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Students Prepare to Compete in Santa Barbara County Poetry Out Loud Competition

The winner of Wednesday's event will advance to the state level

Preparation is well under way for Santa Barbara County’s Sixth Annual Poetry Out Loud Competition.

The competition represents the first step of a national recitation contest, a program run by the California Arts Council in the state and started by the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Poetry Foundation to engage high-school students in the presentation of poetry through memorization and performance.

The winner of the Santa Barbara County competition will go on to compete at the California state finals in Sacramento on March 25-26. At stake will be hundreds of dollars on the state competition level and thousands at the national finals of Poetry Out Loud May 13-15 in Washington, D.C. The contest is part of the celebration of April as National Poetry Month.

“In a world inundated with cryptic emails, tweets, IMing, sound bites and blips, it is glorious fun to spend an evening reveling in the spoken word and the literary contributions of American poets thanks to the Poetry Out Loud program,” said Ginny Brush, executive director of the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission, which organizes and hosts the event each year.

Paul Willis, Santa Barbara’s poet laureate, will serve as the emcee of Wednesday evening’s event. A stellar panel of judges including David Starkey, Santa Barbara poet laureate emeritus, and published poets Chryss Yost and Carol DeCanio will bring their expertise to evaluating and judging the competition.

Last year, 20 high school students competed in the Arts Commission’s countywide Poetry Out Loud Competition held in the county Board of Supervisors’ hearing room in Santa Barbara. Courtney Cambron, a sophomore at Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta took first place in the competition and went on to compete in Sacramento at the state level.

In 2009, Santa Barbara County Poetry Out Loud winner Spencer Klavan, a senior at Laguna Blanca School, went on to win at the state finals in Sacramento and represented California at the National Poetry Out Loud competition.

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. Faculty members William Woodard from Dos Pueblos High School, Ben Rothstein of Pioneer Valley High School in Santa Maria, Bojana Hill of Laguna Blanca School, and Sojourner Kincaid-Rolle of Rincon and Carpinteria high schools have all been busy engaging their students in preparation for Wednesday’s competition.

“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, past 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.”

Wednesday’s event will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Board of Supervisors hearing room on the fourth floor of the County Administration Building, 105 E. Anapamu St. in Santa Barbara.

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

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