From left: Poetry Out Loud participants Dylan Martinelli, Abigail Sainsbury, Katie Epps (champion), and Downieville High School English teacher Niecea Freeman. Photo submitted

Sierra County names Poetry Out Loud winners

The Sierra County Poetry Out Loud finals are now complete, and the county has a champion to compete in the state finals competition. This is the fourth year that Sierra County has participated in the event.

Begun in 2005, Poetry Out Loud is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts, administered statewide by the California Arts Council, and locally by the Sierra County Arts Council. Sierra County began its participation during the 2018-2019 school year.

Poetry Out Loud involves high school students in the memorization and recitation of poetry. Through their efforts, they master speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about literary history and contemporary life. In the lead-up to this year’s competition, as Sierra County students chose which poems they would memorize and recite, they were encouraged to spend time getting to know the poet and the world of the poet, to spend time with the poem looking at all of its details (title, length, meter, punctuation, word selection, literary and historical references, pronunciation, etc.), and then to decide how they would become the voice of the poet, speaking through the poem.

When planning for this year’s competition began, it was thought that all levels of Poetry Out Loud (county, state, and national) would be able to go back to an in-person format. It was only after students had committed themselves to the competition that decisions were made at every level to continue with the virtual format that had been used over the previous two years.


Therefore, for the county competition, the students were required to submit recitation videos of two poems, selected from an anthology of over 1,100 poems on the website. The videos were individually viewed by three criteria judges and an accuracy judge, whose scores were then tabulated to determine the results of the competition. Those results and the accompanying rewards ($250 for first place, $150 for second place, and $100 for third place) were announced at a Poetry Out Loud ceremony at Downieville High School on Feb. 15.

The County Champion is Katie Epps, who recited “Life in a Love”, by Robert Browning, and “And I wonder where you are”, by Tanaya Winder. Finishing in second place was Abigail Sainsbury, who recited “A Song: Lying is an occupation”, by Laetitia Pilkington, and “Caged Bird”, by Maya Angelou. The third-place finisher was Dylan Martinelli, who recited “Acquainted with the Night”, by Robert Frost, and “We Lived Happily During the War”, by Ilya Kaminsky.

Katie Epps, as County Champion, will now prepare to represent Sierra County in the state competition, which will also be held virtually. For this competition, she must memorize and recite three poems, and is facing a deadline of March 7 for her virtual submissions. Additionally, she is invited to submit a written poem of her own creation, as part of the Poetry Ourselves competition. This poem will be judged solely on it written submission, not as a recitation.

Without the dedicated effort of several people, this local program would not be possible. BJ Jordan, Executive Director of the Sierra County Arts Council, serves as the partnership link with the California Arts Council, facilitates guidance for the program, and provides the cash awards. Niecea Freeman, Downieville High School English teacher, was the one who provided encouragement, direction, and support to students involved in the program. This year’s Criteria Judges were Carl Butz, Peggy Daigle, and Tessa Jackson. Mindy Strine served as Accuracy Judge. The willingness and ability to do their judging remotely made the competition possible.

From left: Criteria Judges Peggy Daigle, Tessa Jackson, Carl Butz, and Sierra County Arts Council Executive Director BJ Jordan. Photo submitted