McPherson competes at Poetry Out Loud

Nine high school-aged poetry champions from around Oregon are set to compete in the state Poetry Out Loud competition on March 16, including Emelia (Emmy) McPherson of Hood River Valley High School. Each Poetry Out Loud competitor has already won both school and regional contests held earlier this year.

Of McPherson’s victory March 9 in Beaverton, HRVHS teacher and Poetry Out Loud adviser Gabe Judah said, “(Her) excellent performances of Walt Witman’s very challenging ‘Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field one Night’ and Hart Crane’s ‘My Grandmother’s Love Letters’ helped her to make it to the final round of the regional competition.

“Her third poem of the evening, ‘Black Boys Play the Classics,’ by Toi Derricotte, propelled her to victory.”

He said that her performance of that poem moved one judge to comment that “Each character had their own movement and voice.”

McPherson, 16, is a trumpet player in three different ensembles and sings soprano is several vocal groups. She is a lettered member of the lacrosse team and plans to pursue the arts in college. This is her third year participating in Poetry Out Loud.

The nine regional champions, ranging in age from 15 to 18, are fine-tuning their recitations, and will be judged on physical presence, voice and articulation, appropriateness of dramatization, accuracy, evidence of understanding, level of difficulty and overall performance. Each contestant must prepare three poems.

The state competition winner, to be announced immediately after the recitations at Saturday’s event, will represent Oregon in the national finals in Washington, D.C., April 29-30.

The Oregon champion wins an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., (with a chaperone), a $200 scholarship and $500 for the school library to purchase poetry books. At nationals, Oregon’s winner will compete for more than $35,000 in scholarships.

This year’s judges are Mike Chaser, assistant professor of English at Willamette University, Crystal Williams, professor of creative writing at Reed College, and Scott Poole, poet and founding director of the Portland literary festival Wordstock. Poole will present an original poem as the invocation for the event.

The competition will be held from 1-4 p.m. in the Spinning Room of the Willamette Heritage Center at Mission Mill, 1313 Mill St. S.E. in Salem.

Poetry Out Loud, now in its eighth successful year in Oregon, involves the memorization and recitation of classic poetry and culminates in a statewide competition.

The program seeks to foster the next generation of literary readers by capitalizing on the latest trends in poetry: recitation and performance. It builds on the resurgence of poetry as an oral art form, as seen in the slam poetry movement, and brings aspects of slam poetry, spoken word and theater into the English class.


For more information on Poetry Out Loud, contact the Oregon Arts Commission at 503-986-0082, or visit

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