Jana Riggins, Speech and Debate Director
Jana Riggins, Speech and Debate Director

Clarifying Questions About New Prose & Poetry Categories

By Jana Riggins, Speech and Debate Director | Tuesday, February 01, 2011 5:01 PM

There is much excitement about the new prose and poetry categories for high school oral interpretation contests. As students and coaches seek to find literature to fit these parameters, questions arise. I have enjoyed being out on the circuit judging. I see firsthand the approaches students are taking with the categories, which aids me in evaluating the category descriptors to ensure they clearly convey the framers’ intent for performances.

I am writing this article to clarify many of the questions I have received regarding the new categories.

Let me begin by reminding coaches the Constitution & Contest Rules require all coaches to read the 2010-2011 edition of the UIL Prose and Poetry Handbook, which should be ordered from the State Office. There is an extended discussion of the categories in Chapter 4 designed to aid coaches in guiding their students to prepare appropriately. Review the manual far in advance of your district meet, in order to prevent problems or disqualification at League-standing contests.

PROSE

For Prose, Category A: “Generation X, Y & Beyond,” contestants are required to read a single prose selection written by a single author born in 1960 or after.

For Prose, Category B: “In the News,” contestants are required to perform a single prose selection from a printed, published work of prose or a program of printed, published prose related to a significant news story (lead story of regional, national or international importance). It may be written by a single author or be a collaborative work. It may be fiction or nonfiction. The performance may be woven, but if it is woven, no more than four prose works may be included in the performance.

From the questions I have fielded about “In the News,” it seems some are trying to make this category much more difficult than it really is. Let’s look carefully at the descriptor that reveals how contestants should approach it.

Locate a lead or headline news story that has regional, national or international relevance.

The news account may focus on a social issue that, in turn, is discussed in the storyline of your literature. You may be fortunate enough to locate a news article about the exact situation/people included in the plot of your selection. The link between the news event and your selection can be easily stated in your introduction.

But because fiction literature is also allowed in the category, it is acceptable if your news story addresses an issue in a broader sense. Take, for example, autism. Your news story is about the growing number of children being diagnosed with autism. Match it with a prose that is about the struggles of a family who has an autistic child. With this, you go from general news to a specific family in your literature, but the thematic link is there because both focus on the medical condition of autism.

The reverse is also acceptable. Your news account might be a feature on someone specific, such as Jenny McCarthy’s autistic child, Evan, and your prose could be about a fictional family with an autistic child. There is a thematic link of news with literature because of the subject of autism.

Specific news story to general literature, generic news story to specific literature; either meets the category requirements. In both cases, the introduction must be used to tie the two together.

Newspapers and magazines provide stories of impact and so do online sources. Two websites are provided as easy search sites to locate news: http://www.History.com/this-day-in-history, http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/index.html.

The key to fulfilling the requirements of this performance that must not be overlooked will be the introduction. The category descriptor indicates the introduction is to be used to tie your news story to your selection. Several examples are included in the UIL Prose and Poetry Handbook. (See pages 19, 37.) These will further clarify any remaining questions.

POETRY

For Poetry, Category A: " A New Voice in Poetry,” contestants are required to read a single poem or a program of published poems written by a single poet born in 1960 or after. If reading a program, no more than six poems may be included. The program can be woven.

If you choose to weave, getting the number of selections correct is critical! In Prose (B), you may weave up to four selections, but don’t mix this with the poetry competition. In Poetry (A), you may weave up to 6 selections. More selections are allowed in poetry because poems tend to be much shorter than prose selections.

For Poetry, Category B: “My Voice Through Poetry,” contestants are required to perform published poetry that is theme-centered. Students must perform at least two poems or portions of poems by two or more poets. Your performance may include more than two poems and more than two poets, and you may weave your program.  What you cannot do is perform anonymous literature.

