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Dos Pueblos Freshman Wins Poetry Out Loud Competition

Kelly Nakashima takes first place at the county level to advance to the state finals in March

Kelly Nakashima, a freshman at Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta, took first place in the Santa Barbara County Poetry Out Loud competition on Monday.

Nakashima 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.

Nakashima advances to the state finals in Sacramento on March 15. At stake are hundreds of dollars on the state competition level and thousands at the national finals of Poetry Out Loud.

Twenty-two high school students competed in Monday night’s countywide competition held at the County Administration Building in Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara Poet Laureate Emeritus Perie Longo served as emcee for the evening, and the panel of judges included Santa Barbara Poet Laureate Emeritus Barry Spacks and published poets Sojourner Kincaid-Rolle, Chryss Yost and Carol DeCanio.

In addition to Nakashima, the judges awarded Sarah Friedland of Dos Pueblos the runner-up prize and Andrew McCaffery of Laguna Blanca School an honorable mention.

Faculty members William Woodard of Dos Pueblos, Roberta Nye of Santa Barbara High School and Bojana Hill of Laguna Blanca supervised their students in the Poetry Out Loud program.

“In a world of e-mails, IMing, texting, sound bites and blips, it was glorious fun to spend an evening reveling in the spoken word and the literary contributions of American poets,” said Ginny Brush, executive director of the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission.

“Young people interested in rap and slam contests can be surprisingly interested in classical poetry when it’s presented through the Poetry Out Loud competition,” said Muriel Johnson, director of the California Arts Council. “We’ve seen students from all backgrounds and academic levels embrace this program wholeheartedly. It can change their lives.”

Spencer Klavan, a senior at Laguna Blanca, was last year’s Santa Barbara County Poetry Out Loud winner. Klavan went on to win the state finals in Sacramento and represented California at the National Poetry Out Loud competition in Washington, D.C., last April.

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.

Click here for more information about other programs of the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission.

— Ginny Brush is executive director of the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission.

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