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Saturday, March 05, 2011

Poetry Out Loud Finals Tonight at Cultural Center

(From the Daily Mail staff writer Monica Orosz)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Nitro High School Junior Bruce McCuskey talks about competing in poetry recitation with as much strategy as a basketball player who has reviewed game films.

The 17-year-old made the final five in last year's Poetry Out Loud: National Recitation Contest. This year, he hopes to make it all the way to the top.

To do that, he has analyzed his performance last year - and yes, there is a "game tape," so to speak.

"I watched the video from last year and my hands were shaking so badly I don't think I could have held a microphone if I had to," McCuskey said. If anything, he believes he may have more jitters this year.

To prepare his recitation of three poems, McCuskey has worked closely with his coach - in this case English teacher Trent Danowski, who has helped him "finesse" his recitation.

Game day, er, Friday afternoon, he joins 21 other West Virginia high school students for the semifinal round of the competition, hosted by the state Division of Culture and History and the state Commission on the Arts. Ten contestants will return Saturday for the finals.

Beckley native and Hollywood actor Chris Sarandon will emcee the final round and Virginia jazz band The Greg Howard Quartet will perform.

All in all, the free event is as entertaining as it is educational, said Jeff Pierson, director of art for the state Division of Culture and History and one of the organizers of the event.

"What we've done with bringing in special guests is we've tried to bring in a public audience," Pierson said. "People who have been here before really do enjoy the poetry. These kids are amazing."

"We've been really fortunate to have so many talented people involved," Pierson added. Sarandon, who is returning for his fourth year as emcee, has promised he will continue to do it as long as his schedule allows.

"He loves West Virginia," Pierson said.

Sarandon is best known for roles in "The Princess Bride," "Fright Night," and "The Nightmare Before Christmas." He was nominated for an Academy Award for his supporting role in "Dog Day Afternoon." He also is the ex-husband of actress Susan Sarandon.

The Poetry Out Loud program began in 2005 to help bring poetry back into the curriculum at high schools. The National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation sponsor Poetry Out Loud. The NEA provides an anthology of poetry students must use for the competition.

"West Virginia has been a real poster child for this program," Pierson said. "Our finalists have done well in Washington, D.C., and the nationals. One in particular made it to the top 12 in the country."

McCuskey would love to count himself among the elite in poetry recitation.