Keep your numbers straight: Two is the magic number of poems for Category B: at least two poems, at least two poets. The purpose is to use multiple selections and voices of different poets to build a theme within your 7-minute performance. Building a theme is more than reading multiple poems. There must be a focus to which all the poems lend themselves. That might be exploring an important social issue such as bullying. It might be enlightening the audience about a certain era by sharing the writings and voices of that time period. There are countless themes that can be developed through the combination of poems in a performance.

The selections you choose and the manner in which you arrange your poems help to build the theme, but also remember the category requires you to identify your chosen theme in the introduction to your performance. Set up your theme for the judge and audience; then allow your poems and transitions to reflect the established theme.

Be creative. Historical events are certainly legitimate themes, but don’t be afraid to think out of the box for a unique performance.

Questions & Answers

Non-Category Questions:

Q. Are self-published works permitted?
A. Self-published books are acceptable if they include an official copyright page. Example: Jon Erickson owns his own publishing company that publishes his writings so the cataloguing page indicates © Jon Erickson.

Chapbooks are eligible, as well, if there is copyright granted. These types of publications typically indicate copyright has been granted to the author.

Q. Are graphic novels acceptable for Prose competition?
A. Yes.

Q. Some forensic circuits limit the number of words in verbal transitions. Does UIL have this rule?
A. UIL contest rules do not set a limit on words used per transition. However, remember that UIL, unlike some forensic circuits, does have a limit on performance time. Maximum time limit for performance, including the introduction and transitions is seven minutes. There are NO extra “grace” seconds provided.

As you prepare transitions, look at the definition and purpose of a transition. It is meant to provide a passage, like a bridge, from one progression of thought to another. See page 21 of the UIL Prose and Poetry Handbook for elaboration and guidance in designing verbal transitions within your performance.

Q. Can Psalms from the Bible be read in UIL poetry?
A. This question does not have an absolute “yes”/”no” answer. C&CR states “works by anonymous poets is not permissible.” Psalms is not entirely authored by King David. Some of the psalms have unidentified authors. My recommendation is to avoid the controversy altogether and seek other literature.

Specific Category Questions:

POETRY

Q. I know introductions for Poetry are used to set up the mood for my performance and let the judge know what I am reading. Do categories require anything specific?
A. All titles and authors should be announced orally. Do not simply state, “A collection of poems…”   (*See note below)

In any category where weaving is allowed, you are to inform the judge and your listening audience in your introduction before the performance if you have woven literature in your program.

This year, for Poetry, Category B, you are instructed to state in your introduction the theme of your program of poems. Judges will be listening for you to tell them the theme you plan to explore within your performance.

The intent of Poetry, Category A is to spotlight the works of contemporary poets. Although rules do not require contestants discuss their author’s birth date in the introduction, the contemporary time period in which the author has written is significant to the category, so it could be interesting to include when the poet was born and wrote.

Always study the categories by reading the paragraphs included in the Constitution & Contest Rules. These descriptors not only inform performers what the intent of the category is but provide instructions if certain information should be included in the introduction.

One of the judging criteria on the contest ballot is: “Did the performer adhere to the prescribed category requirements?” Your introduction can aid in assuring the judge that you did!

Refer to pages 18 – 21 in the UIL Prose and Poetry Handbook for creative approaches to writing introductions.

*Procedure at State and other meets is that you also list your title(s)/author(s) on the board in the contest room where you are performing so judges can copy the information onto master ballots and individual evaluation forms. If you are concerned about having to write each title on the board before you begin your oral performance because you are using multiple pieces, typing the information on a sheet you can hand to your judges is acceptable. Note: This is only referring to recording your selections on the board; this is not in lieu of announcing orally your titles/authors.

Category A: Poetry

Q. In some poetry anthologies, there are group slam poems, written by more than one poet. If all of the poets fit the birth date requirements, is the poem eligible?
A. No. C&CR states, “written by one poet.”

