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Casper student goes to Washington D.C. for poetry contest

Ron Tanovitz
Poetry illustration featuring characters in a sea with fish

Poetry Out Loud is a competition sponsored by the National Arts Council and the National Poetry Foundation.

Students are required to memorize and recite a poem to a panel of judges. Casper High School student Elora Umbach won the state competition for her recitation of “Abecedarian Requiring Further Examination of Anglikan Seraphym Subjugation of a Wild Indian Reservation” by Natalie Diaz, “Siren Song” by Margaret Atwood, and “Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou.

“All three of those authors were female authors; most of them were female authors of color, and all of those women had something very powerful to say about the reality they were living in at the time,” Umbach said.

Umbach said she couldn’t just recite their poems and expect to move up in the competition.

“[The judges] really do like to see how you connect to the poem, and how you make it your own through your recitation,” she said. “I really got time to connect with my poems. The more you read, the more you connect with the author, and the more you understand the subtle nuances in the text.”

After she won state, she recited “Hope is the Thing with Feathers,” by Emily Dickinson, instead of “Siren Song” by Margaret Atwood to fulfill a requirement at the national competition. That requirement asks students to have at least one poem that is both 25 lines or less and written before the 18th century.

“It’s stripping away the relationship [I] had with “Siren Song” and bonding with this new poem,” she said.

Umbach competed in D.C. but didn’t place. She said she had other reasons for competing besides a chance at winning.

“I think the thing I value most for this competition is how you’re getting to see people in this very vulnerable state. Poetry is sort of like this wound that you can touch and poke at and relate to,” she said. “There’s no guarantees there’s any prize to be won, [but] there is a guarantee that the work you pick can impact people and how they look at the world.”

To see the full list of finalists, visit the Poetry Out Loud website.

Nicole Dillon was born in Montana, raised in Sheridan, Wy, and currently resides in Laramie to attend the University of Wyoming. She is pursuing a concurrent degree in Communication and Journalism. After graduating this spring, Nicole hopes to teach English abroad before attending graduate school. She has written feature stories for the Sheridan Press in the past, and is eager to broaden her journalism and communication skills at WPM. In her spare time, she loves reading or doing yoga.
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