Amanda Titolo tugged the words from her mind to her tongue.
"I just didn't get it --
even with the teacher holding an orange (the earth) in one hand
and a lemon (the moon) in the other,
her favorite student (the sun) standing behind her with a flashlight.
I just couldn't grasp it --"
Titolo couldn't just spew out the words, proving she can memorize like a computer. She had to recite them with purpose. Pause. That's why she likes poetry. That's why she prepared three months for 30 seconds.
"Words, they're amazing. And poetry is words at their best," Titolo said, explaining why she competed for the first time in the Poetry Out Loud competition (something she'd never done before) and beat 12 other county winners for the state championship and a spot at the national finals in Washington, D.C.
The Clark County competitor, attending College of Southern Nevada High School-West in Las Vegas, rose to the top of 2,000 Nevada competitors with her recital of "Ego" by Denise Duhamel, which continued,
"This whole citrus universe, these bumpy planets revolving so slowly
no one could even see themselves moving.
I used to think if I could only concentrate hard enough
I could be the one person to feel what no one else could,
sense a small tug from the ground, a sky shift, the earth changing gears.
Even though I was only one mini-speck on a speck,
even though I was merely a pinprick in one goosebump on the orange,
I was sure then I was the most specially perceptive, perceptively sensitive."
She chose the poem -- her third and final one in the competition -- for the humor mixed within its message.
"You need that to break the tension," she said, because most competitors recite serious, stern poems.
Her poem choice is what set her apart, not her reciting skills, concluded the modest 18-year-old rookie.
With her state win comes $1,000 and another $1,000 for her school, according to event organizer Nevada Arts Council. Second-place finisher, Graciela Joseph of Owyhee High School in Elko County, and third-place winner, Jennifer Simon of Pahrump Valley High School in Nye County, each received $500 and another $500 for their schools.
When Titolo reaches Washington, D.C., in May, she'll be among the top 56 students out of the original 400,000. She may stick with the poems that won her Nevada: "The Larger" by Joanie Mackowski, "Life in a Love" by Robert Browning and "Ego," which ends,
"I was sure then my mother was the only mother to snap,
'The world doesn't revolve around you!'
The earth was fragile and mostly water,
just the way the orange was mostly water if you peeled it,
just the way I was mostly water if you peeled me.
Looking back on that third grade science demonstration,
I can understand why some people gave up on fame or religion or cures --
especially people who have an understanding
of the excruciating crawl of the world,
who have a well-developed sense of spatial reasoning
and the tininess that it is to be one of us.
But not me -- even now I wouldn't mind being god, the force
who spins the planets the way I spin a globe, a basketball, a yo-yo.
I wouldn't mind being that teacher who chooses the fruit,
or that favorite kid who gives the moon its glow."
Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0279.