Poetry Out Loud State Champion Travels to Washington, D.C. for National Competition

TN State Champion Kendall Grimes recites her chosen poems at the POL National semifinals.

by Meredith Callis, Arts Education Special Projects Coordinator

Earlier this month, Poetry Out Loud winners from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands gathered in Washington D.C. to compete for the title of Poetry Out Loud national champion. Representing Tennessee was Battle Ground Academy freshman Kendall Grimes, accompanied by her father Nate Grimes. This free trip is granted to Tennessee’s winning student, their guardian and teacher following their win at the State Finals.

Competing in the National semifinals held at George Washington University, Kendall recited poems “Worth” by Marilyn Nelson and “I Go Back to May 1937” by Sharon Olds. The talent and determination put forth toward Kendall’s recitations was clearly evident. Though each state winner excelled in their chosen poems, this year’s National Champion title was awarded to Minnesota high school senior Isabella Callery. Despite not moving forward into the final round, Kendall shared that her favorite part of the experience had little to do with winning or losing.

State winners from across America are given the opportunity to get to know one another at various activities through the National Finals event.

“The highlight of my trip to D.C. was, without a doubt, the people I met. The students and teachers that I met were some of the liveliest, joyful, supportive people I have ever come across, which I am sure is a trend for most Poetry Out Loud participants. I also got the chance to meet with some of my state representatives and congressmen, and they too were understanding and welcoming.”

As in years past, all state winners and guests are invited to the United States Capitol Building to a special Congressional luncheon, offering students a chance to meet with their respective state’s elected officials. Both Senator Marsha Blackburn and Congressman Jim Cooper invited Kendall to their offices for an opportunity to hear about her experience with Poetry Out Loud.  When asked about the role of the program, Kendall shares why she sees it as an important addition to all high school curriculum. “The program gives students the opportunity to engage with poetry in a different way than they would in the classroom…It also allows them to understand themselves better. I have a new connection with words because of my participation in Poetry Out Loud, which can only help me as I progress through school and life.

Kendall meets with Senator Marsha Blackburn and Congressman Jim Cooper representative, Jimmy Balser.

We are so proud of Kendall and the hard work she brought to this year’s competition. We’re also thankful for the time and dedication committed to Poetry Out Loud by her teacher Leah Handelsman and poet mentor Tia Smedley. We look forward to another exciting program this fall, available to all high schools. Check the TN Arts Commission Poetry Out Loud page for details and to receive free materials for the 2019-2020 school year!