Maine’s high school students currently competing for the chance to represent the state at the Poetry Out Loud: National Recitation Contest in Washington, D.C. this April. The contest, where students recite memorized works of poetry in front of a live audience, attracts more than 350,000 competitors nationally each year.

Thirty-two high schools in Maine will be represented at two regional finals where five students will be chosen by a panel of experts to move on to the state final at the Waterville Opera House Friday, March 5. The winner of the state final will receive $200; a $500 stipend for the purchase of poetry books for his or her school; and an all-expenses-paid trip (with a chaperone) to compete in the National Finals April 26 and 27. The Poetry Out Loud National Finals will bestow a total of $50,000 in awards and school stipends, with a $20,000 prize for the Poetry Out Loud National Champion.

All of the Poetry Out Loud events feature live entertainment and are free for the public to attend. The Grand Auditorium in Ellsworth will host the Northern Regional Final Thursday, Feb. 4 between 3 and 6 p.m. The Southern Regional Final will take place at the City Theater in Biddeford Thursday, Feb. 11 at the same time. The State Final will take place March 5 at the Waterville Opera house between 5 and 8 p.m.

Midcoast competitors are, in the Northern Final, Jamie Knowles of Searsport District High School; and, in the Southern Final, Erica Dailey of Waldoboro’s Medomak Valley High School.

Poetry Out Loud is a national arts education program, organized at the state level by the Maine Arts Commission. It encourages the study of great poetry by offering educational materials and a dynamic recitation competition to high schools across the country. The competition uses a pyramid structure. Beginning at the classroom level, winners advance to a school-wide competition, then to the state competition and, ultimately, to the National Finals in Washington, D.C. More than 350,000 students across the country are expected to take part in Poetry Out Loud this year, with 4132 competing in Maine.

During the competition, contestants recite memorized works of poetry they selected from an anthology of more than 600 classic and contemporary poems. The National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation created a standards-based teachers guide, a comprehensive Web site and a CD featuring poetry recitations by well-known actors and writers such as Anthony Hopkins, Alyssa Milano, N. Scott Momaday and Rita Dove.

For more information on Poetry Out Loud, contact Willa Kammerer at the Maine Arts Commission by calling 287-6746 or sending e-mail to mepoetryoutloud@gmail.com.

VillageSoup Art/Entertainment Editor Dagney Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail to dernest@villagesoup.com.