By Diane Eagle Kataoka
The third annual Poetry Out Loud contest in Mono County, held last Saturday evening at the Edison Theatre in Mammoth Lakes, was my first venture to hear high school students recite poetry, and I was rewarded mightily.
This year’s finalists were Evelyn Bath, Josh Disbro and Lance Warner from Coleville High School, coached by their teacher Brian Johnson; Berlin Del Aguila from Lee Vining, coached by her teacher Sara Taylor; and Meritzel Herrera, Taylor Sanders, Tatum Sandvigen, and Kate Wilson of Mammoth Lakes coached by Juliana Olinka.
Each contestant recited two poems, chossing from the likes of Edgar Allen Poe, Carl Sandburg, W.B. Yeats, Robert Frost, Jane Hirshfield, and John Greenleaf Whittier, among others.
For this listener, two students stood out. Lance Warner recited as though he had ingested his two poems fully, lived with them awhile, and then spoke with conviction “A Psalm of Life” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and “The Days Gone By” by James Whitcomb Riley. I was riveted. I was also heartbroken when he forgot some of the lines of his second poem. He stood there waiting for them to reenter his head, and was able to retrieve a few. He was the only student who said he entered the Poetry Out Loud contest because he likes poetry (three cheers!); the others’ reasons included extra credit and teacher encouragement.
Berlin Del Aguila recited two poems I’d never heard before: “Deliberate” by Amy Uyematsu, whose poetry grows out of the conflict between her wish to belong to the culture around her and her strong sense of ethnic identity (poetryoutloud.org); and “Domestic Situation” by Ernest Hilbert, a surprising, short and naked poem that ends with “Don’t try to understand what another person means by love. Don’t even bother.” Del Aguila delivered the poems with passion and clarity. I loved them; I loved hearing new perspectives. I will explore both poets’ work.
I admire all these high school students for exploring poetry and proving it is not so esoteric as some might think. Just look at Facebook and Twitter postings for short poetic thoughts. How about a contest for Twitter poems of 140 words?
But back to Poetry Out Loud. The winner of the 2013 Mono County level of the national contest was Kate Wilson and the runner up was Taylor Sanders, both of Mammoth High School. Judges were Jo Bacon, Malcolm Clark, Stacey Corless, Noelle Deinken and Bartshe Miller; accuracy judge, Blair Lee; tabulator, Tabby Mannetter. Support for this program in Mono County came from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Poetry Foundation, the California Arts Council, the Mammoth Lakes Foundation and its sponsors, and Eastern Sierra Community Bank.
“We at the Mammoth Lakes Foundation are pleased to be part of this program that allows students in a rural setting to have experiences equivalent to students in large cities. It introduces our youth to the art of poetry that is being reinvigorated and teaches the importance of the power of the spoken word,” said Mammoth Lakes Repertory Theatre Artistic Director Shira Dubrovner.
The National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation have partnered with U.S. state arts agencies to support Poetry Out Loud, a contest that encourages the nation’s youth to learn about great poetry.
Poetry Out Loud uses a pyramid structure that starts at the classroom level. Winners advance to a school-wide competition, then to a regional and/or state competition, and ultimately to the National Finals.
The regional finals are in Sacramento on March 24 and 25, followed by the 2013 Poetry Out Loud National Finals April 28-30, 2013, in Washington, D.C. Each winner at the state level receives $200 and an all-expenses-paid trip with an adult chaperone to Washington to compete for the national championship. The state winner’s school receives a $500 stipend for the purchase of poetry books.
For more at www.poetryoutloud.org
(Photo: Bluebird Imaging)