Poetry Out Loud 2020 Virtual Celebration

Poetry Out Loud is an annual contest for high school students to recite poems. The Poetry Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts make it all happen. I’ve written about my experience as a judge and emcee for regional events before. This year, I was able to share in the regionals again. That was back in January. With the country going on lockdown around March 2020, the national competition had to be canceled.

The students who participate in this event spend months choosing three poems that fit their fancy; reading the poems; analyzing the poems; reciting the poems out loud to whomever will listen; reciting the poems to themselves in free moments. Their efforts in this poetic endeavor basically take over a large portion of their lives.

As a slight panacea, cash awards have still been awarded. State champs received $1000. For states that had to cancel their statewide events, the $1000 goes to a state arts organization. The organization can later name and award a winner or divide the funds among the finalists.

While the monetary prize is important (the national champ would have received $20K!), the recitation of poems is as important, if not more. The NEA and the Poetry Foundation have fallen in line with many organizations in developing a way to share recitations virtually.

Arts.gov and PoetryOutLoud.org have released videos of students reciting poems from the Poetry Out Loud anthology. These videos are also being released on Twitter and the POL YouTube Channel. The poems students choose run the gamut from classic to super contemporary, from sincere to funny, from sad to uplifting.

Some videos are from state finals that were able to be held.

Here’s the Arizona state champ Sylvia Dale reciting “Abecedarian Requiring Further Examination of Anglikan Seraphym Subjugation Of a Wild Indian Rezervation” by Natalie Diaz.

Here’s champ Charles Hsu reciting “Learning To Love America” by Shirley Geok-Lin Kim at the Illinois State finals.

Here’s California state champ Eden Getahun reciting “It Is Not” by Valerie Martínez.

Other videos show students reciting from home because their state finals were canceled.

Here’s Christina Brennan who advanced to the state finals in Oregon. She’s reciting “It Couldn’t Be Done” by Edgar Albert Guest.

Here’s Lillian Phillips, who advanced to the state finals in Arkansas, reciting “The Good-Morrow” by John Donne.

Here’s Alabama champ Katarina Agnew, out in nature, reciting “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” by William Wordsworth.

More videos are being uploaded to celebrate the poetic efforts of all these hard-working students.

Additionally, the Poetry Ourselves competition went on as planned. This competition happens at the same time as Poetry Out Loud during the state competition phase. State champs, and this year those who advanced to state, were able to submit their own poems to this competition. They may submit to two different categories: written and spoken word. Carmen Jiménez Smith, author of Cruel Futures, served as judge.

The spoken word winner is Tessa Kresch from Puerto Rico for her poem “I Wonder What Will Happen Tomorrow.

The written poetry winner is Kieran Ellis from Idaho for “Drought.

2020 has been a strange year for everyone, and thankfully, organizations like these are finding ways to continue to celebrate all the things that deserve celebration.

For more poetry, check out the Book Riot poetry archives.