“And our winner for this year is …”
Council Chair Nashormeh Lindo smiles before making the big announcement, as a bevy of excited high-schoolers break into a spontaneous drum roll on the Assembly floor.
The 2018 California Poetry Out Loud recitation contest has come down to this moment.
“… Alexis Rangell-Onwuegbuzia!” Lindo finishes with enthusiasm.
The reaction of the room speaks volumes. As cheers erupt on the floor and spread to the gallery above, it’s clear Alexis was a fan favorite, winning the approval of her peers as well as the judges. In a venue like the historic Assembly chambers, where decisions are made each day by representatives of the electorate, the occasion feels fittingly democratic.
An initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts and The Poetry Foundation, administered by the CAC, Poetry Out Loud offers teens the confidence to make themselves heard, with poetry as their medium. Contestants get the chance to better understand and connect with the work of the masters through their own unique interpretation and delivery.
Over the course of the two-day final competition, Alexis captured the hearts and minds of her observers, reciting three poems with style and precision: “If They Should Come for Us,” by Fatimah Asghar, “Chorus Sacerdotum,” by Baron Brooke Fulke Greville, and “The Mortician in San Francisco,” by Randall Mann.
The Orange County senior from Mater Dei High Shcool explains her relationship with poetry as a tool to promote social change on a civic level and within the world of art itself. “The arts give me the courage to express my values with an activist’s voice in the midst of the fear and ignorance residing on both sides of the ‘fourth wall,'” she said.
Sacramento County senior Sage Innerarity of Pleasant Grove High earned the prize of runnerup. Nicholas Panyanouvong, a sophomore at James C. Enochs High in Stanislaus County took third place for the second year in a row.
Poetry Out Loud is a statewide combined effort—this year involving the participation of 46 counties and 261 schools, the encouragement of 783 teachers, and the dedication of 30,000 students. It takes a panel of knowledgeable judges, a cadre of CAC Council Members and staff, a guest appearance from California Poet Laureate and POL founder Dana Gioia, and the backing and encouragement of countless legislators—just to name a few.
But the county finalists are no doubt the stars, and not only for their onstage presence. Their enthusiasm for one another out of the spotlight is all the more extraordinary, as heard in that volcanic moment on the Assembly floor.
“That’s what I love so much about Poetry Out Loud,” explained Chair Nashormeh Lindo. “It is the young people’s camaraderie and genuine support of one another that makes it so much more inspiring. It makes me hopeful, seeing their authentic humanity and respect for one another.”
Alexis will go on to represent California in the national finals next month in Washington, D.C., on April 23-25. We’ll have all the details for you to tune in and watch coming soon.
Congratulations to this year’s winners, and to all the county champions!
For pics, videos, and more from the final event and the state POL program, visit our online HQ for all things California Poetry Out Loud: http://arts.ca.gov/initiatives/pol/index.php.