While the streets were empty on Sunday, Feb. 4, as much of Plumas County prepared for Super Bowl parties, a few brave and thoughtful souls prepared to recite and discuss poetry instead.
Plumas Arts Gallery hosted the second annual Poetry Out Loud competition for high school students in Plumas County.
Though sparsely attended — the two schools sending high school students this year were Quincy High and Portola High — the quality of the contest and the content of the discussion afterward more than made up for attendance.
Benjamin Heaney of QHS will represent Plumas County in the statewide competition in Sacramento on March 18 and 19. He recited and gave a dramatic interpretation of the World War I era poem “Break of Day in the Trenches,” by Isaac Rosenburg.
Heaney will compete against students from the 57 other counties in the state, reciting at least two poems.
Ally Whitefield of Portola High School was the runner up in the contest. She recited Robert Frost’s iconic “Fire and Ice” poem. Whitefield won the competition last year as a freshman. She was the youngest competitor in the statewide competition in 2017.
Judges Cary Walters, the Plumas Arts education coordinator, and Feather River College English professor Will Lombardi judged the contest.
Lombardi led a discussion on nature poetry and expressed his enthusiasm to witness high school students enjoying poetry.
“It excites me that students are reading poetry,” Lombardi said. “Connecting young students with poetry [helps give] them a deeper meaning in words.”
Lombardi also read poems by American poets Mary Oliver and June Jordan.
Heaney was excited to have won. He has a busy spring ahead of him as he’s also student directing a play at QHS.
Whitefield offered Heaney some advice and what to expect when he heads to the competition in March. “It was super fun and everyone was really nice,” she said. She looked at videos on the website of previous winners as part of her strategy. Whitefield had always been horrified of public speaking and last year’s contest made her jump out of her comfort zone.
The nationwide high school competition is sponsored by the Poetry Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Local support for the competition is given annually by Plumas Arts with support from the California Arts Council.
There will be teacher trainings in poetry and poetry recitation offered by Plumas Arts in August 2018 in the hopes that teachers can incorporate those lessons into their fall lesson plans.
Poetry Out Loud fulfills some National Council of Teaching of English standards. It also aligns with Common Core standards depending on how teachers want to structure lesson plans, according to the national website poetryoutloud.org. The site also provides lesson plans for teachers, and video examples for students as well as tips on great recitation.