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Poetry Takes Center Stage in National Book Festival

Poetry has become a popular art form with young and old alike. That was apparent at the sixth annual )

NEA spokeswoman Paulette Beete says these teenagers were among more than 120,000 young people who competed in the NEA-sponsored contest called Poetry Out Loud. "It is really important to get young people out to read. What's the great thing about Poetry Out Loud is that we're encouraging them to memorize great poems so they get involved in poetry," Beete says. "At the same time, we're also teaching them to be public speakers, to have confidence, to do the kind of thinking you need to really engage literature on a deep level."

The young people's poetry readings -- and the National Book Festival -- will help enrich the lives of a new generation, says NEA official Hope O'Keeffe. "We're hoping that these tens of thousands of high school students now reciting poetry will carry it to their homes, schools, and families -- and throughout their rest of their lives, they will start to see poetry as part of our public culture."

Inside the Poetry Tent, audience reactions to the performance and discussions were mixed. "I read, write, and memorize poetry. That's my Alzheimer's prevention," a woman at the festival noted. "In the car on the way to work, I memorize two lines of poetry a day. By the end of the week or month, whatever, I have another poem in my memory." "Sometimes, I write love poems and give it to my significant other, but most of it's just for me," one man said.

But another said, "It's hard for me to understand what's really going on in poetry. So I'm into mystery, thrillers, biography and fiction. I love it." At the 2006 National Book Festival, there was something for him to enjoy as well, and for everyone who loves to read.