Kiara Chatman advances to state finals in competition that emphasizes language skill and public speaking
In a remarkable achievement, Kiara Chatman, a senior at Deer Valley High in Antioch, took first place in the Contra Costa County “Poetry Out Loud” competition for the second year in a row. The event was held in the lovely Las Lomas High School Theatre in Walnut Creek on February 11th. The Runner-up position went to senior Camila Morales-Jimenez from El Cerrito High in El Cerrito, and Third Place to sophomore Wesley Little from Monte Vista High in Danville.
The three were among thousands of students across the state to participate in the national recitation contest, a program started by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and run by the California Arts Council and locally by the Arts & Culture Commission of Contra Costa County (AC5) to engage high-school students in the presentation of poetry through memorization and performance. Chatman advances to the California state finals in Sacramento on March 12 & 13. At stake are hundreds of dollars on the state competition level and thousands at the national finals of Poetry Out Loud.
This is Contra Costa’s tenth year of Poetry Out Loud competition, and many attendees commented that the recitations just keep getting better and better. Among the many fine recitations, Ms. Chatman’s “The Gaffe” by C.K. Williams, Ms. Morales-Jimenez’s “One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII” by Pablo Neruda and Mr. Little’s “Cartoon Physics, part 1” by Nick Flynn helped secure the final outcome.
The very competitive pool of finalists included students from eleven county high schools: College Park High in Pleasant Hill, Deer Valley High in Antioch, El Cerrito High in El Cerrito, Independence High in Brentwood, Las Lomas High in Walnut Creek, Monte Vista High in Danville, Northgate High in Walnut Creek, Pinole Valley High in Pinole, Truthtrackers Co-Op in Walnut Creek and Making Waves Academy and Salesian College Preparatory, both in Richmond. Countywide, over 2500 students memorized a poem for the program this year.
“To learn a great poem by heart is to make a friend for life,” said John Barr, president of the Poetry Foundation. “The national recitation program brings fresh energy to an ancient art form by returning it to the classrooms of America.”
The Poetry Out Loud program seeks to foster the next generation of literary readers by capitalizing on the latest trends in poetry: recitation and performance. Poetry Out Loud competitions start in the classroom, then at the school, region, state, and national finals, similar to the structure of the spelling bee. The national initiative is part of an attempt to bring literary arts to students, a critical need in U.S. schools, according to a 2004 NEA report Reading at Risk that found a dramatic decline in literary reading, especially among younger readers.