On the evening of Feb. 7 at the Imagination Theater, Charter University Prep freshman Connor Ricketts dazzled the audience and judges alike with his poem performances for the El Dorado Arts Council’s fourth Poetry Out Loud County Competition.
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Ricketts’ clear, powerful recitations of “War Ballad” by Stanley Moss and “Cartoon Physics, part 1” by Nick Flynn earned him the title of El Dorado County Poetry Out Loud Champion.
Ricketts’ win also marks the first time that Charter University Prep will be sending a student to the California state Poetry Out Loud competition on March 24-25.
Kate Wells, the English teacher who launched Poetry Out Loud at Charter University Prep, is especially pleased to have Ricketts representing the school.
“I was so impressed with his ability, coming in as a freshman,” said Wells. “He was so comfortable up there. He owns the stage. He’s also very humble, and soft-spoken in every other way, but when he gets up on stage, he sparkles.”
Placing second at the competition was Union Mine High School senior Crystin Segura with her precise performances of “To the Ladies” by Lady Mary Chudleigh and “Poetry” by Marianne Moore.
Golden Sierra senior Rebecca Dolan was awarded third place with her stirring recitations of Bob Hicok’s “After working sixty hours again for what reason” and W.D. Ehrhart’s “Beautiful Wreckage.”
Students from four other county high schools who also delivered polished performances were Austin Daly from Oak Ridge, Clayton Hinzman from the County Office of Education, Emma Holm from El Dorado and Sophie Meyer from Ponderosa.
No stranger to the stage, Ricketts began acting at the age of 9 in the Christmas productions of Green Valley Community Church. He has been acting and involved with the theater ever since, including a recent stint as a backstage theater technician for El Dorado Musical Theater’s production of “Legally Blonde, the Musical” at Three Stages at Folsom Lake College.
At the state contest in March, Ricketts will be competing against at least 30 other county champions.
To prepare him for the big event, Sacramento poet Shawn Pittard and Lotus actress Heather Freer will be working in depth with Ricketts, not only coaching him on articulation, accuracy and stage presence, but also helping him to plumb the meaning of the three poems that he needs to have under his belt.
Pittard and Freer are the same team who coached Oak Ridge High School senior Corbin Gomez on to his winning the 2012 State Poetry Out Loud Competition and placing among the top 12 contestants at the National Poetry Out Loud Competition in Washington, D.C.
At the finish of his first coaching session with Pittard and Freer, Ricketts spoke about how he came to be involved in Poetry Out Loud.
“It was in Pico van Houtryve’s English class. Mr. van Houtryve required us to memorize a poem and then Ms. Wells introduced us to Poetry Out Loud,” said Ricketts.
“When I presented my poem to the class, Mr. van Houtryve said, ‘That’s it! You’re going.’ It was a little surprising,” said Ricketts, a shy smile playing across his face.
Pittard and Freer both claim that Ricketts is a quick study when it comes to poetry, lauding his ability to get at the interior life of a poem.
“He’s great, fantastic … it’s amazing to see him take it all in, the poems and the experience,” Freer said.
Poetry Out Loud is a national recitation competition sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation.
Now in its eighth year, the program seeks to foster the next generation of literary readers by building on the resurgence of poetry as an oral art form. Through Poetry Out Loud, students can master public speaking skills, build self-confidence and learn about their literary heritage.
At the local level, a generous grant from Women’s Fund El Dorado assisted with program outreach, enabling the arts council to recruit seven high schools and to train more than 40 volunteers to judge at the individual high school competitions.
To learn more about El Dorado County’s Poetry Out Loud contest contact Moira Magneson at EDAC@eldoradoartscouncil.org.
General information can be found at cac.ca.gov and poetryoutloud.org.