Calaveras High School junior Marco Rincon won first place in the countywide Poetry Out Loud competition on Feb. 22 and will go on to compete in the state championship in March.
The state championship will again be held virtually instead of at the state capitol as in previous years pre-Covid. Rincon received a $300 stipend from the Calaveras Arts Council, which has sponsored the program in Calaveras County since 2019.
New this year, a Poetry Out Loud trophy will be given to the school that places the highest. Kathy Mazzaferro, director of Calaveras Arts Council, announced prior to judging that a new “trophy that celebrates the arts” will be passed back and forth between the high schools, adding more incentive to the competitors to “take home the trophy to their school.”
Eleven high school students from both Bret Harte Union High School (BHUHS) and Calaveras High School (CHS) competed in the competition, which requires students to memorize and recite poetry chosen from a database of over 900 pre-selected poems.
BHUHS sophomore Sarah Edwards received a $150 reward as runnerup, and second-runner-up BHUHS junior Rebecca Hungerford, who won last year’s local competition, received $75.
Each student who competed also received a certificate of participation from the state, a gift card from local coffee chain Day-O, and a book of poetry from Poetry Out Loud judge and Calaveras County Poet Laureate Linda Toren.
During the competition, Rincon received praise for his emotional recitation of “On the Death of Anne Brontë” by 19th-century English poet Charlotte Brontë and his powerful rendition of 20th-century African American author Langston Hughes’ poem about racial injustice and patriotism titled “I, too.”
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
They’ll see how beautiful
And be ashamed—
I, too, am America, reads
the second half of Hughes’
Applause erupted following Rancon’s fraught delivery. Rancon says that he enjoys theater and performing. Rancon says consuming “a lot of movies” have helped him learn the art, along with support from his friends and his mom, who he says “is really honest.”
Following the performances, judges were given a chance to comment. Former Bret Harte math teacher Noel Helmbrecht told the students, “I always have problems with your choices. I love some, I don’t love others. … Now I appreciate every one of these poems better.”
“I appreciate your effort, and I appreciate you making those poems more meaningful to me now, so thank you,” said Helmbrecht.
It’s the process of seeing the students grow as they learn the poem that gives meaning to their choices, says Helmbrecht.
Student participants in this year’s Poetry Out Loud competition include BHUHS students Rebecca Hungerford, Sarah Edwards, Madelyn Freer, Anastacia Sharp, and Abby Fuqua; and CHS students Rhea Threet, Skye Ripley, Fathom Williamson, Anastacia Sharp, Serenity Miller, Marco Rincon, and Franklin Benevedes. Judges were Lorraine Angel, Teresa Fasola, Noel Helmbrecht, Neil Hjelmervik, Greg McInturf, Lisa McInturf, Linda Toren, and Tamara Thein.
The California Poetry Out Loud championship will be held virtually with students uploading three video recitations, and judging to take place March 19 and 20. From there, the state champion will go on to compete nationally in Washington, D.C., in May.
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