Area students in annual poetry tourney

PARKERSBURG – Four students from the region will compete in the Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday and at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Culture Center where semifinal and final rounds will be held.

The free event is organized by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History and the West Virginia Commission on the Arts and is held in the Norman L. Fagan West Virginia State Theater of the Culture Center.

Thirty students from high schools in 23 counties will compete in the semifinals on Friday with the top 10 contestants returning on Saturday for the state final.

Local students are:

* Dallas Hopkins, Ripley High School, Jackson County

* Tyler Hammack, Roane County High School, Roane County

* Sarah Jones, Wirt County High School, Wirt County

* Jessica Kimble, Tyler Consolidated High School, Tyler County

The state champion will receive $200 and an all-expense-paid trip April 28-30 in Washington, D.C., for the national finals. Commissioned by the division, artists Chris Dutch and Robin Hammer of Charleston created a trophy for the winning student and a traveling trophy which will go to the winning student’s school for a year.

Other awards include a $500 stipend to the winner’s school for the purchase of poetry books, $100 to the runner-up, and $200 to that student’s school library.

Trent Danowski, a former Nitro High School teacher and long-time participant of the program, will serve as emcee for the semifinal rounds on Friday. He has been involved in Poetry Out Loud since 2009, and last year, he worked with Bruce McCuskey, the 2012 West Virginia State Poetry Out Loud Champion who went on to place in the top 24 at the national competition last May.

Charleston poet Crystal Good will appear during Friday’s semifinal rounds. Good’s first book of poetry, “Valley Girl,” explores themes in quantum physics, Appalachian culture, gender equality and mountaintop removal.

The division welcomes back acclaimed actor and West Virginia native Chris Sarandon, returning for his sixth year, as emcee for the final contest on Saturday. Sarandon, star of screen, theater and television, graduated magna cum laude from West Virginia University and received his master’s in theater from Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

A Beckley native, he has performed in such films as “Dog Day Afternoon,” for which he received an Oscar nomination, “The Princess Bride,” “Child’s Play,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Loggerheads.” Recently, he starred opposite of Jason Statham in the action thriller “Safe.”

His Broadway appearances have included “The Rothschilds,” “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” “Nick and Nora and Cyrano de Bergerac” with Kevin Kline and Jennifer Garner. Sarandon is also featured on the spoken word album, “Poetic License: 100 Poems/100 Performers.”

The Saturday program will feature two special guest performances. West Virginia’s poet laureate, Marc Harshman, will address the audience and serve as a judge for the finals. In addition, renowned guitarist Charlie Hunter and jazz drummer Scott Amendola will perform. Hunter came into the music scene in the early 1990s and has since recorded more than a dozen albums. Not Getting Behind Is The New Getting Ahead, Hunter’s newest duo recording with Amendola, is his first recording of original compositions in three years.

Poetry Out Loud is sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry Magazine, the oldest English-language monthly publication dedicated to verse. The program is designed to encourage high school-age students to learn about great poetry through memorization, performance and competition.