On March 10, 2021, Madeline “Mattie” Mills, an 18-year-old senior at Notre Dame de Sion High School in Kansas City, became Missouri’s 2021 state champion of Poetry Out Loud. This national arts education program encourages the study of great poetry by providing educational materials and a dynamic recitation competition to high school students across the country. The runner-up in the state finals was Hayley Knapik, a senior at Nerinx Hall High School in Webster Groves.
Ms. Mills continued her journey to the national semi-finals on May 2, though she did not become one of the nine finalists who will compete on May 27.
The 2020 and 2021 Poetry Out Loud competitions have taken place in a radically different fashion than during any other year since the program began in 2006.
Poetry Out Loud competitions start in individual high schools or with local organizations such as libraries and other nonprofits. The winners of one tier of competition advance to the next, ending at the national finals. Missouri’s school competitions and regional finals took place in person as usual. The 2020 state finals were held in Jefferson City in March just before the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated. The national finals, however, were held virtually.
For 2021, the regional, state, and national competitions have all been virtual. Students have uploaded videos of themselves reciting the three poems they have chosen. The national finals will be livestreamed in a one-time-only event on the National Endowment for the Arts’ website.
“This was a challenging year, and we are so proud of these students’ talent and persistence, and of the teachers who guided them students through the process,” said Sharon Beshore, Missouri Arts Council chair, at the Zoom event on March 10 where Missouri’s regional champions gathered to perform poetry for each other in a poetry slam and to hear the official announcement of the state champion and runner-up.
Ms. Mills chose these poems for her performance at Missouri’s regional and state finals and the national semi-finals:
“To me, poetry is a way to express emotions and abstract ideas that are normally difficult to put into words,” Ms. Mills said. “It is important to me because it gives me an outlet to express myself freely. I loved getting to dive deeper into my three poems. I was able to connect with them on a more personal level because I was able to spend so much time with them.”
The national Poetry Out Loud program awards each state champion $200, and their school or local organization $500 for the purchase of poetry materials. The runner-up receives $100 and their school or organization $200.
Judges for the state finals were Pacia Anderson, St. Louis poet and teaching artist; Aliki Barnstone, Missouri Poet Laureate 2016-19; Kate Brown, 2019 Poetry Out Loud Missouri state champion; Shakira Cross, 2018 Poetry Out Loud Missouri state champion; and accuracy judge Teresa Miller, digital expert.
Poetry Out Loud helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about literary history and contemporary life. Poetry Out Loud was created in 2006 by the Poetry Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and is supported by the Foundation, NEA, and state and jurisdictional arts agencies. Missouri has participated in Poetry Out Loud from the beginning. The Missouri Arts Council and the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education work in partnership to bring Poetry Out Loud to Missouri.