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Youth Poetry Out Loud 2015: They Do This Better Than You

Think poetry and competition don't mix? Nearly three million students and 9,500 schools would disagree with you. That's how many have participated in 10 years of the Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest - and the 2015 National Finals will take place on April 28 - 29 in Washington, DC.

Poetry Out Loud is the nation's largest youth poetry recitation competition, and next month, high school students who advanced from a field of more than 365,000 students nationwide will gather in Washington, DC to match skills in reciting classic and contemporary poetry from Shakespeare to Maya Angelou.

The top finalists and their schools will receive $50,000 in awards, including $20,000 for the National Champion. Award-winning poet Taylor Mali will host the Finals, and the roster of judges includes poets Richard Blanco and Nikky Finney, writer and critic Maria Popova, novelist Brando Skyhorse, and educator Carol Jago. The National Finals will also feature a performance by composer and multi-instrumentalist, Gabriel Kahane.

Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, Poetry Out Loud is a partnership between the Chicago-based Poetry Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. The program encourages the study of great poetry by offering educational materials and a dynamic recitation competition to high school students across the country. Poetry Out Loud gives students an opportunity to master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about their literary heritage.

The 53 champions will gather at the Poetry Out Loud semifinals on Tuesday, April 28, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Lisner Auditorium at The George Washington University, 730 21st Street NW, Washington, DC. Nine finalists will advance to the National Finals, also held at Lisner Auditorium, on Wednesday, April 29, from 7:00 to 9:15 pm. Both events are free and open to the public; no tickets or reservations are required.

"Poetry Out Loud's tenth anniversary is an occasion for much celebration," said Robert Polito, president of the Poetry Foundation, "and a chance for us all to think anew about the role of poems in our lives and our cultures. To memorize and recite a great poem of the past or present, is to 'own' it in the most personal way in your body, your breath, and your spirit. Recitation is obviously an interpretive act, but also is creative, and often even self-transformative."

"For a decade, Poetry Out Loud has proven to be transformative for nearly three million high school students, and tens of thousands of teachers in high schools across the nation. Programs like this are so important, and not just because it introduces the beauty of poetry to young people. NEA research shows that arts education is linked to many positive, long-term academic benefits, social benefits, and workforce benefits," said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. "Programs like Poetry Out Loud give our nation's youth access to arts education opportunities that will help them learn and succeed in life."

Live Webcast and Viewing Parties

Not in Washington, DC, but still want to see the competition? You can watch the entire semifinals and finals through a live, one-time only webcast. You can also gather fellow poetry fans for a Poetry Out Loud Webcast Viewing Party. Register at and find tips on hosting your party, promotional materials, and details on other viewing parties around the country. Follow the Poetry Out Loud National Finals on Twitter at @PoetryOutLoud and @NEAarts, #POL15. For more information on the event, webcast, or viewing parties, call 202-682-5606.

Poetry Out Loud Partnerships

The National Finals are the culmination of efforts by many partners. As national partners, the NEA and the Poetry Foundation have supported the administration of the program, created educational materials, and funded awards for both the state and national finals. State arts agencies have implemented the program in high schools nationwide and organized state competitions, often in collaboration with local arts organizations. The Poetry Out Loud National Finals are administered by Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation.

Schools interested in registering for the 2015-2016 Poetry Out Loud contest should contact their state arts agency. More information is available at

Educational Materials, Contests, and Awards

Poetry Out Loud offers educators free standards-based curriculum materials, which include a poetry anthology with more than 900 classic and contemporary poems, a teacher's guide, lesson plans, and video and audio on the art of recitation. Schools are welcome to download these free resources at

Using a pyramid structure, Poetry Out Loud started with classroom and schoolwide activities and contests between September 2014 and February 2015. State contests were held by mid-March; the 53 champions of contests in every state, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington, DC, compete at the National Finals. The Poetry Out Loud National Finals will present $50,000 in awards and school stipends for the purchase of poetry books. Awards include $20,000 for the Poetry Out Loud National Champion and $10,000 and $5,000 for the second- and third-place finalists. In total, Poetry Out Loud will award more than $100,000 to state- and national-level winners and their schools.

Fast Facts About #POL15

* Poetry Out Loud participation 2005-2015: 2.7 million students and 9,500 schools.

* 2014-2015 participation stats: 365,000 students, 9,000 teachers, 2,300 high schools.

* Top three most popular poems for 2014-15 season: "Abandoned Farmhouse" by Ted Kooser, "Across the Bay" by Donald Davie and "Fire and Ice" by Robert Frost.

* Number of repeat state champs at National Finals, 2005-2014: 42. Number of repeat schools at National Finals: 81, including five-timer Arvada/Clearmont High School (WY).

* States with the highest number of participating students in 2015: New Jersey, California, Washington, Massachusetts, and Maryland.

* Oldest and youngest poets represented in the 900+ poem anthology are Queen Elizabeth I (b. 1533) and Jamaal May (b. 1982).


See also: Poetry Out Loud videos.


The 2014 National Champion:


Comments welcome.


Posted on March 19, 2015

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