The fifth annual Poetry Out Loud County Finals for Sierra County were held on Friday, February 3, 2023, in the Student Lounge of Downieville High School, with three student participants, and over twenty people in attendance. Poetry Out Loud, an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts, began in 2005 on a national and statewide basis. In California, it is administered by the California Arts Council, and in Sierra County by the Sierra Arts Council.
Poetry Out Loud is a program for high school students that involves memorization and recitation of poetry. Poems are selected from an anthology found on the national Poetry Out Loud website (poetryoutloud.org). The participants’ efforts are judged on physical presence, voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness, evidence of understanding, overall performance, and accuracy.
This year’s county champion is Downieville High School senior, Mia Martinelli, whose two poems were “anthem for my belly after eating too much”, by Kara Jackson, and “Free Radical”, by Alison C. Rollins. Mia will now add a third poem to her repertoire, as she prepares to represent Sierra County in the State Finals, which will again be held as a virtual competition in March. Additionally, as county champion, Mia is invited to submit a written poem of her own creation as part of the state Poetry Ourselves competition.
In second place is Abigail Sainsbury, a Downieville High School sophomore, whose two poems were “April Midnight”, by Arthur Symons, and “Acquainted with the Night”, by Robert Frost. Rounding out this year’s winners, in third place, is Downieville High School senior, Riley Pearmund, whose two poems were “Snow Day”, by Billy Collins, and “Lincoln”, by Vachel Lindsay.
The Sierra County Arts Council presents awards of $250, $150, and $100 to the first, second, and third place winners, respectively. Additionally, in those years when the State Finals are held in person, the Arts Council pays to send the county champion and a chaperone to Sacramento for the event.
As always, the Poetry Out Loud County Finals would not happen without the dedicated and enthusiastic efforts of many people. BJ Jordan, Executive Director of the Sierra County Arts Council, serves as the partnership link with the California Arts Council, writes the grant that funds Poetry Out Loud locally, and facilitates guidance for the program. Irene Frazier, Downieville High School English teacher, provided encouragement, direction, and support to students considering involvement in the program, and especially to those who finally decided to participate. The Criteria Judges this year were Carl Butz and Tessa Jordan. The Accuracy Judge was Mindy Strine. The Scorekeeper was Linda Guffin. And, the Prompter was Lynn Fillo. Their willingness to participate, and the abilities they brought to their respective tasks, made the competition possible. To each and all, we say a most gracious and sincere, “Thank You!”.
And, to our student participants, we echo the words printed on the certificates they received: we honor and celebrate your skill and your courage in “demonstrating the power of the poet in the life of the world”.