Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Postscript to the Griffin

As part of today's poetry feature, and on light of yesterday's announcement, I wanted to take a moment to highlight a part of the Griffin Trust that hasn't yet had a huge amount of publicity. It's one of the best programs I've encountered recently, certainly the best program of its kind in Canada, and if I (shame on me!) had known about it before the Griffin essay in CNQ 84 had gone to print, I certainly would have mentioned it there. That is: the Poetry in Voice recitation program for Canadian high schools.

Since 2011 the Griffin Trust has sponsored a national bilingual program that brings students from across the country to compete in a multi-round recitation contest, which is adjudicated by recognized Canadian poets (and Griffin prize-winners). You may have seen coverage of this year's semifinal round earlier this April in the Post, The Financial Post, or the Gazette.

The video below is from the 2011 grand finals: the student performances, especially by winner Jonathan Welstead, are truly remarkable. If Eliot read his Preludes like this we probably wouldn't spend so much time mocking his four-piece suits. (And the video, FYI, also contains a nice cameo from Dennis Lee, who talks about the vice of hammy acting, and predicts--bless him!--that recitation will once more sweep the country.)

You can still purchase tickets for the 2012 Grand Finals: April 17th, the Isabel Bader Theatre, Toronto. If you're a poet in the city I encourage you to go. This is my opinion and my opinion only, but there's no single thing we can do to bolster the standing of poetry in this country than to encourage the memorization and performance of verse in high schools. Not a thing. It was a mandatory part of the curriculum in Ontario till 1940, and while I fully support the close reading and critical thinking strategies that came to replace it, I also think the skill sets recitation teaches have no substitute. If it hadn't been abolished there wouldn't be half so much tuneless verse in the world.

So KUDOS to the Griffin Trust for doing this. If it does sweep the country, Mr. Lee, I'll be sweeping right there alongside it.

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