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Poetry Out Loud (POL)

Poetry Out Loud (POL)

Poetry Out Loud: Celebrating Poetry in Maryland Schools

The words of great poets literally come to life in Poetry Out Loud (POL), a literary arts program created by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Poetry Foundation. Through MSAC support, students across Maryland are enriched by this national arts education program that encourages the mastery of great poetry through memorization, performance, and competition.

The Poetry Out Loud (POL) Maryland State Finals was held March 10, 2018 in the Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Auditorium at the Baltimore Museum of Art. This year’s Maryland State Champion is Cayla Turner, a senior at Indian Creek School in Anne Arundel County. She was among 9 finalists that were selected from more than 7,500 Maryland students in 13 counties that competed in the statewide POL competitions.  This poetry recitation contest is co-sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and The Poetry Foundation, and administered by U.S. state arts agencies across the country. Total Maryland student participation has reached 124,000 since its inception over 13 years ago. The Maryland Poetry Out Loud competition is produced by the Maryland State Arts Council.

“Poetry Out Loud is such a great opportunity for kids because finding and reciting a poem they can relate to is so freeing!” exclaimed 2018 State Champion Cayla Turner. “Teenagers are able to more easily express themselves and show everyone how they feel and who they are in a unique way.” During the competition Cayla recited “Life in a Love” by Robert Browning, “The Song of the Feet” by Nikki Giovanni and “Discrimination” by Kenneth Rexroth.  

“We are so proud of Cayla here at Indian Creek School,” stated Matt McCormick, Indian Creek Associate Head of the Upper School and Dean of Students.  “I’ve heard and watched her recitation of Nikki Giovanni’s ‘The Song of the Feet’ dozens of times, but there was something magical about her recitation at the state competition. Her performance embodied everything Poetry Out Loud is about and what it can achieve through young people reciting poetry.  Cayla is a fabulous young woman who is going to do amazing things!”

Second place was awarded to Amy Nguyen, a senior at Sts. Peter and Paul High, Talbot County, and third place went to Aevin Mayman, a sophomore at Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, Washington County. The six remaining finalists were Jeanette Banko, Colonel Richardon High, Caroline County; Kaylor Stroot, Brookewood School, Montgomery County; Kate Maerten, Gerstell Academy, Carroll County; Wansi "Ivy" Huang, Thomas S. Wootton High, Montgomery County; Allison Latham, The King's Christian Academy, St. Mary's County; and Faith Rogers, Tuscarora High, Frederick County.

Participation in POL offers students the opportunity to learn about their literary heritage, build self-confidence and improve their public speaking skills. The process begins in the fall when participating students select three eligible poems from the POL website, analyze and memorize them, and present the poems at their school competitions. In February each school winner moves on to regionals and, in March, at the State Finals competition, the participants are evaluated on physical presence, voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness, evidence of understanding, and overall performance.

"Poetry Out Loud provides a wonderful opportunity for young people to develop a relationship with poems that will continue the rest of their lives,” said Chris Stewart, MSAC POL Director and Arts in Education Program Director.  “Each year, as we travel around the state conducting regionals and meeting talented students and their dedicated teachers, we are reminded of and witness to the importance of creative expression and how this program empowers young people and gives them a voice."

"It is always inspiring to see students expand through the arts. This program offers the opportunity for students to apply personal experiences and meaning to poetyr... to elevate the words off the page," stated MSAC Executive Director, Ken Skrzesz. "We thank and congratulate all the students, their teachers and parents for their commitment to this journey."

Interview with Cayla Turner

Maryland's 2018 Poetry Out Loud State Champion Cayla Turner is a senior at Indian Creek School in Anne Arundel County. Cayla currently has a 3.85 GPA, is on the Dean's List, and is actively involved in the National Honor Society, Art Honor Society, and Tri-M Music Honor Society. She loves to sing, act, and dance and currently has a lead role in her school's upcoming production of “The Heathers.” She participates in many community service projects and her future goal is to become a Sign Language Interpreter.

MSAC:  What interested you about Poetry Out Loud?

CT: Truthfully, I wasn’t interested in Poetry Out Loud my freshman year. But it was a requirement in my literature class that every student choose a poem to recite in class, then whoever won would perform in the school competition. I won my freshman year in class and placed 3rd for the school competition. Ever since then I’ve loved Poetry Out Loud because I realized I was good at it. I also realized how much of an impact poetry has on so many lives and as a result poetry and I have continued to grow closer and I’ve competed every year. 

MSAC:  How did you select your poems for the competition?

