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Sacramento County Student Takes Second
“I was astounded at the emotional maturity of all these students,” says California Poetry Out Loud judge.
Placer County student Roshawnda Bettencourt of Oakmont High School took first place in this year’s highly competitive California’s Poetry Out Loud state finals; Sacramento County student Daniel Horne of Elk Grove High School took the first runner-up position; and Sonoma County student Grace Erny of Sonoma Academy took the second runner-up spot.
Photo: Mary Beth Barber
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Bettencourt won the chance to compete in the national competition in Washington, D.C. on April 27-29, 2008; $200 in prize money; and an additional $500 in poetry books for her high school–as well as a $100 gift certificate and luggage from the state finals’ sponsor, Target.
This year marks the third time the California Arts Council has produced the Poetry Out Loud competition, a contest that encourages high school students to learn about poetry through memorization, performance, and competition of classical poetry. The program was started by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Poetry Foundation, and is fulfilled in the states by the state arts agencies. Local arts agencies and school districts implement the program on the county level.
“I was astounded, not only at the savvy choice of poems that each competitor chose, but at the emotional maturity and poise these students exhibited today,” said California Arts Council Vice Chair Malissa Feruzzi Shriver and a judge in 2008 state finals for California Poetry Out Loud. “Not only were these pieces performed well, but the students understood them deeply, on a truly profound and emotional level. They were all so fantastic it was almost impossible to be a judge.”
Horne, as runner up, will have the chance to compete in the Washington, D.C. competition and represent California if Bettencourt isn’t able to attend. Horne also received $100 in prize money as well as $200 in poetry books for his high school, as well as a gift card for $75 from Target. Erny, in third place, received a $50 Target gift certificate.
Five additional students of the 20 competing made it to a tie-breaking third round of California’s Poetry Out Loud competition when the judges decided the scores were too close to determine a clear winner and runner-up. They were, in no particular order: Spencer Klavan of Laguna Blanca High School (Santa Barbara County), Annie Griffin of St Monica High School (Los Angeles County), Malachia Hoover of Tamalpais High School (Marin County), Cecily Stevens of Salesian High School (Contra Costa County), and Jessica Knapp of North Coast Preparatory and Performing Arts Academy (Humboldt County).
Click for the full list of the 20 competitors, their counties, high schools and their poetry choices.
The California state finals of the national contest are especially competitive because of the large size of the state and number of students and schools that have made Poetry Out Loud available. With 147 schools statewide partaking in the program, California has the largest number of schools participating in Poetry Out Loud of all the states. California also has the greatest increase in number of schools over a year’s time, with 87 new participating schools in 2007-08.
“We think of poetry as being text, but it really lives in the heart,” said California Poet Laureate Al Young, also a judge in the California Poetry Out Loud competition, at the conclusion of the competition as the students stood next to him on stage. “Language moves us because it is very close to music.”
The national initiative that is fulfilled by the California Arts Council in the state is part of an attempt to bring literary arts to students–a critical need in U.S. schools, according to a 2004 National Endowment for the Arts report, “Reading at Risk,” that found a dramatic decline in literary reading, especially among younger readers. The Poetry Out Loud program seeks to foster the next generation of literary readers by capitalizing on the latest trends in poetry–recitation and performance.