Coleville High School’s Madilyne Case (left), runner-up, with winner Erica Robinson from Mammoth High. The two were part of Mono County’s Poetry Out Loud competition.
Even with all our technology, or perhaps in part because of it, certain art forms, such as poetry, might well be in danger of being marginalized to the point where they almost disappear from our cultural lexicon.
However, thanks to the National Endowment for the Arts’ Poetry Out Loud program, which introduces high school students to modern and classical poetry through a mix of study and public readings, all that is changing. Mono County students competed in this year’s POL competition (the county’s program debut) last Saturday evening at the Edison Theater.
Now in its fifth season, the program first launched in the 2005-2006 school year. Mono County entered students as one of 35 California counties that sponsored POL competitions, an increase from 27 counties last year.
County high schools including Benton, Coleville and Mammoth held interclass competitions to send competitors to Saturday night’s final. Benton’s representative regrettably had to withdraw at the last minute, due to illness.
Of the 6 remaining students, one would be chosen to represent Mono County at the state-level tier of the competition. A runner-up would also be selected as a back up in case the winner had to withdraw for any reason. A win at state would mean a subsequent trip to Washington D.C. for nationals.
Students were able to select two each from more than 400 titles and authors on the NEA’s Poetry Out Loud official website. Moderated and produced by Mammoth Lakes Repertory Theatre Artistic Shira Dubrovner, the students read both poems, one in each of two rounds. While not an “open mic” competition, the event had a dignified air to it, but at the same time radiated with the underlying electricity of a spoken word night one might have experienced in a Beat-era coffee shop. Oh, there were no clove cigarettes or espresso, but the readings were charged with an enthusiasm for the poems that emanated from all the contestants.
Erica Robinson of Mammoth High School emerged the winner. Robinson, a senior, won for her delivery of Emily Dickinson’s “I Heard A Fly Buzz When I Died” and “Video Blues” by Mary Jo Salter. Runner-up honors went to Coleville High School Junior Madilyne Case, who recited “To Fashion” by Elizabeth Moody and “Dreamers” by Siegfried Sassoon.
Also competing from Mammoth High were Meritzil Herrera and Melissa Alo, and from Coleville High Chris Graham, and Anna-Kate Clemons.
The event was sponsored in part by Eastern Sierra Community Bank, the Mammoth Lakes Foundation and Blue Bird Imaging. The win also means Robinson and Case will need to select and memorize a third title for the more intensive state readings.
A similar Inyo County competition was held on Friday night in Bishop at Inyo Council for the Arts. The winner, Tyler Holt, from Big Pine High School, recited Lord Alfred Tennyson’s classic “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” and “Ways of Talking” by contemporary Chinese poet Ha Jin. Runner-up Sorcha Fatooh, recited Walt Whitman’s “A Noiseless Patient Spider,” and a free-verse Allen Ginsberg poem, “A Supermarket in California.”
Other students competing last Friday evening included Mary Rossi and Chynna Tash from Big Pine High School, Nichole and Jacqueline Schuler from Owens Valley, and Ashley Chapeliere and Autumn Wilder from Lone Pine High School.
Local poet and author Eva Poole-Gilson worked with all of the high schools and approximately 30 students for several weeks preparing them for the school and county competitions.
Funding is available to send delegates and a family member or chaperone to the state finals, which will be held in Sacramento on March 20-21.For more on Poetry Out Loud, visit www.poetryoutloud.org.