Local youths shot for the top spot last week

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: KOBBI BLAIR - Taylor Clark, of Oregon School for the Deaf, read 'Adam's Curse' by William Butler Yeats using American Sign Language during the state Poetry Out Loud Contest on March 16.Two 17-year-olds from Lake Oswego delivered passionate performances of renowned lyrical masterpieces during the state Poetry Out Loud competition last Saturday in Salem.

The two young men, Taylor Clark and Steve Rathje, were among nine students who qualified to participate in the poetic showdown through school and regional competitions.

Clark, a senior at Oregon School for the Deaf in Salem, expressed the melancholy stanzas of “Adam’s Curse” by William Butler Yeats using American Sign Language, which employs facial expressions and hand gestures. He was one of six finalists at the state competition.

“I loved having the chance to make people realize that deaf people can do things just as well as hearing people,” Clark said in a text message earlier this week.

Rathje, a Lake Oswego High School junior, offered his take on works including “Sanctuary” by Jean Valentine. He is a member of the Young Professionals program at Oregon Children’s Theatre and represented his school for the second year in a SUBMITTED PHOTO: KOBBI BLAIR - Lake Oswego High School junior Steve Rathje presents 'Sanctuary' by Jean Valentine during the state poetry contest last weekend.

“It was exciting to meet so many people as interested in reciting poetry as I am, and to see how hard they’ve worked to get this far,” Rathje said. “The audience was really supportive of everyone.”

At the event, competitors ages 15 to 18 recite poems they’ve memorized. Judges rate them on physical presence, voice and articulation, difficulty level, accuracy, evidence of understanding, the appropriateness of the dramatization and overall performance.

“I learned how to present myself better in front of an audience, how to convey my meaning to the spectators and several things related with performing,” said Clark, who plans to attend Gallaudet University in Washington and to be a teacher.

The Oregon Arts Commission runs Poetry Out Loud and started holding its events in 2006. The winner of this year’s state competition is 17-year-old Troutdale resident Rosie Reyes, of the Center for Advanced Learning in Gresham. Reyes heads to Washington, D.C., for the national competition. Deborah Vaughn, Poetry Out Loud coordinator, said anyone who made it to the state level had triumphed in a long series of school and regional Poetry Out Loud contests.

“By the time they get to state, these kids are already winners,” said Vaughn.

This year’s state Poetry Out Loud judges were Mike Chaser, assistant professor of English at Willamette University; Scott Poole, poet and founding director of Wordstock, a Portland literary festival; and Crystal Williams, associate professor of creative writing at Reed College. Williams said the event showed what is going well in the state’s education system.

“Engagement with the arts develops our sense of the self and our sense of others, strengthens our critical thinking skills and our capacity to be creative beings, and deepens our understanding of the human experience,” she said. “In this way, art benefits all Oregonians — all Americans — no matter what career they engage.”

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