Poetry Out Loud uses a pyramid structure that starts at the classroom level. Winners advance to a school-wide competition, then to a regional and/or state competition, and ultimately to the National Finals.
Each winner at the state level receives $200 and an all-expenses-paid trip with an adult chaperone to Washington to compete for the national championship. The state winner's school receives a $500 stipend for the purchase of poetry books. The first runner-up in each state receives $100, with $200 for their school library. A total of $50,000 in awards and school stipends is awarded annually at the National Finals.
Awards are made in the form of lump sum cash payouts, reportable to the IRS. Tax liabilities are the sole responsibility of the winners and their families.
Rules and Eligibility
The following is a list of some basic rules that apply to Poetry Out Loud. For more details on these rules and other guidance on the competition, please thoroughly review the entire teacher's guide.
Please Note: While teachers, students, and poetry lovers everywhere can use this website and its free materials to organize their own contests, the official contest is limited to the programs run by the Maine Arts Commission. If you are interested in participating in the official Poetry Out Loud program, please register online. Only schools registered through the Maine Arts Commission are eligible to compete in state and national competitions.
- Grade Level: Only currently enrolled high school students in grades 9-12 are eligible to compete, with an exception made for 8th-grade students participating in a 9th- through 12th-grade class.
- Legal Participation Requirements: No student may be excluded from participating in Poetry Out Loud on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, disability, or national origin. Schools may determine eligibility for classroom and school level Poetry Out Loud programming pursuant to local and state law.
- Prize Requirements: The Poetry Foundation provides and administers all aspects of the monetary prizes awarded in Poetry Out Loud. State champions and runners up will need a valid tax identification number or social security number at the time that monetary prizes are issued by the Poetry Foundation.
- State Finals: A student may not advance to the state finals without competing in a lower-level competition (school and regional contests).
- Travel Requirements: The Poetry Foundation provides and administers all aspects of the travel for the State champions to the National Poetry Out Loud Finals. State champions (or their legal guardians) and their chaperones must complete the Poetry Out Loud Foundation's Poetry Out Loud Attestation and submit it to the Poetry Foundation before travel to the National Poetry Out Loud Finals can be arranged by the Poetry Foundation.
- Homeschooled Students & Students at Non-participating Schools: Homeschooled and Students whose public or private high school does not participate in the POL program are still welcome to participate. These students should contact the Maine Arts Commission to discuss other opportunities for inclusion in the program.
- Repeat Champions: Only National Champions are not eligible to compete in subsequent years.
- Poem Anthology: All poems must be selected from the Poetry Out Loud online anthology, which is updated every summer.
- Can't Find a Poem? Poems may be removed from the online anthology between program years. These poems are no longer eligible for competition.
- Poem Criteria: At the state regional and finals competitions and national finals, students must have three poems prepared. One must be 25 lines or fewer, and one must be written before the 20th century. The same poem may be used to meet both criteria, and may be the student’s third poem. Additionally, all poems in the Poetry Out Loud Print Anthology, which has not been updated for a few years, are also eligible for competition regardless of whether or not they are included in the online anthology. Neither the Maine Arts Commission nor the Poetry Out Loud national office has hard copies of the print anthology available for distribution.
Program Materials and Schedule
Poetry Out Loud curriculum materials include the online poetry anthology, a comprehensive teacher’s guide, and teaching resources (e.g., Teacher Preparations, Lesson Plans). Hard copies of all materials are free for teachers participating in the official program. Also, a promotional video entitled "Get Involved in POL" is available.
Materials are sent to high schools beginning in September as schools register, and the program is run through early winter. (Poetry Out Loud does not require full class periods and can be completed in 2-3 weeks.)
- School Competition: Schools must hold a competition of at least two students to select their champion. If that champion is unable to attend the next level of competition, the runner-up should be sent.
- Evaluation: Students must be judged according to the Poetry Out Loud evaluation criteria found in the Judge's Guide.
- Rounds: Regional, state and national finals consist of three rounds of competition. Competitions at lower levels may have fewer rounds, but students must recite only one poem in each round.
- Poem Order: The order in which the poems are recited is up to the student, but poem order may not be switched once given to the competition organizer.
- Judging: Rankings are based solely on evaluation sheets submitted by judges. Judges should not convene to discuss performances during the competition. Judges may not reconsider their scores after they are submitted.
- Scoring: Scoring is cumulative. The scores from all rounds should be added together to determine the winner.
- Ties: In the event of a tie, the tied student with the highest overall performance score should win; if that also results in a tie, look to the highest accuracy score. If scores remain tied, consider having students pick one poem to recite again as a separate score to break the tie.
- Props: Students may not use props or wear costumes during their recitations.