When local students Ashley Garrison and Kyle Northington first decided to enter the Poetry Out Loud completion held here in Mammoth, neither of them thought they would win.
Northington, a senior at Lee Vining High School, wasn’t even a fan of poetry.
“I never liked poetry,” he said. “It was daunting, confusing, and just plain boring to me.”
But he was an accomplished public speaker and saw the competition as another way to practice his skill.
Garrison, for her part, liked poetry well enough, maybe even more than most high school students. An avid reader, she even has a few poems on her wall at home.
She claimed to have been somewhat of an introvert all her student life—until recently when theatre and drama parts made her realize she really wasn’t. To her, the poetry competition was one more way to practice her growing love for drama.
Garrison took first place out of a dozen Mono County students from all the high schools and Northington took second, just three points behind her.
“There were just so many other good speakers in there,” Garrison said. “I never thought I could actually win.”
But her delivery, the affection for her chosen poems, and her enthusiasm won over the judges and Garrison walked away with first place.
“It feels great,” she said. “It was really a lot of fun.”
She’ll travel to Sacramento in March to compete against students from every other county in the state, something this formerly quiet students is looking forward to.
Northington is, unexpectedly to him, now something of a poetry convert.
“It was a really great experience,” he said. “After doing the competition, I realized that poetry is so much more. Poetry tells a story, and you can truly see what the poet is trying to say through his work. Reciting poetry allows you to connect to the poems on a more personal level, and makes them far easier to understand.
“While the competition itself is very nerve wracking, it ends up being a lot of fun. Everyone is really supportive and kind. It was never something where we felt like we were enemies, it felt like we were reciting poetry in front of our friends.”
Garrison recited “The Pulley” by George Herbert, and “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
“I’m a very spiritual person,” she said. “I could really adapt to ‘The Pulley’ because of that. It’s about how God gave man both rest and restlessness, but always, always, we have to come back to turn to God. And the poem by Browning? It’s such a sweet poem, it touched my being more than I could have imagined.”
Northington chose “Here” by Joshua Mehigan and “Saturday’s Child” by Countee Cullen.
“These poems are so different, but I found both really enjoyable,” he said.
“I really connected to ‘Here,’ which is all about this guy coming back to a small town. It reminded me of the small town feeling that I love so much, and the quiet repetitiveness that we experience every day. ‘Saturday’s Child’ was a far more dramatic poem, but after reading it I could really tell how much suffering the poet must have gone through.”
The Poetry Out loud competition was coached by local, published poet Eva Poole-Gibson and judged by Jo Bacon, Malcom Clark, Stacy Corless, Noelle Deinken, Bob Struckman and Pat Struckman.
It was sponsored by the Booky Joint, the Eastern Sierra Community Bank, the Poetry foundation, the Mammoth Lakes foundation, the California Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.
About 365,000 students from every state in the country will compete in the completion this year.
The winner of the state’s completion in March goes to Washington, D.C., in May for the final contest.
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Ashley Garrison, winner of the Poetry Out Loud competition. Phgoto/Jesse Barlet