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Spencer Klavan Well-Versed as California’s Poetry Champion

Laguna Blanca senior wins state's Poetry Out Loud competition, sets sights on national title

When Spencer Klavan first decided to try out this little thing called Poetry Out Loud a year ago, he didn’t really know exactly what he was getting into.

Spencer Klavan
Spencer Klavan

“I had no idea how far it went,” said the Laguna Blanca senior, who was introduced to the contest through a teacher. So, on a whim, and because he liked poetry and theater, he joined the contest. And made it to the state finals.

“I was just sort of shocked at all the stuff there was,” Klavan said. Turns out, he was in the middle of a heated competition between students from different counties vying for the same chance to make it to the national level.

He didn’t place at that competition, but he did come home with a better idea of the contest. This year, when he decided to enter, the odds were stacked higher against him: there wasn’t enough interest at the local level to even hold the competition.

Luckily, Santa Barbara’s poet laureate got in on the action and furthered the cause of poetry in the community. Perie Longo managed to drum up enough interest and excitement to get a local contest going.

“So again it was like, ‘Oh, well, I guess I’ll do it,’” said Klavan. “Again I went to the state (finals) thinking ‘I have no chance. This is ridiculous.’”

He had more than a chance, however, and found himself in a sudden-death competition for first place, with Kylie Batlin, a student from Pacific Grove High in Monterey County, who had the additional edge of being able to sing part of her poems.

The judges — Cathy Barber, board president of California Poets in the Schools; Bernard Boudreaux, group manager of community relations for Target Corp.); Sarah Bainter Cunningham, arts education director at the National Endowment for the Arts; Adam Hubbard, council member of the California Arts Council; and Carol Muske-Dukes, a USC English professor and the state Poet Laureate — hadn’t really expected this, said Klavan. They decided to have the two finalists repeat their recitation of one of their poems.

“The thing that helped with doing my poem the second time was that I recited it differently,” he said. His choice for his second recitation was “Madmen,” a free verse poem by Billy Collins, U.S. poet laureate from 2001 to 2003.

At the last minute, Klavan decided to change the voice of one of his characters — quite a daring feat when you’re doing it on the fly in front of five judges — but that made all the difference and Klavan was declared the winner of California’s contest.

Click here to hear Klavan explain his decision, and perform his winning recitation.

“Poetry, to me is one of the most bizarre things in the world just because no matter how you present it, there are more aspects to it than what you’re getting from that presentation,” said Klavan, who is now headed to the Poetry Out Loud National finals in Washington in May. A total of $50,000 in awards and school stipends will be awarded to the winners.

Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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