminating event for a contest that began months ago. I applaud the great amount of work that has already been put in by students, teachers and of course staff from all across the state. But win today or not, the real benefit you gain will last a lifetime. Whether you’re Odysseus finding your way home, or Aeneas finding new shores, it’s the journey that matters.
Tomorrow is the Ides of March. Beware them if you must, but don’t be wary of them. Embrace them, as they remind us of the purpose and power that great poetry had — and still has — on great civilizations — and has already had on you.