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Casper high schooler wins state poetry contest

Elora Umbach won Wyoming'a annual Poetry Out Loud, or POL, State Finals Competition this morning.

Elora Umbach (middle) winner of the Poetry Out Loud State Finals Competition, poses with Gov. Mark Gordon and Michael Lange, executive director of the Wyoming Arts Council, on March 7. Photo by Stephanie Lam / Cap City News.

CASPER, Wyo. — It can take hours for high school students to memorize and present a series of poems.

At the end of the day, however, students can be proud to create and share artwork that is uniquely their own.

As the winner of Wyoming’s annual Poetry Out Loud, or POL, State Finals Competition, Elora Umbach believes just that.

The Casper native was presented with the title this morning during the Wyoming Art Council’s POL award ceremony at the Capitol Extension Auditorium.

Poetry Out Loud is a national recitation and memorization contest sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and The Poetry Foundation. The competition is designed for students in grades 9 through 12 attending public, private or home schools.

Students first compete at the classroom and school levels before participating in the state finals. Each school champion recites three poems in front of a panel of judges.

Wyoming’s competition, which featured students from cities including Buffalo and Cheyenne, was held yesterday at the Surbrugg/Prentice Auditorium at Laramie County Community College.

Umbach, who is homeschooled and a senior at the online Penn Foster High School, recited the following poems:

  • “Abecedarian Requiring Further Examination of Anglikan Seraphym Subjugation of a Wild Indian Rezervation” by Natalie Diaz
  • “Siren Song” by Margaret Atwood
  • “Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou

“I chose all of those poems because I thought they represented really awesome things,” Umbach said. “All of them were by female authors and some by authors of color. They talked about what they’ve noticed in the world and ended on a very hopeful note.”

As Wyoming’s winner, Umbach will receive a $200 prize and take an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington D.C. in May to compete in the POL National Finals.

“I’m incredibly nervous,” she said. “I feel like I’m going to throw up, but I’m really excited about it.”

As a rookie in the world of poetry recitation, Umbach’s favorite part of the process is getting to personalize her chosen poems.

“Even though you didn’t write it, you get to read it and stop in certain places,” she said. “You’re taking an art and saying, ‘This is my take.’ I think that’s pretty awesome.”

Amara Fehring, Wyoming Arts Council’s Community Development and Arts Education specialist, said she was impressed with all the final performances.

“It’s such a cool experience to watch young people put themselves out there in this way,” she said. “Memorizing something, being able to do it well, overcoming nerves. … It’s all skills they are learning and working on.”

This year was the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic that students could compete in person at all levels of the competition, Fehring said. In prior years, students had to record and submit videos of their recitation for judging.

She is glad that the finalists and Umbach were able to preform and receive their recognitions in person.

“There’s just something about the stage and the audience that gives you that energy,” she said. “It’s a very different experience and I’m so glad they got to have it.”