Chariho Regional High School student Virginia Keister wins 2021 Poetry Out Loud Rhode Island competition.

Chariho Regional High School’s Virginia Keister is the 2021 winner of the Poetry Out Loud state championship held Sunday, March 21, on YouTube.

YouTube video

In announcing the winner, Randall Rosenbaum, executive director of RI State Council on the Arts (RISCA), said that Keister will be representing the state in the regional competition, May 2, and national finals, May 27. Both competitions will be streamed online.

View the video of the state competition by clicking here

2021 Poetry Out Loud competitors with placements listed below:

Chariho Regional High School, Virginia Keister, RI State Champion

St Patrick Academy, Bianca Bautista, Second Place, silver

Classical High School, James Ninneman, Third Place, bronze

Portsmouth Abbey, Casey Motta, Honorable Mention

Central High School, Jepthe Pinthiere, Honorable Mention

Providence Country Day, Simone Pellegrino

Central Falls High School, Karen Figueroa

The winner of the Poetry Out Loud Rhode Island finals receives $200, and the winner’s school receives a $500 stipend for the purchase of poetry materials. The first runner-up will receive $100, with $200 for his or her school library. To ensure the safety and health of participating state champions, the 2021 Poetry Out Loud National Finals will be held virtually in lieu of holding them on-site in Washington DC, as previously planned. The finals will present a total of $50,000 in awards and school stipends, with a $20,000 award for the Poetry Out Loud National Champion.

High school students from seven Rhode Island schools participated in the virtual 16th annual Poetry Out Loud Rhode Island State Finals. Seven schools submitted videos to the Rhode Island competition this year. After the seven competitors performed their recitations, the judges named five finalists, who each presented a different poem. Then, the winner, Keister, was selected. She will represent RI during the region and national competitions in May. 

RISCA’s Rosenbaum expressed his gratitude to the RI Poetry Out Loud team for their work during a very challenging school year. “On behalf of RISCA and the Poetry Out Loud partners, we congratulate Virginia and wish her good luck this May during the upcoming competitions. I’d also like to thank the participating schools and the hardworking RI Poetry Out Loud team.”

This unique year called for a strong POL team, which is led by Martha Lenihan Lavieri. She is the veteran program coordinator for RI Poetry Out Loud since 2013, first through Arts Equity (formerly VSA Arts RI) as the lead program partner and then independently since 2019. She is a staple of the RI Arts Education community having been a founding member of Providence Inner City Arts and other groups. She is also a talented musician. Additionally, Paul Marsella acted as video producer/director and Jon Lavieri was media technical support.

RI Poetry Out Loud also employs two teaching artists as coaches, Kate Lohman and Damont Combs. Lohman is an actor, director, producer and adjunct professor at Providence College. She also performs extensively in regional theater and summer stock, and was a company member at Pittsburgh Public Theater, Perishable Theater and AS220’s Empire Revue. Combs is a poet in RI originally from Queens, NY. Combs otherwise known as “Mr. Orange” has released two books of poetry, My Poem… My Riddle (Prysmatic Dreams Publishing, 2015) and Damont Combs presents A Touch of Orange (Kingdom Enterprise LLC, 2016). Combs is also on staff at Motif magazine as its Poetry Curator.

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, DC. Since its inception, 3.6 million students from 14,000 high schools nationwide have participated in Poetry Out Loud. This year, all preliminary school competitions and visits with teaching artists were done virtually. Students rose to the challenges presented by the pandemic to showcase their love and appreciation for poetry during this atypical school year. 

Poetry Out Loud: National Recitation Contest, a partnership with the RI State Council on the Arts (RISCA), National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Poetry Foundation, inspires high school students to learn about great poetry through memorization, performances and competition. Poetry Out Loud ( is a national arts education program that encourages the study of great poetry by offering educational materials and a dynamic recitation competition to high schools across the country.

National Endowment for the Arts was established by Congress in 1965, the NEA is the independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies and the philanthropic sector, the NEA supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America. For more information, visit NEA website.

The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine, is an independent literary organization committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture. It exists to discover and celebrate the best poetry and to place it before the largest possible audience. The Poetry Foundation seeks to be a leader in shaping a receptive climate for poetry by developing new audiences, creating new avenues for delivery, and encouraging new kinds of poetry through innovative partnerships, prizes and programs. For more information, visit its website.

Rhode Island State Council on the Arts (RISCA) is a state agency, supported by appropriations from the Rhode Island General Assembly and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. RISCA provides grants, technical assistance and staff support to arts organizations and artists, schools, community centers, social service organizations and local governments to bring the arts into the lives of Rhode Islanders. For more information, visit RISCA’s website.

Source: Rhode Island State Council on the Arts