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Kathy Mazzafero, executive director of the Calaveras County Arts Council, presents awards at the Calaveras County leg of the Poetry Out Loud competition at Calaveras High School on Feb. 4.

Sage Miller is heading to the Sacramento state competition for Poetry Out Loud after winning the Calaveras County leg this month. The 10th grader from Calaveras High School was awarded an all-expenses-paid trip to Sacramento for her and her parents as well as a $300 stipend for winning the competition.

Sage beat out nine other contestants at the competition, after gaining eligibility in an earlier round, to win first place. During the competition she had to recite two poems of her choosing in front of the audience.

“It helps with their poise and confidence,” said Ingrid Hjelmervik, who organizes the competition for students from Calaveras and Bret Harte high schools. The stipend is provided by the Calaveras County Arts Council. She also added that this competition gives non-athletes a platform to excel while also practicing memorization and public speaking, part of the English standards.

Grace Daniel (runner up) won a $50 cash prize at the competition, and Sydney Button was the second runner-up taking home $25. Both students are also from CHS.

“I was first introduced to Poetry Out loud in my ninth-grade English class,” Miller said. “At first, I didn’t think it was of any interest to me, but as I started reading more poetry, I came across ‘The Layers’ by Stanley Kunitz. I immediately felt a connection, it was indescribable, like a story that was written for my life.”

After that first experience with poetry Miller became more interested in it, treating each story as a riddle she could decode to learn more about the author. It also inspired Miller to start a poetry club at school to connect with other students through poetry, and to offer support to students who wanted to compete in this year’s competition.

Her English teacher, Cynthia Van Buren, was the first person who encouraged her to join the competition last year.

“Sage is an extremely dedicated student who stands out for her inquisitive nature and her analytical abilities when it comes to determining the meaning of text,” said Van Buren, who has taught Sage two years in a row, first in her English 1 class as a freshmen and now in her English II Honors class as a sophomore. “She has taken these abilities and applied them to poetry with great success.”

At the Calaveras competition, Miller recited two poems that she had to memorize prior to the event, “Tonight I Can Almost Hear the Singing” by Silvia Curbelo and “Diameter” by Michelle Y. Burke. As of press time she hadn’t decided what three poems to read at the Sacramento competition.

“I can’t say enough about Sage and her efforts to succeed. She is one of those students who always goes above and beyond. She holds high expectations for herself and she finds success through hard work and determination,” Van Buren said.

Poetry Out Loud has had a lot of benefits for Miller so far.

“From Poetry Out Loud I gained the confidence to speak in front of others since before then I was deathly afraid of public speaking. And I also gained a love of poetry, and an opportunity to meet new people who shared that same love,” she said.

Miller will be competing again at the state level in Sacramento on March 15. She had the opportunity to watch the event last year and said the contestants came very prepared, but she is trying to keep her nerves at bay.

“I am just hoping to represent Calaveras the best I can,” she said.


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