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Volume 26, Number 4 — April 2019

Virginia Student Wins National Poetry Out Loud Competition

National Poetry Out Loud champion William Farley is congratulated by Virginia Poet Laureate Claudia Emerson.
National Poetry Out Loud champion William Farley is congratulated by Virginia Poet Laureate Claudia Emerson.

Arlington Student Will Farley Wins

May 12, 2009

RICHMOND, VA Virginia's Poetry Out Loud champion has won the national competition.

William Farley of Arlington captivated both judges and audience with his poetry recitations to gain the title of 2009 Poetry Out Loud National Champion. Farley receives a $20,000 award and his high school, Washington-Lee High School, will receive a $500 stipend for the purchase of poetry books.

The Virginia state Poetry Out Loud competition is coordinated by School of the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community SPARC — with funding from the Virginia Commission for the Arts

In addition to the cash prizes, Farley, a senior at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, as part of the recognition of excellence and achievement will recite a poem at the rededication of the Lincoln Memorial in May 2009, an event sponsored by the National Park Service in Washington, D. C.

Virginia has held a state Poetry Out Loud competition for the past four years. Peggy Baggett, Executive Director of the Virginia Commission for the Arts, said, "We are thrilled that the National Champion is one of our talented Virginia students. Will Farley has a bright future. The Virginia Commission for the Arts is grateful to the staff of SPARC for their excellent work in organizing the state competition and helping Will win this great honor."

The Virginia competition was held March 9, 2009, at the Library of Virginia. Poetry Out Loud is sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and The Poetry Foundation. Managed by SPARC Program Director, Laine Satterfield, over 7,500 Virginia high school students competed in this year's competition with 37 schools represented at the State finals. Virginia Currents' May Lily-Lee was the MC of the event. Judges included Virginia's Poet Laureate, Claudia Emerson; Department of Education's Tracy Robertson; and Director of the Richmond Boy's Choir, Billy Dye. Richmond director, Rusty Wilson, and Laine coached Will for his appearance in the Nationals.

Nationally, this year's Poetry Out Loud competition involved more than 1,500 high schools and 300,000 high school students. Guest judges presiding over the national competition, including Garrison Keillor, host of the radio show A Prairie Home Companion, award-winning actress Tyne Daly, journalist Jeffrey Brown, founder of Quest: arts for everyone Tim McCarty, and poets Suji Kwock-Kim, Patricia Smith, and Luis Rodriguez. Singer-songwriter Natalie Merchant gave a special performance of poetry-inspired songs. Scott Simon of National Public Radio served as master of ceremonies.

SPARC's Artistic Director, Jennie Brown said, "When we saw Will compete here in Richmond in the State finals, we knew he was a contender for the national title. What a remarkable young man he is, and what enormous potential."

Satterfield, who was with Farley and his family at the national finals said, "What a great event it was in Washington watching and spending time with this remarkable young man and his family. He is a true gentleman and such a sweet soul. I could not have been more proud to be his and Virginia's state representative."

William Farley's final recitation for the evening was "Danse Russe" by William Carlos Williams, a wry look at a middle-aged man's fancies and foibles. A senior at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Farley will attend Bucknell University in the fall.

"Everyone at Washington-Lee is extraordinarily proud of Will Farley as well as all of the other students who participated in Poetry Out Loud," said Paul Jamelske, the high school's Assistant Principal. "We know Will has worked very hard with this endeavor, and it shows."

On April 27, 53 high school students Poetry Out Loud champions from every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands competed in three semifinal rounds based on geographic region. Twelve students advanced to compete in the National Finals on April 28.

Judges evaluated student performances on criteria including physical presence, articulation, evidence of understanding, level of difficulty, and accuracy. Students performed poems from the Poetry Out Loud print and online anthologies ( The event was the culmination of a pyramid-structure competition that began last September among schools across the country.

The National Finals are the result of efforts by many partners. The NEA and the Poetry Foundation have contributed support for administration of the program, educational materials, and prizes for both the state and National Finals. In Virginia, the Virginia Commission for the Arts engages SPARC to implement the program. SPARC promotes Poetry Out Loud in high schools across the state, runs the State finals, and prepares the Virginia champion for the nationals. The Poetry Out Loud National Finals was administered by the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation.

Poetry Out Loud seeks to foster the next generation of literary readers by building on the resurgence of poetry as an oral art form, as seen in the slam poetry movement and the popularity of rap music among youth. Through Poetry Out Loud, students can master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about their literary heritage. Now in its fourth year of national competition, Poetry Out Loud has inspired thousands of high school students to discover classic and contemporary poetry.

Past Virginia Poetry Out Loud winners include: 2006 — Johnny Coyles, St. Christopher's School, Richmond; 2007 — Alana Rivera, Washington-Lee High School, Arlington; and Tia Robertson, Rappahannock High School, Warsaw.