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MONTPELIER — Three Southern Vermont students are among 16 teens across the state competing in the 2021 Poetry Out Loud competition, to take place virtually.

Hazel Kinnersly from Brattleboro Union High School, Benji Richards from Stratton Mountain School and Gary Zhu from Vermont Academy are participating in the statewide competition, to be streamed at 7 p.m. March 15 on Vermont PBS’s online OVEE platform.

Presented in partnership with the Vermont Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Poetry Foundation, Poetry Out Loud is a national program that encourages high school students to learn about both classic and contemporary poetry through memorization, performance and competition.

This year in Vermont, 60 teachers from 24 schools registered to bring the program to their classrooms, reaching more than 1,500 students. The 16 students participating in the statewide competition were selected by their teachers as “school champions.” Due to the pandemic, these students submitted their poetry recitations by video, which were evaluated by a panel of six judges.

One recitation video from each student will be aired Monday, and a panel of six judges will also share their insights about this year’s competition. Actor Andy Butterfield will emcee the event.

All 2021 judges are published Vermont poets. They are Frances Cannon, faculty member at Champlain College and Vermont College of Fine Arts; Rajnii Eddins, an activist and public speaker; Tina Escaja, a University of Vermont professor of Spanish and Director of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies; Shanta Lee Gander, a multidisciplinary artist; Ruth Rodriguez, co-owner of Antidote Books in Putney; and Bianca Stone, director of programs at Ruth Stone House.

During the online event, this year’s champion and runner-up will be announced, and participants with the five highest cumulative scores will be recognized.

All contestants are evaluated on these criteria: physical presence, voice and articulation, evidence of understanding, dramatic appropriateness, accuracy and overall performance.

The state champion will receive $200 and will advance to the national finals where $50,000 in awards and school stipends will be distributed. The school of the state champion will receive $500 for the purchase of poetry materials. The first runner-up in each state will receive $100, with $200 for his or her school library. The Poetry Foundation provides and administers all aspects of the monetary prizes awarded.

The 2021 National Semifinals will take place on Sunday, May 2, and the 2021 National Finals will take place on Thursday, May 27. Both will be video submission-based competitions and will be streamed on

Vermont Poetry Out Loud is supported by the Poetry Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the state of Vermont.

For more information about Vermont’s Poetry Out Loud, visit

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