by Tony Payne
The Bartlett was standing-room-only Wednesday night, as over a hundred people gathered to watch eleven students from high schools around eastern Washington compete in this year’s Poetry Out Loud Regional Competition. The finalists from the evening, Wesley Thomas of Quincy High School and Lillian Cooley of Liberty Bell High School, will move on to the Washington State Finals at the Broadway Center for the Arts in Tacoma next month for the chance to compete in the National Finals. Get Lit! congratulates Lillian and Wesley and wishes them the best of luck in the next rounds!
The students took the stage to recite two poems each, and their selections ranged from the contemporary (like Tony Hoagland’s “Personal” and Jane Hirshfield’s “The Promise”) to the classic (such as John Donne’s “Death, be not proud” and Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18- Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”). Under the stage lights and the rapt eyes of the audience, each brought his or her poems off the page and to life.
While poetry and competition might not seem like they go hand in hand, three local poets— Thom Caraway, Ellen Welcker, and Ginger Ewing— were on hand as this year’s judges to evaluate the students’ performances on five categories: physical presence, voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness, evidence of understanding, and overall performance. The evening would not have been possible without the judges, so Get Lit! has got to give a big thanks to Thom, Ellen and Ginger for supporting the next generation of poets!
Speaking of local poets without whom this event would not have been possible, Kate Peterson, poet and instructor at EWU, is also Poetry Out Loud Coordinator, and she’s been working tirelessly since the fall to coordinate POL throughout eastern Washington and to make sure the finals went off without a hitch Wednesday— which they did! The finals were emceed by another local poet and EWU instructor, Aileen Keown Vaux, who put her engaging personality and strong voice to good use in keeping the festivities moving.
One local poet made a surprise appearance as the participants’ final scores were calculated: Washington’s new Poet Laureate Tod Marshall! He was on hand to offer advice on how these budding poets might themselves become Poets Laureate some time in the future, but the humble Gonzaga University professor claimed that based on the performances he’d seen that night, each of the high-schoolers was closer to poetic greatness than he’d been at their age. Marshall was also kind enough to invite each of the participants to recite their poems at a reading he was giving the next night at Gonzaga, and three of them did! Get Lit! thanks Tod Marshall for his support of Poetry Out Loud and his continual support of the arts!
The poets had been practicing since the fall with teachers who’d incorporated Poetry Out Loud into their English curriculum. It’s thanks to their dedication that poetry has become a living experience for not just these eleven finalists, but for classrooms of students throughout eastern Washington. For all their hard work and continued support of POL, Get Lit! thanks the teachers who bring Poetry Out Loud into the lives of young people.
The event was generously sponsored by the gorgeous Bartlett, which in its two-plus years in Spokane has created a wonderful space for local artists and nationally-recognized touring acts, and also by Auntie’s Bookstore, who donated gift certificates to each of the participating students, and by Rocket Bakery, who donated gift cards to the teachers who’d brought Poetry Out Loud into their classrooms.
The future of the Inland Northwest arts scene is bright, thanks to the fine, young poets who stood under the bright lights Wednesday and all of the people and local businesses supporting them. Get Lit! Programs is proud to be the eastern Washington Poetry Out Loud coordinator, a program of the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, administered in Washington by the Washington State Arts Commission.