California Arts Council

State of California

Senate Chambers is venue for California's Poetry Out Loud State Finals
Standing-room only expected at event on Monday, March 23, 2009

Published: 02-27-2009

Words will fly when the students stand in the historic and ornately decorated state Senate chambers on Monday, March 23. But it won't be discussion of policy or debates about budget issues from these teens. It will be poetry.

This year marks the fourth time the California Arts Council has produced the Poetry Out Loud competition, a contest that encourages high school students to learn about poetry through memorization, performance, and competition -- and the first time the state finals will take place at the state Capitol on the Senate floor.

"We are honored and excited to have the Poetry Out Loud state finals in the Senate chambers," said California Arts Council Director Muriel Johnson. "These students have worked so hard, and their artistry and skills will be complemented by the majesty of being in the state Capitol."

Hundreds of Californians have witnessed the California Poetry Out Loud finals, both live and on cable on the California Channel, which televises the competition each year and won a Telly Award for its program in 2008. The Arts Council expects the 2009 finals will be standing-room only, based on the excitement the competition has generated statewide.

There will be competitors representing 24 counties in the California state finals -- winners who have shown their merit in the classroom, school, district, and county (a pyramid competition structure similar to the spelling bee). Each state's Poetry Out Loud champion will win $200 and go on to compete in Washington, DC in April, with their schools receiving $500 for poetry books, and each runner-up receive $100, with his or her school receiving $200 for books.

The state's Poetry Out Loud program is directed by the California Arts Council, and was initiated by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Poetry Foundation. Local arts agencies and school districts conduct the program at the county level. The national initiative is part of an attempt to bring literary arts to students -- a critical need in U.S. schools, according to a 2004 NEA report Reading at Risk that found a dramatic decline in literary reading, especially among younger readers. The Poetry Out Loud program seeks to foster the next generation of readers and strengthen students' confidence in their public-speaking abilities by capitalizing on the latest trends in poetry: recitation and performance.

Space will be limited, so parties interested in attending the competition should contact Poetry Out Loud coordinator Kristin Margolis at More general information, including a list of poems the students may choose to recite, can be found at A summary of Reading at Risk report can be found on the NEA website.

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