Sunday, March 16, 2014

Poetry Out Loud State Championship!

This year, the Oregon state championship for Poetry Out Loud—the national poetry recitation contest sponsored by the Poetry Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts in conjunction with state and local art agencies—was held in the Hatfield Room of Willamette University's Hatfield Library. There, surrounded by the rather austere looking, glass-enclosed private library of former U.S. Senator and Bearcat alum Mark Hatfield, nine high school students from around the state recited their hearts out in hopes of heading on to the national competition being held in Washington, D.C., at the end of April.

As was the case in 2013, P&PC spent two weekends working with Poetry Out Loud this year. Alongside poet Stephanie Lenox and actor/professor Susan Coromel, we helped to judge the regional contest one weekend ago in Salem, and then yesterday at Bearcat central we served on a panel of judges that included current Oregon poet laureate Paulann Petersen, Eleanor Berry, and Wendy Thompson. Contestants—all of whom had succeeded at school and regional levels in making their way to the finals—met at W.U. in the late morning, where they had an intimate lunch with Petersen in an Eaton Hall seminar room and talked about the oral character of poetry and reasons for reciting it and reading it aloud. That's our Oregon Nine pictured above. From left to right, they are: Gypsy Prince of Springfield; Rosie Reyes of Portland; Rebekah Ratcliff of Medford; Sofia Gispert Tello of Hermiston; Stephanie Gordon of Bandon; the mostly-hidden McKinley Rodriguez of Portland; Kylie Winger of Medford; Maxwell Romprey of West Salem; and, rocking the pink hair, Jerika Fuller of Oregon City. (Two poetry superheroes whom you don't see in the picture are Deb Vaughn and Sarah Dougher of the Oregon Arts Commission who do all of the contest's coordination and legwork.)

As always, P&PC came away better, smarter, and happier for being involved. Fuller wowed us with her recitation of Stephen Crane's "In the Desert." Ratcliff introduced us to Paul Engle's "Hero." Rodriguez soared through Kevin Young's "Cadillac Moon." And Tello, a sophomore from Hermiston High School whom we had admired in the regional contest, wowed us with her understated version of "The Cities Inside Us" by Alberto Rios. When all was said and done, however, it was Rosie Reyes—last year's state champion, pictured here—who once again walked away with first prize. Her renditions of Sylvia Plath's "Blackberrying" and Emily Dickinson's "It was not Death, for I stood up" were superb, but it was her spellbinding performance of Alberto Rios's "The Pomegranate and the Big Crowd" that took the cake. Rosie is heading to Oregon State University next Fall to study physical therapy, but the P&PC Office hopes she sticks with the poetry thing as well—and that she kicks some butt in representing Oregon in D.C. Go, Rosie!

In the event that Rosie is for some reason unable to represent the Beaver state, that responsibility will fall to contest runner-up and West Salem resident Max Romprey (pictured here with his teacher Christina Eddy), whose folksy, aw-shucks demeanor won the crowd over with his versions of Bob Hicok's "After Working Sixty Hours Again for What Reason," Dick Allen's "What You Have to Get Over," and Percy Shelley's "Ozymandias." This was Max's first year in the contest, and because P&PC is headquartered in the Cherry City, we were particularly pleased to see a local performer do so well. Congratulations, Max, and congratulations to all of this year's finalists. We're crushing on you big time.

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