CT: I chose "Life in a Love" and "The Song of The Feet" because I relate to them so much. I feel like one of the most important things to consider when choosing a poem is to pick those that you can empathize with because then the audience will be able to see that you’re not just saying a poem based on memory, but you love this poem and that you and the poem have a relationship. 

MSAC: How has your family reacted to your participation in Poetry Out Loud?

CT: My family has been unbelievably supportive regarding my participation in Poetry Out Loud. I’m pretty sure they could recite my poems because of how much I’ve made them listen to me practice. Not only has my family been there, but also my friends and my school have had my back through this journey. 

MSAC:  Do you plan on pursuing recitation or spoken word in college? 

CT: My plans for college involve learning American Sign Language and training to be an interpreter. So I will be able to use some of the fundamentals of recitation in my field. 

MSAC: Any recitation tips?

CT: My number one recitation tip would be to have fun. Yes, Poetry Out Loud is a competition but most importantly we’re here to express ourselves and our love of poetry. Also, love the poems you choose. Don’t choose a poem because someone else likes it or someone is pressuring you to choose it. Make sure that the poems you recite have a meaning to you. 

MSAC: Why should students participate in Poetry Out Loud?

CT: Students should participate in Poetry Out Loud because it’s an amazing experience. You learn so much about yourself and poetry by being a part of this competition. You also meet new people and can even make new friends. Overall, Poetry Out Loud is a great opportunity to put your own personal love of poetry on display.

"Poetry Ourselves" in Celebration of the Maryland State Arts Council 50th Anniversary

This year MSAC is celebrating its 50th anniversary and has added a new component to the event, “Poetry Ourselves,” in which State Champions may also write an original poem. The winner of that portion of the competition was Aevin Mayman of Barbara Ingram School for the Arts in Washington County with their poem   “em ▴ pa ▴ thy n.” 

em  pa  thy  n.

1. The way I look at you when you smile / The way you never smile, so this is like a blue moon / the real kind 2. Us in your basement, 2am: as in we both need to stop feeling / stop giving 3.Why I know your tears apart from my own: the rain / Your bottle of not-vodka / Under these stars¹ / that neither of us can see 4. Distance / I cannot let you go, / the string that binds our / souls together, / it is not something tangible / Not something that anyone can see. / This star dust / This burning bond 5. Something only I feel burning / Not love / more than friendship 6. The way I want you to come back / how I want to pull you back / like maybe if I think hard enough the wind will bring you here / Back in this basement² / At 2am / Away from 7. The edge

Synonyms: I’m here, tired, trying, not to let go

¹ hope

² safety

Get to know this talented young poet!

MSAC: Have you written poetry before? If so, tell us about your writing practice and what themes you find yourself writing about. If not, what made you decide to write and submit a poem for State Finals and how did this poem appear?

AM:  I have written poetry before! I am a student at BISFA [Barbara Ingram School for the Arts], which is an arts school, and my discipline is creative writing. Before this, it was typical pre-teen angst poetry. Now, I find poetry to be my favorite medium to write with. I found myself writing a lot about myself. It seems a bit narcissistic, but I find it a therapeutic and useful tool in expressing myself.

MSAC: Describe your poem's structure, which is in the format of a definition in a dictionary. Why did you choose it and what effect did you wish to achieve?

AM: This is my first elongated experiment with this type of poetry, and I am a huge fan of it. I have written a few others, but they were much shorter. Definition poems aim to let the author express their own emotional meaning of a word. The sentence-esque flow also keeps the reader engaged and present, which I agree. I love this type of poetry because I've never seen anything like it before. I wanted this poem to be different, not something that many people had seen before. And, according to the response I got, I think that I did a pretty good job.

MSAC: Poems often mean and/or are experienced as one thing on the page and another when read out loud. When you read the poem at Maryland Poetry Out Loud State Finals how was the poem different from on the page? How the same?

AM: When I realized I would have to read it on stage, I was a bit frightened. Looking at it, the poem doesn't really seem to flow smoothly from page to stage. I honestly feel that this piece is better on the page. It feels more personal and connected. Reading out loud was cool because I got to feel where the emotion would hit, but I think that one of the best things about it is that the reader gets to enjoy it with their own voice.

MSAC: If you read poetry, what poet(s) are you interested in right now?

AM: I need to get into more poetry, which I aim to do over the summer. Of course, being every typical arts student, I've read Rupi Kaur and absolutely love her. I have also read books by Sarah Kay and Neil Hilborn (both of whom have talked with me and my discipline personally!). I am interested in reading just about any poetry I can get my hands on!

Congratulations again to Aevin!

