Since Sofia Gispert Tello started performing poetry, rather than merely reading it, the genre has come alive for her.
The words take on deeper meaning as the Hermiston High School sophomore memorizes them, mulling over the proper inflection of every syllable. Should her voice go up? Down? Trail off suggestively? Or does the period at the end of the line call for decisiveness?
"I try to live in the poem as I'm reciting," Gispert Tello said.
She said she never quite appreciated her father's love of poetry until she started preparing for Poetry Out Loud, a national poetry recitation contest. Despite being a novice she placed in the top three at a regional competition, qualifying her to compete at state on Saturday against 23 other regional winners.
"I've already started looking at more poetry books," she said. "I've also decided to write poems. Even though I'm new at this I already feel like a poet."
When she's reciting a poem, Gispert Tello uses facial expressions and gestures to add to the drama. She said she tries to connect with the audience and "pull them into the poem."
"I try to stay true to my natural self and not fake it," she said.
Delia Wallis, the Hermiston High School librarian who brought Poetry Out Loud to Hermiston, said Gispert Tello's "secret weapon" is her ability to connect with the poem and with the audience.
For the state Poetry Out Loud competition Gispert Tello chose three poems: "Alone" by Edgar Allan Poe, "The Cities Inside Us" by Alberto Rios and "Author's Prayer" by Ilya Kaminsky.
She said her favorite is "The Cities Inside Us," which describes the way people who are different become "the secret citizens of the city inside us." Gispert Tello is originally from Mexico and said her brown skin and slight accent mean she knows what it is like to feel different.
She said her biggest supporter at the regional competition was her twin sister Andrea, who accompanied Sofia to Salem for moral support despite losing to her at the local Poetry Out Loud competition.
Contact Jade McDowell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-564-4536.
This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.