High school students from Bret Harte and Calaveras High School competed in a poetry competition at the Calaveras Performing Arts Center on Wednesday, Feb. 9. 

A total of six students were present for the competition. First place was awarded to Bret Harte High School sophomore Rebecca Hungerford, who will go on to the state competition in the spring. Second place went to Calaveras High School senior Sage Miller, and in third place was Calaveras High sophomore Franklin Benevedes. The three other competitors were Anastacia Sharp, Kristina Stensland, and Carson Blodgett, all from Bret Harte.

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Bret Harte High School sophomore Rebecca Hungerford won first place, and will go on to the state competition in the spring. 

“Poetry Out Loud, presented by the Calaveras County Arts Council and organized by Ingrid Hjelmervik, in partnership with the California Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Poetry Foundation, is part of a national program that encourages high school students to learn about great poetry through memorization, performance, and competition,” states the Calaveras County Arts Council website.

The Arts Council has been bringing the Poetry Out Loud program to Calaveras County schools for four years, beginning in 2019. Director Kathy Mazzaferro told the students on Wednesday, “We are grateful and proud of all of you for participating in Poetry Out Loud.” While this year was a little different than previous years, it is still an opportunity for students to learn about poetry, recitation, and public speaking.

“This program helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about literary history and contemporary life,” reads the program's website.

First-place winner Hungerford, who will represent Calaveras County at the state competition next month, recited two poems in front of the small crowd of judges, teachers, and the Arts Council director and staff. She performed “The Properly Scholarly Attitude” by Adelaide Crapsey for round 1, and “Meditation on a Grapefruit'' by Craig Arnold for round 2. These and all of the poems recited by students were selected from a collection, which can be found on the Poetry Out Loud website.

The three winners received monetary awards from the Calaveras Arts Council, in order of placement: $300 for first, $60 for second, and $40 for third place. 

Director Mazzaferro told the students before announcing the winner, “We will help you and do everything we can for the champion’s video presentation to Sacramento. … If you were going to Sacramento, we would encourage you to get a manicure, get your hair cut, buy a new outfit, buy a shirt and tie…whatever it takes to give you the most confidence.”

Normally, the champion would go to Sacramento for three days to compete against 53 other champions from all over California and would stay at a hotel for two nights. The state would pay for the first, and the Arts Council would pay for the second night. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, the in-person event was canceled for 2022. Instead, Calaveras County champion Hungerford will send in a video of her poetry reading to be judged virtually.

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The three Calaveras winners received monetary awards from the Calaveras Arts Council, in order of placement: $300 for first, $60 for second, and $40 for third. 

Each Calaveras student who presented also received a coffee card and pizza, and the three students who didn’t place were given a book of poetry by award-winning Amanda Gorman, who is the youngest poet in history to have performed at a U.S. presidential inauguration. Competition judge and educator Linda Toren, who gifted the books to the students, called Gorman “someone who performs poetry in the most fabulous way.”

Also competing in the state competition will be the Tuolumne County winner, Summerville High School student Alissa DeAnda. DeAnda recited “Diameter” by Michelle Y. Burke, “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus, and “Cartoon Physics, Part 1” by Nick Flynn at the competition held by Tuolumne County Arts (TCA). DeAnda was chosen to represent Tuolumne ahead of eight other students who performed at the Feb. 8 competition at the Fallon House Theater in Columbia. The participating students included runner-up Lindsey Holland from Summerville, Valerie Harris, also from Summerville, Tioga students Dana Brandau and Isabelle Cook, and Carmela David, Hannah Husher, Om Patel, and Sarai Saucedo, from Sonora, according to a press release from TCA.

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Nine students from three Tuolumne schools also participated in Poetry Out Loud this year, with Summerville student Alissa DeAnda heading to the state competition.

The California state competition will be held virtually on Mar. 6-7. According to capoetryoutloud.org, “California's Poetry Out Loud is the largest event of its kind in the U.S. … The 2021 competition series encompassed 47 counties, 208 schools, and 416 teachers, reaching more than 10,000 students statewide.” 

According to the website, the California champion will receive a $200 cash prize and $500 “for their school to purchase literary materials.” Second place for the state competition will earn the student a $100 prize and $200 for the school.

Students who go on to the national competition compete for college scholarship funds, including a $20,000 award for the national champion, $10,000 for second place, $5,000 for third place, and $1,000 for fourth through ninth places. Each of the top nine finalists will also earn $500 for their schools to put towards literary supplies. An additional honorable mention award will be given to one student at each of three semifinals earning those three students a $1,000 cash award and $500 for their school.

The state champion would also normally receive an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., to attend the national finals; however, the national event will be held virtually this spring due to Covid. The national Poetry Out Loud semifinals are set to stream online at arts.gov on Sunday, May 1, while the finals will stream on Sunday, June 5.

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Marie-Elena studied creative writing, art, and photography at University of Nebraska at Omaha, graduating with a BA in Studio Art -Visual Media. She moved to California from Nebraska in 2019 and is happy to call Calaveras County her home.

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