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Juneau-Douglas High School junior Sakara Dunlap hadn't read much poetry outside of class until she discovered she had a knack for reciting it on a stage.
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Tonight, Dunlap and Leigh Miller will represent Juneau-Douglas High School in the first Poetry Out Loud Alaska state championships. The finals begin at 7 p.m. in the Sheffield Ballroom of Centennial Hall and will be broadcast on KTOO's Gavel to Gavel.
"I used to read a lot of books and never really read a lot of poetry, except in lit class," said Dunlap, a junior with a theater background. "It was mostly just Shakespeare. Now I've been starting to get books of poetry and read a lot more. I definitely have an appreciation for poetry and poetry readings."
The Poetry Out Loud: National Recitation Contest is sponsored by The National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation. All 50 states and the District of Columbia are holding their championships in March and April.
Tonight's champion will win $200 and an all-expenses-paid trip to the Poetry Out Loud National Finals on May 16 at the Hilton in Washington, D.C. The winner's school will earn $500 for the purchase of poetry books.
The national champion will win a $20,000 college scholarship.
Poetry Out Loud
What: Poetry Out Loud state championships.
When: 7 p.m. today.
Where: Sheffield Ballroom, Centennial Hall.
"It's the first year, so we're running into the same challenges that any first-year project has," said Susan Olson of the Alaska State Council on the Arts. "All the kids that have participated in this have loved it. Hopefully, word of mouth will take off next year and we'll have even more kids."
The eight contestants - two from Juneau, two from Kodiak, two from Fairbanks, one from Chugiak and one from Wasilla - will be rated on speed, volume, voice inflection, posture and presence, comprehension, pronunciation, gestures, eye contact, level of difficulty and overall performance. The field will be narrowed to four finalists after two rounds.
The judges are state writer laureate Jerah Chadwick of Unalaska, Sitka author John Straley and Fairbanks writer Anne Hanley.
The students in the competition had to pick their poems from the Poetry Out Loud anthology or the contest Web site, www.poetryoutloud.org.
"You have to connect to the poems on an emotional level," said Kodiak High School senior Naphtali Fields. "I've been doing three different poems and all of them have some emotional tie with something that's happened in the past or people I knew. I think that's important. It makes it more alive and real for the audience, when you have a feeling for what you're talking about."
Fields will present "Unknown Girl in a Maternity Ward" by Anne Sexton, "Fierce Girl Playing Hopscotch" by Alice Fulton, and "Sweetness" by Stephen Dunn. Sophomore Laura Ranney, also from Kodiak High School, will present "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll, "Chicago" by Carl Sandburg, and "Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat Drowned in a Tub of Goldfishes" by Thomas Gray.
"I was trying to go for a broad range of poems, so I picked several different ones," Ranney said.
"There are some poems that you really can't recite," she said. "Then you have to get into the author's head and see what he was thinking when he wrote the poem. If you don't do that, then it's really hard to read the poem."
Dunlap will read "Powwow at the End of the World" by Sherman Alexie, "The Glove and the Lions" by Leigh Hunt, and "Siren Songs" by Margaret Atwood. Miller will recite "Still I Rise" by Maya Angelou, "Beauty" by Tony Hoagland, and "Hope is the Thing with Feathers" by Emily Dickinson.
Korry Keeker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org