Union Democrat staff

The Tuolumne County Arts Alliance will hold its eighth annual Poetry Out Loud finals Tuesday to determine the new county champion who will go on to defend last year’s win at the state final.

Levi Lowe, last year’s county and state champion, is participating in a foreign exchange program in Italy and cannot defend his title.

Poetry Out Loud is an annual high school poetry recitation contest sponsored nationally by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, and statewide by the California Arts Council. During the past 10 years, Poetry Out Loud has reached more than 3 million students, more than 9,500 high schools and thousands of teachers across the country.

It is a pyramid-style competition that begins with school contests, then county, state and the national final in Washington D.C., where $50,000 in awards and school stipends will be distributed.

Last Sunday, county finalists recited “Let America Be America Again,” by Langston Hughes, at the Mother Lode Martin Luther King Jr. celebration.

The Tuolumne County Final features 10 school finalists representing five county high schools: Don Pedro High, Connections Academy, Sonora High, Summerville High, Tioga High, and home school students.

The finalists are: Aaron David, Franziska Daumberger, Jaden Eversole, Phoenix Farris, Savannah Garcia, Merana Haven, Gabrielle Icardo, Min Kerr-Schifrin, Patrick McConnell, and Makayla Wheeler.

The competition will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 2, at the Sonora High School Auditorium. The contest starts promptly at 6 p.m. and is free to the public.

The finalists will each recite a poem in the first two rounds of the contest. The students with the highest scores will go on to a third and final round, where the winner and runners-up will be determined. There will be cash prizes for the first three places and gift bags awarded to all the finalists.

The judges will score the students on areas such as “physical presence, voice and articulation, evidence of understanding and dramatic appropriateness.”

All poems recited must be selected from the Poetry Out Loud anthology of more than 900 classical and modern poems and they must be recited from memory.

There is a distinguished panel of judges this year that includes Julia Connor, former Poet Laureate of Sacramento; Jim Toner, English professor at Columbia College; Sara Jones, managing director of Sierra Repertory Theatre; Wayne DeGennaro, retired English teacher; and Jonathon Bermea, two-time county Poetry Out Loud champion. Brenda Chapman, superintendent of Jamestown schools, will be the accuracy judge.

The Tuolumne County winner will go on to the state contest Feb. 28 and 29 in Sacramento, competing with winners from 50 other California counties at the contest this year. The winner of the state will go on to compete with students from all 50 states and three U.S. territories.

Organizers are hopeful that this year’s state winner could once again be from Tuolumne County.