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Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on March 13th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 1 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 1

Reciting the rhythm of words

Eduardo Cortes will represent Santa Barbara County in the statewide 'Poetry Out Loud' recitation contest

BY JOE PAYNE

Poets weave words into tapestries of emotion and color, which truly come to life with the often passionate and somewhat musical spontaneity of live recitation. The National Endowment for the Arts supports the art of recitative poetry with an annual recitation contest called “Poetry Out Loud,” open to high-school-aged competitors.


Champion of the chambers:
Eduardo Cortes (pictured center, front) won first place in county’s “Poetry Out Loud” recitation contest and is advancing to the statewide contest for a chance to compete in Washington, D.C.
PHOTO COURTESY OF NELL CAMPBELL

One such local student, Eduardo Cortes of Pioneer Valley High School, recently won the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission’s regional “Poetry Out Loud” contest. He was awarded first place on Feb. 6 in Santa Barbara, with his fellow Pioneer student Reinard Bermudez winning runner-up and Dos Pueblos High School student Cambria Metzinger winning honorable mention.

“It was actually the first time I recited anything for an audience,” Cortes said. “I was really shocked to win, and it took me a while to realize I was going to the capitol to compete again.”

Having won the regional contest, Cortes will advance to the statewide competition, reciting poetry in the California State Senate chambers for a chance to go on to the national contest in Washington, D.C. It all began thanks to Cortes’ advanced placement English teacher Ben Rothstein, who made his classes aware of “Poetry Out Loud.” Rothstein didn’t just introduce his students to the contest, he helped coach them for it.

“What’s really good about it is that a lot of poetry has been taken out of the curriculum because of the budget situation, and my kids need poetry because it really helps them on their advanced placement exam,” Rothstein explained.

Rothstein, along with Pioneer Valley drama teacher Shawnah Van Gronigen and social science teacher and professional actor Iain Freckleton coached several Pioneer students on presenting and performing their poems. Rothstein used ideas from music, such as phrasing, to help relate how best to read a poem.

“A lot of kids read the poems straight—they know the rhymes, but they don’t know the tonal shifts and they don’t win competitions,” Rothstein said. “Eduardo has a very good ear, and his memory is nearly perfect.”

Cortes recited “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by romantic British poet John Keats, which he’ll be repeating at the capitol. He’s required to recite three works, a necessity he’ll round out with the contemporary poem “The Powwow at the End of the World” by Sherman Alexie and “Broken Promises” by David Kirby.

“I think when you read the poem, you get what it’s trying to say a little,” Cortes said, “but when you hear someone recite it with a proper voice, it really gives it a whole new meaning of what it is saying.”

Though it was Cortes’ first time reciting a poem live, it wasn’t his first time performing in front of a crowd. The senior has taken drama in previous years at Pioneer Valley as well as delivered many oral presentations.

“I always have stage fright when I am performing,” he said, “but after sophomore year and doing presentations, once I got up there, I wouldn’t let it show on my face.”

Cortes will be competing with 35 other students, each representing a county in California. He will travel to the capitol with his teacher Rothstein as well as runner up Bermudez for the competition on March 24 and 25 in Sacramento. If he wins, Cortes will receive a cash prize and a ticket to Washington, D.C., for the national “Poetry Out Loud” competition.

“I don’t know why it caught my attention; I guess I wanted to do something new for my senior year,” Cortes said. “Going on to the capitol, it’s something that is surprising, that I didn’t dream of.”

Arts Editor Joe Payne is a purveyor of prose. Contact him at jpayne@santamariasun.com.