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  • Joe Davis


The first time I found competItive success in speech I had a black book binder in my hand. It was 2007 and I had just qualified to the California State Tournament as a Freshman in Thematic Interpretation. I had no idea exactly how important those little black binders would become. Initially my black book was not so small and I had a program with intro breaks for all three of my selections; including things like Bill Bryson and Walt Whitman. My old school TI program got me to the state tournament and I had a blast. But eventually I moved on to other more popular national events like Duo and DI. I left behind my black book and never looked back...until I got to college.

In collegiate forensics all interpretation events require the use of a black book and frankly I found this to be outrageous! How was I supposed to do blocking with one hand? I felt so limited. I was very wrong. Operating with a binder during interpretation is an artform. To masterfully go from one selection to the next, to change scenes or show the passage of time all in a single page turn. I watched as the quick pop faded away and a simple yet elegant morph became the best avenue to switch characters, all with my black book in hand.

I started off sloppy. Whipping pages, limply holding my book with no structure at all. But when I began to respect the literature I was holding I grew stronger as an interper. The black book didn’t hold me back but literally contained the messages I was passionate about. Inside my binder were the words that spoke to me so much that I chose to speak them to others. When I realized that without my black book I had no words, no outlet, no voice; it didn’t seem so artless, it felt like a necessity. My security blanket became my black book and eventually I had to get a new one and another after that because I wore them all down. Hours on end working on binder technique and page turns, trying to be as smooth as possible. I found a love for my black book and through its power I knew I could tell whatever story I wanted.

Now the NSDA has made Program Oral Interpretation a national event. POI allows a competitor to use multiple selections surrounding the same idea or theme and the event requires the use of a black book binder. This event is different from the college version but in principle carries on the same values. POI allows competitors to not only display their interpretation talents but also their cutting ability. When you successfully put together different selections on the same idea culminating into a tapestry of emotion and meaning, I think it’s hard to find something more beautiful in the speech world. Putting together a POI program goes beyond cliche speech pops or typical dramatic climaxes, goes further than just one piece can ever go and ultimately challenges not only the competitor but the audience and the holistic concept that is interpretation.

While I do not agree with the limitations the NSDA has put on POI; prohibiting a majority of website usage including slam poetry from youtube. I don’t think that is a reason to boycott this new event but instead I encourage everyone to try out POI. If there is a large supply of interpers competing in POI and demanding that the selection regulations be changed then and only then will a difference be made. We can’t afford to let our activity take this event for granted. POI established in me a respect for literature like never before and pushed me to see many perspectives of a singular idea. I urge you to give POI a chance and show the world exactly what you’re capable of.

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