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Art of reciting poetry coming to Inyo schools

October 29, 2012

Eva Poole-Gilson (above) is coaching high school students in the finer arts of poetry recitation in preparation for the national Poetry Out Loud competition in 2013, at which competitors stand to win as much as $20,000. Mastering recitation teaches valuable life skills, she said. Photo by Marilyn Blake Philip

Local high school students are joining their peers nation-wide in polishing recitation and life skills as they prepare for the 2012-13 Poetry Out Loud competition, where contestants stand to win prizes in the thousands of dollars.
“Poetry Out Loud national recitation contest introduces high school students to the magic of great poetry,” states the POL website,
The program, sponsored in California by the California Arts Council and California Poets in the Schools, brings professional poets and performers to high schools throughout the U.S. to assist students in their participation.
Recitation coach Eva Poole-Gilson, a local writer, actor and teacher, is one of these professional poets who goes into the schools to prepare students for the competition.
Poetry recitation requires and therefore teaches people important life skills, Poole-Gilson said, adding that there are rewards for the students beyond winning.
By learning to “internalize a poem and become the voice of the poem,” students also internalize personal life-skills like overcoming “the fear of public speaking, (which is) second only to the fear of death, and learning how to express yourself and your feelings whether it’s to get a job or to get a date on Saturday night,” she said. “You learn to say things in a memorable way. Plus it’s fun.”
And “you get to meet all kinds of kids” at competitions, continued Poole-Gilson. “You’d be surprised at (the diversity) of people who like to recite poetry.” Participation in POL is also good on student portfolios when they apply to post-secondary schools, the coach added.
Poetry Out Loud is open to all high school students, including those who are home-schooled, said Poole-Gilson. Though recitation training usually begins in October, kids can join in any time, she said. The county-level POL competition in Mono County will be held at 7 p.m., Jan. 5 at the Edison Theater in Mammoth Lakes, and Inyo County’s will be held at 7 p.m., Feb. 7 at Inyo Council for the Arts. Admission is free.
By the way, added Poole-Gilson, teachers may be interested as well. The POL teacher’s guide content is tied directly to California State Standards. She said that Mammoth Lakes High School teacher Juliana Olinka’s entire drama class is participating. All of Owens Valley High School teacher Harold McDonald’s English students are, too.
Guidelines for students, teachers and judges are available at, They outline how to set up recitation trainings and prepare for competition.
Additional training resource are also available on the site. “Listen to Poetry” audios feature distinguished actors and poets, according to the site.
“Learning Recitation” videos and companion guides illustrate the art of poetry and foster class discussion and students get to watch finalists and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses according to POL evaluation criteria.
The site can even help students learn the finer points of choosing, memorizing and reciting poetry successfully. “A high overall performance score will reflect a performance that is more than the sum of its parts,” the website states. The students become secondary to the language of the poems. Their mastery of recitation transforms “the performance into siren song. Everything about the recitation draws you to the language of the poem.”
These transcendent levels of performance can be achieved by learning the skills necessary to meet the seven POL recitation competition categories: physical presence, voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness, level of difficulty, evidence of understand, overall performance and accuracy. The site, like Poole-Gilson, gives direction, examples and guidance in each of these areas.
Poem choice is the one area students can be judged on “before you even compete so it’s important to pick the strongest one you can, the one you resonate with most and then let the poem take over,” said Poole-Gilson. Competitors must have three poems ready at the state and national levels. Reciters must choose poems from approved POL lists available online or in the POL anthology.
Reciters compete at class, school, county, state and, finally, national levels. The winners and runners-up from each county go to Sacramento for the state competition. Travel and accommodations are paid for competitors (and a guardian) who make it to the state and national levels.
At the state level, said Poole-Gilson, they do their best performance; the prompter is used very little. “State-level competition in two of the last three years has been held on the Senate floor in the state capitol building,” she added. “Senators give up their desks. It’s pretty thrilling. And usually, a state-level representative for each county will be there to have pictures taken” with their county constituents.
State winners will go on to compete in the nationals at the 1,495-seat Lisner Theater in Washington ,D.C. There, performers compete for purses of $20,000 for first place, $10,000 for second and $5,000 for place.
For more information, visit:” or call Poole-Gilson at (760) 872-2446, Liz McAteer at Inyo Council for the Arts, (760) 873-8014 or Shira Dubrovner at Mammoth Lakes Foundation, (760) 934-3781.

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