The words of poets past and present filled the room last Friday evening at Inyo Council for the Arts, as eight anxious yet excited students from local high schools recited the poems they had chosen for the county finals of the Poetry Out Loud program.
The first-place winner, Tyler Holt, a senior at Big Pine High School, impressed the audience with his recitation of Lord Alfred Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” and his second poem, “Ways of Talking,” by the contemporary Chinese poet, Ha Jin.
The runner-up for the county, Sorcha Fatooh, recited Walt Whitman’s “A Noiseless Patient Spider,” and the humorous, free-verse poem of Allen Ginsberg, “A Supermarket in California,” where Ginsberg engagingly invokes the thoughts and impressions of the narrator’s mentor poet, Walt Whitman, as he winds his way through the aisles of the market. Sorcha is a junior at Bishop High School.
Now in its sixth year nationwide, Poetry Out Loud was created through the National Endowment for the Arts and The Poetry Foundation, in order to encourage youth to learn about great poetry through memorization and interpretation, and ultimately, reciting the poetry to an audience. As the first-place winner, Holt will now move on to the state competition, competing against other California county winners next month in Sacramento. The winner of the California competition will then represent the state at the National Championship Poetry Out Loud competition, to be held in April in Washington, D.C.
The California winner will receive $200, an all-expense paid trip to D.C., as well as $500 to the student’s school for the purchase of poetry books. A total of $50,000 in scholarship awards and school stipends will be awarded at the National finals of Poetry Out Loud.
Speaking about his poems and what helped him in taking the first-place standing, Holt said, “I’ve always done some kind of speaking in front of an audience, so it’s not a big deal. I tried to find a balance between acting and the simple way of finding a unity and harmony with the poem.” Holt, whose father and sister both were born in Canada, plans to attend either the University of Toronto or York University to study Kinesiology. “I spent last year at a sports camp in Canada, and really had some great opportunities. I loved it,” said Holt.
Students also participating 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 in preparing the students for their individual school competitions and, finally, the county competition. Serving as judges for the county competition were Inyo County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Terry McAteer, former Inyo County Superintendent of Schools George Lozito, Inyo Council of the Arts Board Member Julie Bear, artist and educator Kris Hohag, and from Spellbinder Books and an educator as well, Devon Fredericksen.
Liz McAteer, school arts coordinator with Inyo Council for the Arts, who helped organize the county competition, said that she was thrilled with the schools’ participation and support of the community, since this was the first year that Inyo County had participated.
“It was obvious that all of the students had worked hard on their poems and had taken the time to find the right one that they could connect with,” said Liz McAteer. “It’s not easy to interpret poetry and then to get up in front of an audience at a competition and recite those words. I was really proud of how they all did.”
She continued, “I hope that next year we’ll have twice as many students for the county competition.”