NORMAN — A celebration of poetry kicked off the Neustadt Festival of International Literature and Culture as high school students and published poets recited poetry to the public in honor of the dramatic art Tuesday night at the Fred Jones Junior Museum of Art.
The reception featured a Poetry Out Loud competition, a national recitation contest, with contestants from Norman High School as well as poetry readings from 2014 Neustadt Prize jury members, 2013 Neustadt Prize winners, World Literature Today staff and Oklahoma poets.
The Neustadt International Prize for Literature is a biennial award that was established in 1969. It is the first international literary award of this scope to originate in the United States and is one of the few international prizes for which poets, novelists and playwrights are equally eligible.
The NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature, given to Naomi Shihab Nye at this year’s festival, is a new award intended to enhance the quality of children’s literature by promoting writing that contributes to the quality of their lives.
The award has been made possible through the generosity of Nancy Barcelo, Susan Neustadt Schwartz and Kathy Neustadt. It is sponsored by World Literature Today and the University of Oklahoma. It is awarded biennially.
Mackenzie Gibson, a junior at Norman High, won the Poetry Out Loud competition after reciting “It Couldn’t Be Done” by Edgar Albert Guest, “Catch a Little Rhyme” by Eve Merriam and “Early Affection” by George Moses Horton. Emphasizing a word then pausing for effect, Gibson’s voice would crescendo and decrescendo as she performed for the audience.
The competition was judged by Ibtisam Barakat, 2013 NSK Neustadt Prize Juror; Nathan Brown, Oklahoma poet laureate; Ken Hada, an Oklahoma poet; and Daniel Simon, World Literature Today editor in chief.
When the judges announced the winner of the contest, they said they chose Gibson not for her perfection in recitation but for her overall performance.
“I’ve always loved poetry. We studied it for a few months in school ... and my dad writes poetry. I just really love it,” Gibson said as she explained why she wanted to take part in the competition.
Halla Tumberlinson, a junior from Norman High, was named runner-up.
Tumberlinson said she has always liked reading poetry because sometimes it’s hard to be in the right mindset to write it.
“I found you can always read poetry,” Tumberlinson said.
Gibson will continue in the Poetry Out Loud competition in the next round, which will be hosted in Edmond sometime in February.
Readings from Barakat, Brown, Hada and Simon as well as from Lauren Camp and Fady Joudah, 2014 Neustadt Prize Jury members, and Nye, 2013 NSK Neustadt Prize Laureate, all conveyed meaning and impact to attendees.
“Poetry is a celebration of language,” Brown said after reading a poem about his teenage daughter titled “13 Going on Cougar.”
The Neustadt Festival will continue through Friday, with opportunities for the public to interact with visiting writers such as Nye, Barakat, Lauren Camp, Anada Devi, Gabrielle Ghermandi, Fady Joudah, Laleh Khadivi, Andrew Lam, Krys Lee, Deji Olukotun and Cristinia Rivera-Garza.
A book launch and film screening will be from 10 to 11:30 a.m. today at the Oklahoma Memorial Union.
Readings and a book signing by Laleh Khadivi and Krys Lee will occur at Monnet Hall on the OU campus from 3 to 4:30 p.m., as well as a roundtable on the politics and culture in the Middle East in Monnet Hall, Room 452 from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.
For more information, visit neustadtprize.org.