Local high school students named regional winners in Poetry Out Loud contest

When Bethany Padgett’s sister showed her Sylvia Plath’s poem “The Applicant,” Padgett knew immediately she wanted to use it for this year’s Poetry Out Loud recitation contest.

“I said, ‘Oh, my gosh, I need this,’ ” Padgett said.

Her instincts were good.

Padgett’s dramatic interpretations of Plath’s poem and Phillip B. Williams’ “Speak” persuaded judges to declare her a regional winner of the annual high school poetry contest, held Saturday at the downtown branch of the Tacoma Public Library.

“I found poems that really spoke to me and that I could really fall in love with,” Padgett said.

Padgett, a senior at Eatonville High School, shared the top honors with Kate Atwell from Vashon Island High School, Gabriella Sipe of Olympia High School and Mckenna Johnson of Kentwood High School in Kent.

The four Puget Sound winners will advance to the Poetry Out Loud state finals, where they’ll compete against nine other students from other regions throughout the state. The state championship will be March 7 at Broadway Center’s Theatre on the Square in downtown Tacoma.

One winner from each of the 50 states will travel to Washington, D.C., for the national finals April 28-29.

The 19 students who competed in the Puget Sound regional Saturday were among those winnowed from 20,000 students at 70 high schools, according to Lisa Jaret, manager of the Arts in Education Program at the Washington State Arts Commission.

The National Poetry Out Loud program, now in its 10th year, is sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation.

“It’s a competition, but it’s actually much more than that,” Jaret said. “It’s an opportunity to connect with literature in a way that’s different from what happens when you just read the words on paper.”

“When you commit the words to memory and need to communicate the meaning to an audience,” she added, “it requires a deeper level of engagement with the material.”

Memorizing the poems presented challenges all their own, contestants said after Saturday’s competition. They described different memorizing techniques such as drills with family members and beginning with the final stanzas and working their way back to the top.

Rachel Buselmeier, from Tacoma’s Life Christian Academy, said she memorized her two poems, “Cadillac Moon” by Kevin Young and “In the Basement of the Goodwill Store” by Ted Kooser, by reciting them out loud while walking her dog on a mile-and-a-half loop near her home.

“I think my neighbors and my dog definitely know my poems,” Buselmeier said.