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In order to ensure the safety and health of participating students and staff, the 2021 POL National Finals will be held virtually in lieu of holding them on-site in Washington D.C. as previously planned.  This decision is based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and General Counsel for the National Endowment for the Arts. At this time, the dates for the virtual 2021 National Finals are still to be determined, but will take place in the Spring as a video submission-based competition. When more details are available, they will be shared with the POL community-at-large.  

For guidance regarding POL virtual competitions, please reference the POL Virtual Competitions and Filming Requirements documentWe strongly encourage teachers and organizers at all contest levels to hold virtual competitions for the 2020-2021 POL season. This appeal is made to ensure the safety and well-being of students, parents, teachers, and everyone involved with POL. Any organizer who declines to hold a virtual competition, and elects to hold an in-person contest, must follow all federal, state, and local guidelines in regard to slowing the spread of COVID-19. This may include wearing masks, enforcing social distancing measures, hand sanitizing, and ensuring participants and guardians are not displaying symptoms of COVID-19 prior to attending, and while participating in, a POL event.


Lead Teachers

We recommend that each school or organization identify one or two teachers or other identified leaders to serve as the Poetry Out Loud coordinators. Lead organizers will recruit needed participants and staff, distribute materials, organize events, and keep in touch with the state Poetry Out Loud coordinator.

Promotional Ideas and Social Media Publicity

Begin organizing your school contest as early as possible in order to ensure greater attendance, whether in-person or online. Please see the POL PR Toolkit for information on promoting the event within your school and community, sample press releases and media advisories, and a social media guide.

Staffing the Competition:

Emcee: Since there may be a lull during scoring, you may want the emcee to provide info about the poets or the students. (Music is also a good filler)

3–5 Judges and 1 Accuracy Judge: See Judging a Contest for advice on judge selection

•Prompter: This is someone who will have a notebook with each poem, whom the students can look to if they forget a word or line.

•Score Tabulator: This person will input the scores into a database during the competition. A template is available here. Remember to test your tabulation system before the event.

Contest Venue

Classroom contests can be held during class periods. If holding a contest in-person, reserve a school theater, auditorium, or other appropriate venue for your schoolwide competition. The ideal setting will have a stage and theater-style seating. Depending on the size of the venue, amplification may be appropriate. If holding a virtual contest, consult the POL Virtual Competitions & Filming Requirements document.


Poem Selection

All poems must be selected from the Poetry Out Loud print or online anthology, which is updated every summer. Check the website after September 1st to view the official POL anthology for the current school year. Only versions of poems from the official anthology may be used in the contest.

Students must provide the titles and authors of their poems and the order in which they will be recited to the coordinator. Students may not change their poems or their order once submitted. This will enable the coordinator to have poems for the accuracy judge and prompter and evaluation sheets prepared.

Number of Poems Required at Each Contest Level

Classroom Level

Students must prepare at least one poem to recite.

School Finals Level

Students must prepare two poems to recite.

State and National Levels

Students must prepare three poems to recite.*

*At the state 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. One poem may be used to meet both criteria, and may be the student’s third poem.

Introducing and Reciting the Poem

Competitors recite individually. The emcee should introduce students as they come to the stage to recite. It is the student’s job to identify the poem title and author, and, if necessary, the translator. (For example, “Future Memories” by Mario Meléndez, translated by Eloisa Amezcua). A few other notes:

Contest Resources