With a packed house ten local high school poets held 100 onlookers spellbound when Central Sierra Arts Council hosted the 4th Tuolumne County Poetry Out Loud Final Competition on Wednesday evening, February 15th, at Stage 3 Theatre. Family, friends, educators, local dignitaries and poetry fans spent an evening in rapt attention as they heard more than 25 classical poems recited by Tuolumne County’s top contenders for the annual contest.
At the end of the evening Jonathon Bermea, a Sonora High Senior, was chosen as the First Place winner. He will now go on to represent Tuolumne County at the California State Poetry Out Loud Final Competition, which will take place in Sacramento on March 25th and 26th. He recited three poems that brought him top honors: “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning” by John Donne, “To the Desert” by Benjamin Alire Saénz and a contemporary poem, “Ego” by Denise Duhamel. Second Place honors went to Teresa Woods, a sophomore at Connection Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts. Woods will serve as Tuolumne County’s Runner-Up in Sacramento in the event that Bermea is unable to compete. In addition, Lauren Dempsey, a Freshman at Connections Academy, won Third Place honors.
Four local high schools participated in the annual event that involved 500 hundred students countywide since this year’s program began in September 2011. Representing Tioga High School at the final contest was Junior Chalea Carter. Representing Summerville High School was Junior Cade Huff. Other representatives from Connections Academy included Freshman Emily Fishburn, Sophomore Lorna Job and Junior Adria Britton. “POL diverges from any other type of competition that you see in high school life,” states county Poetry Out Loud coordinator B.Z. Smith. “Across the country students must select their poems from one anthology. Then they spend a great deal of time perfecting their recitations. POL draws all kinds of kids.”
Participating students had the opportunity to work with Rick Foster of Duende Drama & Literature, (another one of CSAC’s partners) who for the third year served as Tuolumne County’s official Poetry Out Loud coach. Foster works with the students on poem selection, tips for memorization and how to better understand their poems. As a respected theatre director, Foster also helps each student refine his or her performance. “This program requires each student to make a huge personal commitment and a willingness to dig deep into emotional and intellectual levels,” Foster comments. “Many of the poems selected create powerful images of life’s greatest struggles. Each competitor has worked very hard.” Students who go on to compete in the upper tiers experience a profound impact on their understanding of literature, on their public speaking skills and on their self-confidence.
We couldn’t do our local POL without a lot of community support,” CSAC’s executive director, Connie O’Connor-Gahagan, explains. “This year more than 28 local businesses and individual donors helped out.” Lead sponsors included Front Porch, Inc., Blue Mountain Minerals, Sonora Staples, Save Mart Supermarket, Sonora Umpqua Bank and Emberz Restaurant. In addition, the Bermea family will receive a travel stipend to help the family make the two-day trip to Sacramento. “We want any student to have the privilege of representing our county,” O’Connor states. “This travel assistance allows so that this honor doesn’t cause a financial burden on any family. And our local sponsors make that happen. CSAC is very grateful for these gifts.”
For more information on Poetry Out Loud, visit www.poetryoutloud.org. For more information on Central Sierra Arts Council’s programs, visit www.centralsierraarts.org or call (209)532-2787. Central Sierra Arts Council is designated by the Tuolumne County Boad of Supervisors to be its public agency for the arts, working in cooperation with the California Arts Council. This year California tax payers can “Check Off the Arts” on their state income tax forms to help funnel revenues to local arts programs. For more information on “Check Off the Arts,” visit www.cac.ca.gov.