Choosing poems for competition

Poetry, to me, has always been the most difficult event in the speech and debate arena. One of the event's greatest challenges is to find a poem long enough – or, alternatively, enough poems – to fill the time requirement.

The best options competitors have are using one long poem (which I’d only recommend to a poetry recitation expert) and using a collection of poems that are related in some way. The latter is my preference as a judge, since it adds variety and enables the audience to see many sides of a competitor.

Here are a few examples of subjects I’ve seen in competition:

Men (“Hollow Men,” ”Men” by Maya Angelou)
Women (”Phenomenal Woman,” “I Stop Writing The Poem,”)
Teachers (”Schoolsville” is great; ”What Teachers Make” is a classic)
Poems by one author (Shel Silverstein, Langston Hughes, and I see a lot of Dr. Seuss for some reason).

Some students also do popular songs, which is OK, but only if it’s supposed to be amusing. Nobody wants to listen to a dramatic recitation of "American Pie." Weird Al’s material is perfect for a humorous poetry selection. One guy did a hilarious rendition of several female pop singers' songs -- Avril Lavigne, Christina Aguilera, Madonna.

Another option is to find a ton of poems with one random word in them – like “popcorn” or “wildebeest.” After you’ve arranged them to your liking, simply title your collection “Popcorn Poetry” or (if you’re brave) “Wildebeest Poetry.” You may need to do a bit of research to be able to find several pieces with such an unlikely subject for poetry, but doing so will help you to emerge victorious from a round full of dragging epics.