Poetry Out Loud

The Eastern Illinois Regional contest will be held in mid-February! If you are a teacher interested in participating in Poetry Out Loud, contact Elsie Hedgspeth, Director of Operations & Outreach, at ehedgspeth@40north.org.

About Poetry Out Loud
Poetry Out Loud is a national poetry recitation contest for high school students, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Poetry Foundation, and by the Illinois Arts Council in partnership with 40 North.

Poetry Out Loud encourages high school students to explore poetry as they master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about their literary heritage. The program uses a pyramid structure that starts at the classroom level, where teachers use free online and printed materials to lead students through lessons in literature interpretation, close-reading, and formal recitation. Students choose poems to study from a vast database of published poetry, and then compete at bringing their poems to life through recitation.

40 North | 88 West joined as the Eastern Illinois regional partner and organizer for the ’07/’08 school year, leading to state victories in 2009 and 2012.

Poetry Out Loud is a 100% FREE program, there are no costs to teachers, schools, or students wishing to participate. All official Poetry Out Loud materials are provided, and corresponding travel expenses will be covered or reimbursed at request.

The Eastern Illinois region includes the following counties: Champaign, Clark, Coles, Cumberland, DeWitt, Douglas, Edgar, Ford, Iroquois, Kankakee, Livingston, McLean, Moultrie, Piatt, Shelby, and Vermilion.

How it works

Poetry Out Loud is a free national program that encourages the nation’s youth to learn about great works of classic and contemporary poetry through memorization and recitation. 

Poetry Out Loud uses a pyramid structure that starts with classroom contests between September and January that is coordinated by the schools and teachers. Winners advance to a school-wide competition. Sometimes, because of the size nubmer of students participating, schools can opt out of the classroom competition. The school-wide champion then competes at a Regional Final (the Eastern Illinois regional contest is coordinated by 40 North | 88 West). The top 2 students from each Regional win trips to Springfield to compete at the State Final. Ultimately, 1 student from each state competes at the National Finals in Washington, D.C. At the state and national levels, students stand to win prize money and scholarships, as well as funds for their schools to use for poetry curriculum materials.

Partcipating teachers receive the print and online poetry anthologies, a comprehensive teacher’s guide, an audio CD featuring distinguished actors and writers, a DVD of National Finals performances, and promotional and media guides. Hard copies of all materials are free for teachers participating in the official program. 

40 North will coordinate the logistics of the regional contests so that teachers may concentrate on preparing students. 

Important events for the school year
Deadline for teachers to sign up (January)
Regional contest (February 8, 2024)
State contest (March)
National contest (April)

Want to be a judge? Contact Elsie at ehedgspeth@40north.org and download the Judge’s quide.

Poetry Out Loud is a 100% FREE program, there are no costs to teachers, schools, or students wishing to participate. All official Poetry Out Loud materials are provided, and corresponding travel expenses will be covered or reimbursed at request.


Poetry Out Loud National Website  http://www.poetryoutloud.org/

Illinois Arts Council http://www.arts.illinois.gov/

National Endowment for the Arts http://www.nea.gov/

Poetry Foundation http://www.poetryfoundation.org/

Poetry at Play http://poetryatplay.org/

Regional Finals

The 2024 Poetry Out Loud regional contest will be held on February 8, 2024 at 5:30pm at the Independent Media Center in Urbana, Illinois.

40 North | 88 West hosts the Poetry Out Loud Regional Finals for Eastern Illinois.

General Information for the Regional Finals:

  • Any student in grades 9 through 12 is eligible to compete in Poetry Out Loud. 
  • Each school sends 2 students to the Regional Final. These students must have competed in a school competition before competing at the Regional. (The school competition must have at least 2 students competing in it.) 
  • Each student competing at the Regional Final will have to recite 2 poems.

Success in Central Illinois:

2023 Illinois Runner-up – Kate Roth, Central High School in Champaign

“I have participated in Poetry Out Loud for all 4 years of my high school career. From recording my poems at home as a freshmen to advancing to State as a Junior and Senior, Poetry Out Loud has proven to be an annual highlight for me. The program has challenged me to grow both as a speaker and as an analyst of poetry- leaving me with a sense of empowerment, an appreciation for the art of poetry, and incredible memories that I will never forget.”

2012 Illinois Champion – Carolyn Muller, Central High School in Champaign

“Poetry Out Loud really gave me an opportunity to access a creative and emotional aspect of myself and share that with an audience. It immensely helped to improve my public speaking and stage presence in my three years of participation. Going to State twice and Nationals once gave me enormous confidence in myself and also gave me friends and experiences that I will never forget.”
2009 Illinois Champion – Kareem Sayegh, University High School in Urbana

“I felt like I did my poems the best I could,” Sayegh said. “I put a lot of emotion into them, a lot of myself into the poetry. … Grading a poetry recitation is an extremely subjective thing. I’m just proud of what I did.”

Request Info

Teachers all over Eastern Illinois are bringing poetry to life with their students through Poetry Out Loud: National Recitation Contest.

Interested in becoming a Poetry Out Loud judge or bringing Poetry Out Loud to your school? Email the Regional Coordinator, Elsie, at ehedgspeth@40north.org.

Student Resources

Eligible Poems:

Students competing in Poetry Out Loud must choose poems approved by the national sponsors as eligible for competition. These poems are listed on the current national website. There are over 650 poems in the searchable database.

Start searching for your favorites!

You can also search for poems that contain or are examples of specific poetic forms and terms:

If you or your teacher are also using the printed Poetry Out Loud Anthology of Poems, please note: a few of the poems in the Anthology do not appear in the current online database, but all poems in the Anthology are still eligible for competition this year.

Poem Requirements:

Students competing at the Regional Finals must recite 2 poems.

At the State and National levels, students must prepare to recite 3 poems. Also, at the State and National levels, students are required to recite at least one poem that was written before the 20th century and one that is 25 lines or fewer. The same poem can fulfill both requirements at once (for example, Christina Rossetti’s “A Birthday”).

Please note: these requirements will not be enforced at the Regional Final, but students should keep them in mind when choosing poems. (If you win the Regional Finals, you will only have a few weeks to learn a third poem and meet the requirements for the State Finals!)

Watch poetry recitation videos.

Get tips on reciting.

Teachers’ Resources

Here are links to teaching resources from the national Poetry Out Loud Teacher’s Guide:

Teacher Preparation

Class Schedule and Lesson Plans

Information on Accessibility

NCTE English Teaching Standards

The Poetry Foundation also maintains a dynamic collection of online resources for teaching and learning about poetry:

Poetry Foundation Learning Lab