On February 6, 2020, the El Dorado County Poetry Out Loud championships were held at Imagination Theater. The tension was palpable and the excitement absorbing as five local high school students took the stage to compete for the privilege of advancing to the state Poetry Out Loud Finals in Sacramento.
The evening began with a welcome and introduction of the VIP panel of local celebrity judges. These included Laura Bonham, Board of Directors and Treasurer at Imagination Theater; Darin Coelho, Manager of The Bookery on Main Street in Placerville; Jody Franklin, Executive Director of Tourism at El Dorado County Visitor’s Authority; Taylor Graham, Poet and El Dorado County Poet Laureate Emerita; Chris Knopp, Artist and Board member at Arts and Culture El Dorado; Cleve Morris, City Manager of the City of Placerville; Suzanne Roberts, El Dorado County Poet Laureate; and Tiffany Van Camp, Co-Founder of See The Elephant, all of whom were trained and prepared for the challenge of assessing these remarkable students. Each of these judges took time from their otherwise busy schedules to learn the evaluation criteria c the Poetry Foundation and includes accuracy, physical presence, voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness, and evidence of understanding. It is often the case, as it was on this evening, that the difference between final scores are very close, with a point in a single category skewing the results in favor of one competitor over another.
Representing their respective schools with authority, aplomb, and reverence for the written word were Jordan Freer of El Dorado High School, Shavonne Kelley of Charter University Prep, Paula Rabell from Oak Ridge High School, Naomi Smith from Ponderosa High School, and Kaden Steward representing Golden Sierra High School, each of them delivering recitations worthy of the title El Dorado County Poetry Out Loud Champion. In the end, however, a winner had to emerge. And so, after much consideration based on the given criteria, confirmation of individual results, and final tabulation, third, second, and first place winners were announced. Taking home third place honors was 2019 El Dorado County Poetry Out Loud Champion, Oak Ridge High School’s Paula Rabell. Winning the second place trophy and the rank of runner-up at the State Finals was Naomi Smith from Ponderosa High School. The 2020 El Dorado County Poetry Out Loud Champion was revealed to be Jordan Freer representing El Dorado High School, who delivered powerful and animated recitations of “How to Triumph Like a Girl” by Ada Limon and “America, I Sing You Back” by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke.
Taylor Graham El Dorado County Poet Laureate Emerita graced the audience with a reading of “Getting the Poem to Heart,” a piece that she wrote musing on Poetry Out Loud several years ago. With the audience properly warmed up and attuned to hearing poetry, the contestants took the stage one at a time, reciting poems such as “Enough” by Suzanne Buffam; “Sonnet 29” by William Shakespeare, and “Acquainted with the Night” by Robert Frost. During the interval between recitations, while the judging panel did the work of evaluating each competitor, local guitarist Anna Daisy Kerr played beautiful music for the waiting and appreciative crowd.
Freer is no stranger to Poetry Out Loud. Not only has she competed in previous years, she had this anecdote to share when asked about what Poetry Out Loud means to her: “When I was seven years old, I went to my first Poetry Out Loud competition with my mom and told her that night that I wanted to be up there someday. I’m so grateful to have that opportunity now and so proud to get to represent El Dorado County!”
Laura Bonham, Board of Directors and Treasurer, Imagination Theater
Darin Coelho Manager, The Bookery
Chris Knopp, Board of Directors,
Arts and Culture El Dorado
Tiffany Van Camp, Founder, See The Elephant
Suzanne Roberts, Poet, Travel Writer, and El Dorado County Poet Laureate
Cleve Morris, City Manager, City of Placerville
Jody Franklin, Executive Director of Tourism, El Dorado County Visitor’s Authority
California boasts the largest Poetry Out Loud competition in the country. Since 2005 participation has grown steadily with 54 of 58 counties in the state competing. The State Finals will be held on March 15-16 in Sacramento. The two-day event is open to the public and will be held from approximately 9:30 am to 6:00 pm on Sunday, March 15, at the Tsakopoulos Library Galleria in downtown Sacramento, and from 9:00 am to noon on Monday, March 16, at the State Capitol. The California State winner will proceed to the National Finals, which will be held April 27-29, 2020 in Washington, D.C.