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Two Sedona Red Rock High School students, Tara Aitken and Viridiana Trinidad, will compete at the Regional level at Poetry Out Loud, held Saturday, Feb. 20, at 2 p.m. at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff .

The two made the cut after placing in the school-wide competition.


The school level was a positive experience, according to Aitken.

“We’re all psyching each other up,” she said. “But of course everyone wants to be one of the top two.”

Aitken placed third, but one of the top two could not make Regionals. Even so, she said she has high expectations for her performance.

She has been working on a piece every day.

“It’s a really long piece, I’m challenging myself and I hope that I’ll have it down,” she said. “My friends are helping me memorize it. It’s honestly short notice.”

The notice she said was made worse by not knowing she was going right away.

If the two place in the top two at Regionals, they will advance to the State level and after that possibly the National, held in Washington, D.C.

Poetry Out Loud is a school program designed to teach speaking skills as well as an appreciation of the arts.

“It’s definitely my favorite program at school,” Aitken said. “I’ve had a lot of experience with slams, so I know what the audience likes.”

Unlike slam poetry, which relies on performance value and original work, the students pick from a selected list of poems which they then memorize and recite.

Steve Wilcox, communications and research director for the Arizona Commission on the Arts, which helps organize the program, said though performances are judged, it isn’t so much about drama as it is the conveyance of meaning, which is to say that sweeping hand gestures and yelling the climax won’t get students far.

“This is really about celebrating and capturing the tone of the language itself,” Wilcox said. “I think that those that do best at it really open up the poetry and invite you into it and not necessarily performing for the audience.”

“There’s a lot more censorship in the Poetry Out Loud competition then there would be in a lot of slam poems, as in, you can’t express yourself physically,” Aitken said.

She added that in Poetry Out Loud competitions, the challenge becomes finding the emotion that the original author felt and applying it in her own voice.

Students are given a list of hundreds of poems to choose from for the competition. Wilcox said that some notable poems were taken out given the sensibilities of the audience — the events are held at public places — and competitors, and for length and diversity.

“It covers a broad range,” he said. “It covers centuries and continents.”

As far as original poetry, Wilcox said the organizers of Poetry Out Loud are also working on a pilot program.

One of the main reasons a recital as opposed to an original poetry reading was chosen for the event was that the creators wanted students to have an appreciation of their art history, Wilcox said.

Aitken is a fan of ballad poetry, focusing more on how the poems sound. She said it not only makes it easier to memorize, but is naturally more engaging, using specific rhyme styles and similar sounding syllables.

She plans to keep at the art for the rest of her life. She said she’s always loved to write.

“There hasn’t even been a week where I haven’t wanted to write,” she said.

The commission receives funds from the state as well as the National Endowment for the Arts to promote the state’s arts. Eleven years ago, the commission teamed with the Poetry Foundation to form Poetry Out Loud.

No numbers for participation were available for this year’s school contests in the state, but Wilcox said it has been 10,000 to 11,000 range and was confident it would be around that for the 2015-16 school year.

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