Category B: Poetry

Q. Can you explain more fully the requirement in Poetry, Category B of performing a “theme-centered” program?
A. Contestants are required to perform multiple poems in this category. But it doesn’t stop at just reading two or more poems. You are to build a theme through your performance. A literary theme is the central concept you are exploring through the poems you purposefully select for your program and how you arrange them.

Theme is what gives a poetry program its unity. As you are choosing which poems to include, think about why they fit together. Does your poetry program reveal something about the nature of human beings? Does it spotlight some generalization about life itself? Does your program promote a greater awareness or a greater understanding of some element of life that we’ve never had before? Or does it reignite our passion for a belief long-held? Does it show us what the world looks like to others different from ourselves? Theme could be any one of these and more.

PROSE

Q. My Prose introduction is used to set up the mood for my piece, prepare my audience to listen and let them meet me as a person. I also know it’s critical to announce what I am reading. Do categories require anything specific?
A. All titles and authors should be announced.

In any category where weaving is allowed, you are instructed to use the introduction to inform the judge and your listening audience that you have woven literature in your program.

The introduction for Prose, Category B is critical. The C&CR states, “The introduction should explain how the newsworthy event is related to the selection(s) being read.”

Remember: The contest director is the one who will check your news story documentation. The judge won’t see that documentation, so you must introduce what your selected news story is about, using it to then set up your literature by linking the two.

Category A of Prose focuses on contemporary writers. Although rules do not require contestants to use their introduction to discuss their author’s birth date, their time period is significant to the category, and it could be impressive to do so.

Always study the intent of the categories through reading the category descriptors. These descriptors provide instructions and hints on introductions. Refer to pages 18 – 21 in the Prose and Poetry Handbook for creative approaches to writing introductions.

Category A: Prose

Q. I know the Constitution allows me to weave prose selections in the news category (Prose, Category B), but can I also weave in Category A of prose?
A. No. C&CR states, “single prose selection by a single author.”

Q. Can I use a co-authored book for Category A of Prose? The author meets the “born in 1960 or after” requirement. However, I discovered the book was co-authored by a ghostwriter. May I still use the book?
A. No, C&CR states, “single author.” Only one author may be read in the categories requiring a writer born in 1960 or after.


Category B: Prose

Q. For “In the News” prose category, does the news story have to be recent or can the newsworthy event take place in any time period?
A: There is no restriction on when the news story is published or when the news event occurred. It might be a historical incident or a contemporary one.

If you wish to explore history, www.History.com is particularly helpful with locating ancient stories.

Q. Must the prose piece have been written as a result of a specific event covered in the news?
A. It must link to the subject matter contained in the news story, but it is not necessarily an outgrowth of the particular news event.

Q. How specific does the news story have to be in order to link to the literary selection?
A: You may find a news story covering the very incident contained in your prose story. That’s great! It will be easy for you to demonstrate for the judge in your introduction that your story and your literature directly link.

However, remember that this category allows fiction writings, as well. So you can meet the category requirement by locating a news story that shows a connection to your story’s plot.

In summary, the prose selection can be written about a specific event in history (e.g., Columbine school shootings) and the news article may be more global, addressing in general the social crisis of school shootings. Or, the prose selection can be broader, not addressing a specific school shooting in history, but dealing with a fictional account of a school shooting from the viewpoint of the mother of the shooter, matched with an article that was written about the Columbine shootings.

Q. For the “In the News” prose category, can the news story I use for documentation and that I refer to in the introduction of my performance also be weaved through my program?
A. Yes.

The news story can be a part of the performance but not the entire performance. One to four prose selections can be read in this category; the news story would be in addition to these and would not count as one of the four prose works.

Q. Is a newspaper considered “hard copy”?
A. Yes. So is a news magazine.

Q. Is Gone With the Wind directly related to a newsworthy event, the Civil War?
A. Absolutely! Fiction pieces are acceptable in this category.

 

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