Ellyn Touchette, a senior at Gorham High School, epitomizes the oft-repeated idiom: If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.

Touchette is among 10 students from across Maine competing in today’s Poetry Out Loud finals at Bates College in Lewiston.

A senior, Touchette made it to the finals in her school competition two years ago, then took a year off to perfect her skills.

She tried again as a senior, won her school competition and now is a finalist at the state level.

“What helped me this year was knowing which types of poems to choose,” she said.

“My sophomore year, I chose very simple poems. This year, I tried to challenge myself more. I’m definitely very nervous, but also excited — really, really excited.”

She will recite three poems today: “Infelix” by Adah Isaacs Menken; “Sanctuary” by Jean Valentine; and “Vixen” by W.S. Merwin.

The winner of today’s competition will advance to the national finals in Washington, D.C., in May.

Other students competing at Bates are Bethanie Brown from Waterville Senior High School; Joshua Elwood from Bangor High School; Monica Frempong from Morse High School in Bath; Eloise Harnett from Gardiner Area High School; Brianna Housman from Searsport District High School; Avery Laderer from Boothbay Region High School; Tyler O’ Brien from Merriconeag Waldorf High School in Freeport; Makaela Reinke from George Stevens Academy, Blue Hill; and Kiana Sawyer from Portland High School.

The contest is sponsored annually by the Maine Arts Commission.

The 10 finalists represent the very best among some 8,000 students across Maine who began the competition in December.

Each will recite three poems from memory in front of a live audience and a TV audience.

Suzanne Nance, host of the “Morning Classical” radio show on MPBN, will host the contest.

Darrell Bulmer, acting director of the Maine Arts Commission, said Poetry Out Loud has helped focus attention on Maine’s literary past while giving students an entree into poetry that is both inviting and fun.

The final competition is not unlike a high-school sporting event, with schools sending teams of fans to cheer their contestant.

“You see huge groups of supporters following their chosen student,” Bulmer said.

“There is so much enthusiasm for that student and for the contest itself. You also see a great following from the general public. You often get full houses to these events,” he said.

The winner of the state finals will receive $200, and the winner’s school will receive a $500 stipend to purchase poetry books.

The second-place finisher will receive $100, with $200 earmarked for the school library.

The state champion also will receive a paid trip to Washington for the finals, where $50,000 in scholarships and school stipends will be awarded.

Gorham has embraced this event.

The school has organized an in-house contest for five years, and kicks it off with members of the faculty reciting poetry, “which is always less impressive than the student Poetry Out Loud contest.

It gives students a chance to see us either being brilliant or bumbling through something,” said English teacher Kerry Herlihy.

Gorham has sent a student to the state finals in each of the past three years, she added.

Herlihy is Touchette’s biggest cheerleader.

“Ellyn has all the natural abilities that any teacher just drools about. She has articulation and poise.

“One of the judges during our school contest said she just closed her eyes and couldn’t believe a 17-year-old kid was doing it. Ellyn just has a passion for writing and poetry.”

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:

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Twitter: pphbkeyes