The 2018 Maryland Poetry Out Loud State Finals Competition was hosted by Aaron Henkin of WYPR and along with performances by  Mary Sawyer Baker Award Winner Wendel Patrick. The two are co-producers of the award-winning radio neighborhood documentary series “Out of the Blocks.” The judges were Em Sea Water, a former Maryland Poetry Out Loud regional coordinator. Water balances the roles of a public school teacher, father, poet and community activist, and creates music that inspires audiences of all ages including young children. Celeste Doaks, author of Cornrows and Cornfields, (Wrecking Ball Press, 2015), and editor and contributor of poetry anthology Not Without Our Laughter: Poems of Humor, Joy, and Sexuality, (Mason Jar Press, 2017). She’s received a 2017 Rubys Grant in Literary Arts and her journalism has appeared in the Huffington PostVillage VoiceTime Out New York, and QBR (Quarterly Black Book Review). Andrew Motion, the author of 12 books of poetry including most recently Peace Talks. Motion was the UK Poet Laureate from 1999-2009, and is the co-founder and co-director of The Poetry Archive and Poetry by Heart, England’s national recitation contest open to students ages 14-18. He was knighted for his services to poetry in 2009. Before joining The Writing Seminars faculty at Johns Hopkins University, he was Professor of Creative Writing at Royal Holloway College, University of London.

The Maryland State Champion receives $1200 in prize funds from the NEA and MSAC and an all-expenses-paid trip with an adult chaperone to Washington, D.C., to compete in the National Finals, April 23-25, 2018, at the Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University, Washington, D.C. The Maryland winner’s school receives a $500 stipend for the purchase of poetry materials. The first runner-up will receive $850 in combined NEA and MSAC prize funds, with $200 for his/her school library. Poetry Out Loud awards a total of $50,000 in awards and school stipends at the National Finals, with $20,000 awarded to the Poetry Out Loud National Champion.

The public is invited to watch the livestream of the National Finals April 25, 2018 at 7:00 p.m. at Follow and tag Poetry Out Loud using #POL2018, @PoetryOutLoud. 



Poetry Out Loud State Champions pose for a photo at the State Finals event held at The Baltimore Museum of Art on Saturday, March 10, 2018. Pictured from left to right: Jeanette Banko, Colonel Richardon High, Caroline County; Kaylor Stroot, Brookewood School, Montgomery County; Kate Maerten, Gerstell Academy, Carroll County; Wansi "Ivy" Huang, Thomas S. Wootton High, Montgomery County; Allison Latham, The King's Christian Academy, St. Mary's County; Faith Rogers, Tuscarora High, Frederick County; Aevin Mayman, Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, Washington County (third place winner); Amy Nguyen, Sts. Peter and Paul High, Talbot County (second place winner); Cayla Turner, Indian Creek School, Anne Arundel County (Maryland State Champion). Photo credit: Edwin Remsberg.



Maryland Poetry Out Loud Program Video:






​The original poem competition adopted for Maryland State Finals in 2015 for the POL programs 10th anniversary, was added to the regional competitions beginning with the 2018-2019 program.

Guidelines here. Regional prize is $100. State Finals prize is $300.



Region One: Allegany County, Baltimore County, Carroll County, Cecil County, Frederick County, Garrett County Harford County, Washington County

Region Two: Anne Arundel County, Baltimore City, Calvert County, Charles County, Howard County, Montgomery County, Prince George's County, St. Mary's County

Region Three: Caroline County, Dorchester County, Kent County Queen Anne's County, Talbot County, Somerset County, Wicomico County, Worcester County

Each school's first place winner will go straight to one of three regional competitions (with a second place winner as back up).

Three winners from each region will go on to the State Finals. 

Dates of regionals are Saturdays in January and February. For full information (uploaded in November), click on the "Maryland Competitions" link in the right hand sidebar above.

Maryland State Finals are held in early March at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Since 2005, nearly 4.7 million students have competed in Poetry Out Loud nationwide. That's almost 4.7 million students who have learned at least one poem by heart!

In Maryland, approximately 129,000 students have participated in the program, learning the power of poetry firsthand. 



  • All POL lesson plans will only be available on the website here. The three lesson plans that traditionally appeared in the hard copy teacher’s guide have been moved online. The NEA offers 12 lesson plans online, tailored to POL and covering a wide range of topics. We encourage POL teachers to visit the Teaching Resources section of to view lesson plans and other helpful information.
  • The accuracy score sheet now lists specific deductions for omitting an epigraph and/or including a footnote during competition. The NEA will also be adding a note to each poem in the online anthology that includes an epigraph or footnote. Please scroll to the bottom of Brenda Cárdenas's "Zacuanpapalotls"  to see an example of this note.