The words tumbled out of her mouth with rhythm. She knew every word. She savored them as if enjoying a rich, delicious cheesecake, her favorite dessert.
Cassandra Valadez, 18, a senior at Sunnyside High School, is preparing for the annual Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest in Washington, D.C. Last year, Valadez placed third at the regional competition. This year she is the state champion.
Kurt Fischer, a literature teacher at Sunnyside High School, and her stepfather, Bobby Sandoval, will accompany Valadez on the trip.
"This is Sunnyside's 50th year participating in the program," said Fischer, who has coached Valadez for two years. "Last year was the first year we had a student go up to state, and that was Cassandra."
The national contest runs today and Tuesday. Students will compete for the title of Poetry Out Loud National Champion and a $20,000 award.
Valadez will interpret three challenging poems: "Dirge Without Music," by Edna St. Vincent Millay; "Experience," by Edith Wharton; and "As Kingfishers Catch Fire," by Gerald Manley Hopkins.
"I would say one of my favorites right now is Hopkins," Valadez said. "I love what he does with sound in his poetry and his nature poems, and how he brings the sound to life with the internal rhythm within his poetry."
Practice sessions run 10 or more hours a week, said Matthew Conley, a teacher at the University of Arizona Poetry Center. He asks Valadez to find unusual ways to practice her poems, recite angrily or "pretending to be the wind," he said.
"They become really personal for me, and so practice isn't a chore," Valadez said. "It's something that I look forward to every day after school."
"They become really personal for me, so practice isn't a chore."
Marcella Corona is a student at the University of Arizona and an apprentice at the Arizona Daily Star. Contact her at 573-4213 or firstname.lastname@example.org