What is Poetry Out Loud?

What is Poetry Out Loud?

Poetry Out Loud™ is a national arts education program that encourages the study of great poetry by offering free educational materials and a dynamic recitation competition for high school students across the country, including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa. The program has helped students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about their literary heritage through classical and contemporary poetry. Since the program began in 2005, more than 4.1 million students and 68,000 teachers from 17,000 schools and organizations have participated in Poetry Out Loud.

Similar to the National Spelling Bee, Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest begins at the classroom level, as participating teachers use the free Poetry Out Loud toolkit to teach poetry recitations and run classroom competitions. The program does not require full class periods, and all teaching resources are aligned with NCTE ELA Standards, making it an excellent addition to existing curriculum.

Each school champion will go on to compete in the State Finals in Nashville, which includes an exciting weekend of activities and programs for the student and their educator. The winner of the State Finals receives $1,000, and goes on to represent Tennessee at the National Poetry Out Loud Finals.

A total of $50,000 in awards and school/organization stipends will be given at the Poetry Out Loud National Finals, including a $20,000 award for the National Champion (an honor won by the TN Champion in 2014), $10,000 for 2nd place (an honor won by the TN Champion in 2021), $5,000 for 3rd place, and $1,000 for 4th–9th places. The representing schools or organizations of each of the top nine finalists receive $500 for the purchase of poetry materials.

2021-2022 Tennessee State Competition

Currently, we are modeling the TN State Competition after the NEA’s 2021-2022 plans for the season. While keeping a close eye on COVID-19 and utilizing safety protocols, we are slated for an in-person competition on Friday and Saturday, March 4-5, 2022 at the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville, TN. More details to come.

Dates for the 2022 National Finals are:

  • April 26-27, 2022 in Washington D.C.

Who Can Participate?

All types of high schools are welcome to participate, including public, private, parochial, independent, charter, etc., as well as homeschool students. Non-school organizations, such as after-school clubs, libraries, or nonprofit organizations, may choose to run Poetry Out Loud as well. Students may only compete in one stream—either with their school or an organization. Only schools and organizations registered with their state Poetry Out Loud coordinator are eligible for the competition. Students unable to participate at their school or a local organization should contact their state Poetry Out Loud coordinator to discuss other opportunities for inclusion in the state’s official competition.

Contact Chris Sweatt, Director of Arts Education, at chris.sweatt@tn.gov or 615-253-8914 with any questions about Poetry Out Loud in Tennessee.

Listed below are the key dates for the 2021-2022 Poetry Out Loud Season:

  • Friday, October 15, 2021: Early bird deadline to register for a teaching artist residency for the Fall semester.
  • Friday, January 14, 2021: Deadline to schedule and register school competition.
  • Wednesday, January 26, 2022: Deadline to register your school’s champion for the state competition.
  • Friday and Saturday, March 4-5, 2022: Tennessee Poetry Out Loud State Finals – Tennessee State Museum in Nashville, TN.
  • Tuesday and Wednesday, April 26–27, 2022: Poetry Out Loud National Finals in Washington, DC.

How can I get started?

Interested and want to know more? Get started by requesting free materials in the Request Materials Form or download the POL_Teachers Guide 2021-2022. From there, teachers submit a School Registration Form to register as a participating school and implement the program in their school by leading a classroom or school-wide competition. Once your school winner has been selected, you can register the school winner for the Tennessee State Finals by submitting the State Finals Registration Form

Schools planning to send students to the TN Statewide POL competition, please ensure that you have permissions for the poems students have selected and follow the step-by-step guidance within the guide. Please email poetryoutloud@arts.gov and jhaka@poetryfoundation.org with any questions regarding this process.

Take a look at the 2021-2022 Online POL Poetry Anthology with over 1,100 poems! 


Contact Michelle Sipes, Arts Learning Specialist, at michelle.sipes@tn.gov or at 615-532-5934.



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