You can’t make this stuff up. No sooner did I leave Phoenix Center for the Arts, site of Thursday night’s 2012 Arizona Poetry Out Loud finals, than the song “Poetry Man” by Phoebe Snow came blasting over my speakers — though I suppose “blasting” is a bit of an oversell. Weird considering how infrequently that baby wafts over the airwaves these days.
It felt a fitting homage to this year’s Arizona state champion, Joshua Furtado of Tucson High Magnet School, whose parents and younger sister were there to share the proud moment. Furtado was one of nine Arizona state finalists to recite two poems for judges including Robert Breunig, Jaime Dempsey, Carole FitzPatrick, David Mittel and Kelly Nelson.
Judges had to evaluate each student recitation on a scale of one to six using several criteria — physical presence, voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness, level of difficulty, evidence of understanding and overall performance.
Judges narrowed the finalists down to four students, who then performed their choice of a third piece. Furtado’s first recitation, of Eve Merriam’s “Catch a Little Rhyme,” was especially enchanting. Think whimsical, lyrical, lighthearted and sweet. His second poem was Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee,” and his third “Contraction” by Ravi Shankar.
I chatted with Furtado and his family after the competition, wondering whether his trip to Washington, D.C. to represent Arizona in the national finals will be his first journey to the nation’s Capitol. Yes, his mother told me — who suspects she’ll be the one to go along. Furtado was born and raised in Tucson, and his parents raved as we spoke about the quality and diversity of the city’s arts scene, though Furtado dreams of acting on the big screen in L.A.
I enjoyed meeting several of the finalists, and hope even those I didn’t get to connect with personally will consider this my open invitation to write a guest blog post for our readers — about whatever arts-related topic catches their fancy. A favorite poet. The value of arts in education. Ways poetry can change a life. A teacher who inspired them to transform words into art.
I saw several familiar faces in the audience — and chatted while there with both Boyd Branch, who is doing some new and interesting work blending art and science (more on that in a future post), and Francis Smith Cohen. Cohen is artistic director for Center Dance Ensemble, a resident company at the Herberger Theater Center — where “American Voices” will celebrate National Poetry Month on April 15.
Cohen is also busy readying for the annual “Arizona Young Artists’ Competition,” an outreach program of the Herberger Theater Center that awards scholarships to winners in three categories — voice, acting and dance. Seems there’s no shortage of youth vocalists in the Valley, but dance participants can be harder to come by thanks to all those spring recitals. Interested youth in the dance, acting or voice category now have until midnight on Sun, April 1 to enter (click here for details). This year, says Cohen, dancers can perform a modern or lyrical jazz piece.
“American Voices” includes both dance and poetry recitation, and at least one of the young poets I met Thursday night will likely participate. He’s Garrett Pauli, an intern with the Arizona Commission on the Arts who’s been a spoken word artist and performance poet for about a year. Seems Pauli caught the bug after hearing a motivational speaker, then running with his own passion for tackling injustice.
Injustice felt top of mind as I listened to guest reader and judge Charles Jensen recite several of his own poems Thursday night — including two on the subject of health care. His work is poignant and funny, and worthy of a wide audience. Stephen Colbert, take note. This gentleman would rock a stint on your show. In the meantime, folks can follow Jensen’s work via LOCUSPOINT online, where he serves as founding editor and “explores creative work on a city-by-city basis.”
One of Jensen’s poems plays with words in the Miranda warning. Seems he was especially pleased about delivering his first “law poem” in the presence of a judge. Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch of the Supreme Court of Arizona served as emcee of the 2012 Arizona Poetry Out Loud finals. Turns out she holds both a J.D. and a Master’s degree in English. Perhaps one day we’ll hear her recite poetry as well.
For now all eyes, and ears, are on Joshua Furtado — the poetry man.
Coming up: Working miracles