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Local Students Speak Out with “Poetry Out Loud”

For the third year running El Dorado County high school students are among thousands across the state interpreting, memorizing, and performing classical poetry for Poetry Out Loud, a competition run by the California Arts Council and launched by the Poetry Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. At stake are hundreds of dollars at the state competition level and thousands at the National Finals to be held May 13-15 in Washington, DC.


Poetry Out Loud builds on the recent resurgence of poetry as an oral art form, as demonstrated by the slam poetry movement and the immense popularity of rap music among the nation’s youth. The program encourages students, though the study of poetry, to master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and internalize our rich literary heritage. The response to California Poetry Out Loud has been so overwhelmingly positive that it is now being extended further throughout California. In 2011 thirty-four counties from San Diego to Siskiyou participated. California Poetry Out Loud is open to students in all kinds of high schools— public, private, parochial, independent, charter and home-schooled students.


“This year, because of a generous grant from the Women’s Fund El Dorado, El Dorado Arts Council has been able to recruit four new high school programs into the county’s Poetry Out Loud competition—Union Mine, Independence, El Dorado, and El Dorado Adventist,” says Emogene Marbut, program administrator for the El Dorado Arts Council. “Our rough estimate is that we have over 800 students participating county-wide!”


Area high schools that are recommitting to the program are Ponderosa, Golden Sierra, County Programs, Oak Ridge and Charter Community School’s Home Study Academies I and II. Last March, Rebecca Shields, a senior at Oak Ridge High School, won first place at the county competition and went on to compete against other county winners at the state finals held in Sacramento, advancing into the semi-finals.


A perk of the Poetry Out Loud program is its partnership with California Poets in the Schools (CPITS) which sponsors California poets in the classroom where they offer performance tips on student recitations.


“This year we’re lucky to have award winning poet Shawn Pittard return as a coach at each of our school sites,” says Moira Magneson, Poetry Out Loud coordinator for El Dorado County. “In fact, Shawn just published a beautiful essay in the literary magazine Spillway chronicling his experience with our county’s Poetry Out Loud program.” In the essay, Pittard speaks to the program’s transformative qualities, saying, “I’ve seen poetry matter in the lives of the many high school students I’ve had the privilege to coach. I’ve been a witness to the intimate relationship that develops between between a person and poem.” According to Magneson, one of the fruits of the program is that it “gives students, teachers, and judges the tools to enter a poem, so that now, when they encounter a poem, their response is to jump into it rather than flee.”


Experts see significant benefits from Poetry Out Loud. “The process of memorizing and sounding a poem is identical to learning to play a piece of music by heart,” said Al Young, a former California State Poet Laureate. “A student or anyone else who takes the time to commit a particular poem to memory learns much about that particular voice and the nuances of poetry in general.”


The El Dorado County Poetry Out Loud finals will be held on Tuesday, February 7th, 7:00 p.m. at the Imagination Theater on the county fairgrounds. This event is free and open to the public, with doors opening at 6:30 p.m. Members of the press are invited; please contact Emogene Marbut to RSVP.


For more information on Poetry Out Loud and the El Dorado County competition on February 7th, contact Emogene Marbut. General information can be found at and Reporters interested in more information about the statewide program may contact California Arts Council staff member Patricia Milch at or 916-322-6385.


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