Poetry Out Loud

Summerville High School junior Paige Gervin (left) won first place in the countywide competition for Poetry Out Loud for 2021. Summerville High School junior Valerie Harris (right), last year's county winner, took second place in the competition this year.

Though the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has stunted the normal procedures for the annual Poetry Out Loud competition, this year's county champion, a junior from Summerville High School, said she relished the opportunity to perform.

"It has been a very exciting experience for me," said first place winner Paige Gervin. "I do a lot of acting. It's a really good way to express myself. It's a good outlet for me."  

Gervin recited three poems, "Barter" by Sara Teasdale, "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley and "To have without holding" by Marge Piercy, on Saturday during the countywide competition, which was hosted at the Tuolumne County Superintendent of Schools Office.

Gervin said she was inspired to choose the poems because they inspired her to "be happy and give all to life, as much as you can out of it."

"They really spoke to me in our situation right now," she added.

Poetry Out Loud, which has a successful storied history in the county over more than a decade, was reconfigured this year due to the pandemic.

Typically, the poems are performed live in front of an audience. This year, seven students who advanced to the county-level competition performed in front of green screens on two seperate floors of the county schools office and were watched digitally by about 40 members of the public and the judges. 

The competitors were separated by COVID protocols.

"Given the complications and untraditional, unusual circumstances, I was just grateful we were able to hold the competition at all and as many people competed as they did," said Poetry Out Loud Coordinator Holly Britton. "I think there was a special sense of camaraderie this year because so few competed, but the people that did were so committed. That was really noted when the winner was announced and people were able to tell me how proud they were of Paige and the others for working hard at doing what they did." 

In January, 14 students participated in the high school-level event, which was also hosted virtually. In the county competition, six students from Summerville High School and one from Sonora participated.

Poetry Out Loud is hosted locally by Tuolumne County Arts with help from the Sonora Area Foundation and Front Porch. 

The California Arts Council, the Poetry Foundation and the National Endowment run Poetry Out Loud at a state and national level.

Tuolumne County has been represented twice in the national finals by Levi Lowe, then a student at Sonora Union High School. He won the state final in 2015 and 2017.

Gervin is now preparing for the state competition, which will have submitted recorded poems instead of live recitations. The results of the event will be announced on March 12.

"It makes me a little bit nervous, because I want to be able to show off my school and represent us well," she said. "I have a chance to really perfect it with my coach there." 

Gervin will be coached for the state competition by Rick Foster, one of the people "instrumental" in assisting Lowe to the nationals, Britton said.  

"It's been very difficult for Poetry Out Loud on all levels, but this is great for everyone," Britton said.

All the top scorers this year were from Summerville High School. 

Alissa DeAnda was third place; Valerie Harris was second place and Gervin was first place.

The dates of the national competition have not been announced, Britton said, though she said she hopes another Tuolumne County student will make it.

Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at gricapito@uniondemocrat.net or (209) 588-4526.

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