Well-spoken student heads to national poetry contest
- Rob Cullivan
- Gresham Outlook - Features
Senior Ian Jones wins at state level of Poetry Out Loud
At one point in the Poetry Out Loud competition, Ian Jones almost forgot the words he was supposed to recite.
'My mind was racing, and I nearly cracked,' he says. 'But the words came to me at the last moment, and I finished the poem strongly.'
Jones, a senior at the Center for Advanced Learning in Gresham, finished so strongly, he's now the Oregon 2007 Poetry Out Loud champion.
The state competition took place Saturday, March 10, in the Salem Public Library. The competitors were judged on such criteria as volume, voice inflection, evidence of understanding, level of difficulty, accuracy and eye contact.
More than 1,500 Oregon students participated in Poetry Out Loud this year, according to the Oregon Arts Commission, which co-sponsored the event along with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation. All contestants prepared poems from a 400-poem anthology provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, the commission says.
This is the second year of the Poetry Out Loud competition, and its the second time a student from The Center for Advanced Learning has been named state champion. Last year's champion, Michael Santiago, was one of the 12 national finalists, the commission says.
As winner of this year's competition, Jones takes home $200 and an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C., for himself and a chaperone. His school receives a $500 stipend for the purchase of poetry books.
Jones, who attends Gresham High School, says he plans to travel to Washington with his parents and both his grandmothers.
In Washington, Jones will represent Oregon against 50 other winners from throughout the country. The national competition takes place from Monday through Tuesday, April 30-May 1, at George Washington University and awards a total of $44,000 in prize money to 12 finalists, with the top prize being $20,000.
Jones says he's looking forward to the next level of competition.
'Anytime you're up on that stage to do, of all things, poetry, you're going to have an adrenaline rush that's a force to be reckoned with,' he says. 'However, if you can get into the groove and let the poem do the talking, it's an amazing feeling.'
He also says he'll be 'doubly sure' his poems are memorized, so he won't draw a blank, as he did in Salem.
'From here on out, I expect that that adrenaline rush will soon be coming back as I walk onto the stage at George Washington University, but I know how to harness it and turn it into raw poetic power,' he says.
In Salem, Jones recited 'Litany' by Billy Collins, 'To a Mouse' by Robert Burns, and 'Ikebana' by Cathy Song. Jones credited his junior year English teacher, Rita Ramstad, as well as his English teacher this year, Mark Turner, for working with him prior to the competition, inspiring him to 'bring it on!'
Jones says Ramstad recommended he recite 'Litany,' a humorous take on praising someone with metaphors.
'To a Mouse' contains the famous lines, 'The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men/Gang aft agley (often go awry).' The line inspired the title of John Steinbeck's novel, 'Of Mice and Men,' which Jones read when he was younger.
'To a Mouse' is part of the foreword for the book, 'and I never forgot that little passage,' Jones says.
'I love the fact that it was completely written in a Scottish accent, which I was able to emulate with moderate accuracy,' he says of Burns' work. 'It's a serious poem, but it's fun to perform.'
In the competition's final round, Jones says he decided to recite 'Ikebana' because it was so different from the previous poems he had recited.
Written by Song, an Asian-American, the poem is named after the Japanese art of flower arrangement, and reads like instructions to a woman, possibly a geisha, preparing herself to meet a man.
'Contrast is key to success - doing one style of poem all the time shows that you're good at that style, but there's no representation for the many other styles out there,' Jones says.
More about Poetry Out Loud
Poetry Out Loud encourages high school students to learn about great poetry through memorization, performance and competition. More than 200,000 students across the country took part in Poetry Out Loud this year.
For more information about Poetry Out Loud in Oregon, visit www.poetryoutloud.org, or call Vicki Poppen, arts education coordinator, Oregon Arts Commission, at 503-986-0085, or e-mail [email protected]