Wednesday, May 25 , 2016, 1:38 pm | Partly Cloudy 68º

Santa Maria Senior Wins Countywide Poetry Out Loud Competition

By Linda Gardy for the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission |

Eduardo Cortez, a senior at Pioneer Valley High School in Santa Maria, took first place in the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission’s “Poetry Out Loud” countywide competition held Wednesday in Santa Barbara.

Cortez was one of thousands of students across the state to participate in the national recitation contest, a program run by the California Arts Council in the state and started by the National Endowment for the Arts to engage high school students in the presentation of poetry through memorization and performance.

Cortez, who selected “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats for his recitation, now advances to represent Santa Barbara County at the state finals in Sacramento on March 24-25.

At stake are hundreds of dollars on the state competition level and thousands at the national finals of Poetry Out Loud in Washington, D.C., scheduled for April 28-30 in conjunction with the recognition of National Poetry Month.

Nineteen high school students competed in Wednesday night’s competition held at the Board of Supervisors Hearing Room on the fourth floor of the County Administration Building in Santa Barbara.

The evening began with a musical interlude provided by the Santa Barbara Strings Honors Quartet. Paul Willis, Santa Barbara poet laureate, served as emcee for the evening, and a stellar panel of judges included David Starkey and Perie Longo, Santa Barbara poets laureate emeriti, and published poets Chryss Yost and Carol DeCanio. They were charged with the task of selecting a winner, runner-up and honorable mention based on criteria that included level of difficulty, voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness, evidence of understanding, physical presence, accuracy and overall performance.

The event was taped by CSBTV to air on Channel 20 in the coming weeks.

The runner-up position for the event was awarded to Reinard Bermudez, also from Pioneer Valley High School, for his recitation of “Two Guitars” by poet Victor Hernandez Cruz. The honorable mention award was presented to Cambria Metzinger, a student at Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta, for her recitation of “The Great Blue Heron” by Carolyn Kizer.

Faculty members at the event were commended for their commitment to engaging fellow faculty and students in the Poetry Out Loud program. Stephanie Henderson and Rob Schiff from Dos Pueblos High School; Ben Rothstein from Pioneer Valley High School, Peggy Lauer from Anacapa School; Bojana Hill from Laguna Blanca School; and Poet Sojourner Kincaid-Rolle, from El Puente Community School, were all recognized.

More than 600 students were exposed to the Poetry Out Loud program in Santa Barbara County this year. The success of this program is due in large part to the dedicated teachers who recognize the value of recitation, memorization and interpretation and work closely with students to integrate Poetry Out Loud preparation into their curriculum.

The Poetry Out Loud program seeks to foster the next generation of literary readers by capitalizing on the latest trends in poetry: recitation and performance. Poetry Out Loud competitions start in the classroom, then at the school, region, state and national finals, similar to the structure of the spelling bee. The national initiative is part of an attempt to bring literary arts to students, a critical need in U.S. schools, according to a 2004 NEA report Reading at Risk that found a dramatic decline in literary reading, especially among younger readers.

The Santa Barbara County Arts Commission is a division of the Community Services Department of Santa Barbara County. For more information on other programs of the Arts Commission, click here or connect on Facebook. General information on Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Competitions can be found by clicking here and here.

— Linda Gardy is a business specialist for the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission.

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