Spotlight: Poetry Out Loud

In tandem with the Instagram spotlight series, I wanted to take the time to introduce a few other notable organizations and people within the literary world that I came across in my research for Poetic Potential. This week, we focus on Poetry Out Loud.

Poetry Out Loud: A Mission to Build Self-Confidence

Poetry Out Loud (POL) is a national arts education program that partners with the National Endowment for the Arts, Poetry Foundation, and other state and regional arts agencies to bring poetry into the lives of young people. By offering educational programs and recitation competitions across the United States, POL hopes to inspire students to study more poetry while also gaining essential life skills. Public speaking, self-confidence, and knowledge about literary history and contemporary life are just a few of the skills they highlight on their website but, knowing what I know about poetry and its impact, there are a vast array of others as well.

This idea of building self-confidence through poetry is close to my heart. Though I never had the opportunity to participate in a POL program, poetry was what helped me gain the confidence in myself that I needed to publish two books and share my writing with the world. It is something I write about often and something I had yet to discover until the past year and a half.

What is a Poetry Out Loud Competition Like?

In each round, students have to recite a poem from memory, selected from the current version of the POL anthology. State and national competitions have three rounds, but lower level ones may have fewer. It is different from a poetry slam, as these recitations are not the students’ original works. 

Judges then evaluate the performance based on the following criteria: physical presence, voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness, and evidence of understanding, as well as their overall performance. No props or costumes are used – scores are determined by the recitation only. Below are some tips and tricks offered to potential POL participants on their website, amongst other videos, showing just how much care they put into the personal development of their students.

POL Tips & Examples, from POL’s website

Poetry Out Loud by the Numbers

In 2020, POL was evaluated to determine the level of its impact on “poetry appreciation and engagement, social and emotional development, and academic performance” (see full report here). Here were some of the findings:

  • Since 2005, POL has reached over 4.1 million students and 68,000 teachers from 17,000 schools and organizations.
  • Students who participated in POL were 1.7 times more likely to have 4-year college and graduate school aspirations than non-participants, even after controlling for external factors.
  • Students who participated in POL were 1.5 times more likely to engage in community service and volunteer work than non-participants, even after controlling for external factors.

Want to Learn More?

To learn more about Poetry Out Loud, its competitions, and its impact, visit their website (, and see where POL is featured in chapter 2 of my new book, Poetic Potential: Sparking Change & Empowerment Through Poetry.

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