Eight young poetry recitalists competed for a chance to represent Inyo County at the state and national levels for a chance to win prestige and substantial monetary prizes.
Bishop, Lone Pine and Owens Valley high school students delved deeply into their intellectual, emotional and public speaking repertoires this past Tuesday at the third annual Inyo County Poetry Out Loud Finals.
Inyo Council of the Arts School Arts Coordinator Liz McAteer emceed the POL event.
Courtney Beaudeen and Steven Stickells represented Bishop. Lone Pine’s recitalists were Chelsea Chapelier, Lacie Jones and Ronni Siddall and Skyler Lish. Shyann Padilla and Autumn Wilder represented Owens Valley. Each student recited two poems in front of an audience of more than 70 at Inyo Council for the Arts.
After intensive preparation – choosing, interpreting, memorizing and internalizing the poems – two students emerged victorious. Lish earned first place and an all-expenses-paid trip to the state finals in Sacramento. If she wins there, she will head for the national POL finals in Washington, D.C. Chapeliere came in second and will go to state finals if Lish is unable. All competitors received certificates of recognition and Spellbinder Books gift cards.
McAteer gave special thanks to “our local poetry and author, Eva Poole-Gilson, for all of her work with the students and for helping to bring Poetry Out Loud to Inyo County.” Poole-Gilson coached the students, helping them understand and adhere to POL’s seven recitation competition categories: physical presence, voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness, level of difficulty, evidence of understanding, overall performance and accuracy.
Last year’s POL judges, Bishop City Administrator Keith Caldwell, Inyo Council for the Arts Board Member Leslie Chapman, Inyo County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Terry McAteer, former Inyo County Superintendent of Schools George Lozito and Palisade Glacier High School English teacher Rose Sabo returned this year.
Lish, a sophomore student of English teacher Harold McDonald, said she chose her first poem, “Broken Promises” by David Kirby, because she could identify, having had similar difficulties in childhood, being continuously let down by someone very close to her.
For her second rendition, Lish chose “Abandoned Farmhouse” by Ted Kooser, because “it implies that the man abused the woman and no one spoke up.” Again, Lish identified from an experience she knew of. “I think the poem may raise some sort of awareness or at least leave people with a chilling enough feeling to make them think about the situation,” she said.
Lish added, “I was most concerned with the dramatic appropriateness (criterion) because I think at some points my voice wavered a bit.” She was most comfortable with accuracy, she added; she had been rehearsing “for at least three months and at least five times a day.”
Overall, Lish said the performance experience is “ kind of daunting and scary. I have never before in my life gotten up in front of that many people but I really enjoyed how the audience was so attentive.”
Lish said she was amazed to win. “I’m sure that my shock was visible … I couldn’t even attempt to smile.”
Chapelier, a senior and student of English teacher Jason Lozier, won second place. “I’m happy for (Skyler). I wish her all the best,” Chapelier said.
She added that she really connected with her selection, “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold, because she has always loved the beach and hopes to live near one. However, Edgar Allen Poe’s “Alone” had special significance for Chapelier – since her earliest scholastic life, she felt marginalized by other kids because of her intelligence and for being a really good student.
Chapelier found interpreting poetic symbolism and dramatic appropriateness were the easiest criteria. She said articulation and loudness were challenging because she speaks quietly.
Eight recitalists received third place awards. Sophomore Siddall, who has been writing poetry since the sixth grade, recited “My Grandmother’s Love Letters” and “Eagle Poem,” a poem she’d had switched to just the week before because it was so meaningful to her. Beaudean, a sophomore, also found that she really connected emotionally with her choices, “Enough” and “Across the Bay” and plans to compete again in 2014.
Padilla, a freshman, said interpreting “A Country Boy in Winter” and “After a Rainstorm” was easy for her because “I’m personally a country girl.” She plans to compete every year and hopes more people will try POL. “It’s fun and challenging” and the excitement of competing was “heart pumping.” Stickells recited “Jabberwocky” because “it was a lot of fun” and “The Peace of Wild Things,” which his grandmother recommended and she has “excellent taste in poetry.”
The winners, Lish and Chapelier, must now prepare to represent Inyo County at the March 24 and 25 POL state finals in Sacramento, for which three must have three poems ready – and “at least one poem that was written before the 20th century and one that is 25 lines or fewer,” McAteer explained.
Lish said she plans to “practice, practice, practice and have fun with it. I am not in it to win, I am in it because I think it is great for me to get over a few of my fears and because I am passionate about poetry.”
County winners, with their guardians, make the all-expenses-paid trip and will attend a banquet in their honor on March 23, Poole-Gilson added.
State finalists will go to the POL national finals in Washington, D.C. in April to compete for three purses: $20,000 for first place, $10,000 for second place and $5,000 for third place. Again all expenses will be paid.
Poole-Gilson emphasized that there are many benefits to POL competition besides money, benefits which all POL recitalists receive, win or not.
Pool-Gilson said the competitors learn poise, gain introspective understanding, overcome fear of public speaking and fine tune a host of other life skills which will enable them to succeed academically, personally and professionally, she said.
For McAteer said “the rewards of the evening are having the students perform well,” watching them enjoy the experience, hearing “all of the wonderful” comments from audience and judges. It is “heartwarming and inspiring” to hear students recite a poem which “somehow speaks to them or touches them.” McAteer said her goal for POL is to “attract more students each year, to participate and to develop a life-long love of reading and reciting poetry. If a student can find that particular poet or poem that connects with them, it can be transforming.”
The POL event was funded by a California Arts Council and funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, McAteer added.
Poole-Gilson said she is already preparing for POL 2014. In April, she plans to start a Writer Actors Club for Inyo and Mono County teens at their schools, to provide a venue for performance, poetry writing and the development of POL skills “and just to have some fun.”