Natasha Connolly, a junior at Classical High School, is the 2023 R.I. Poetry Out Loud State Champion.

With the recitation of “No, I wasn’t meant to love and be loved,” by Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib, Classical High School junior and 2023 Youth Poet Ambassador, Natasha Connolly, won the 18th annual 2023 R.I. Poetry Out Loud State Championship, the Rhode State Council on the Arts announced today. Connolly will represent Rhode Island in the national competition in Washington, D.C., May 8-10.

Twelve students, representing schools from around the state, competed in the arts education competition on March 6 at the Greenwich Odeum. Prior to the competition the competitors spent most of the school year studying poetry through learning, memorization and performance.

“On behalf of RISCA, congratulations to Natasha, the other competitors, school staff, teaching artists and our Poetry Out Loud coordinator. Thank you for your impressive commitment, dedication and long hours of preparation,” said Executive Director, Lynne McCormack. “We are proud to partner with the NEA and Poetry Foundation for this arts education program that encourages, inspires study and a life-long appreciation for great classic and contemporary poetry.”

On May 9, Connolly will represent Rhode Island in the East Central and Northeast Semifinals. She will either attend or compete in the finals in Washington, D.C., depending on the outcome of the semifinals.

Her 11 other competitors included:

  • Jephte Pinthiere, Providence, second place, Central High School      
  • Jennifer Shon, Seoul, Korea, third place, Portsmouth Abbey School 
  • Ashley Esteban, Providence, honorable mention, Central Falls High School
  • Iris Petrillo, Warren, honorable mention, Providence Country Day School
  • Virginia Keister, Hope Valley, Chariho Regional High School
  • Payton Mays, Cranston, Cranston High School West
  • Nazarae Phillip, East Providence, East Providence High School        
  • Claire Fitzgerald, Warwick, La Salle Academy
  • Emerson Deschene, North Smithfield, North Smithfield High School
  • Yosmairy Jimenez, Pawtucket, St. Patrick Academy    
  • Yiadalis Cardec, Central Falls, William M. Davies Career & Technical High School

During this year’s competition, Providence’s Damont Combs, who performs as Mr. Orange, acted as guest poet.

Beginning at the classroom level, winners advance to a schoolwide competition, then to the state championships, and ultimately to the national finals in Washington, D.C. Since its inception, 3.6 million students from 14,000 high schools nationwide have participated in Poetry Out Loud.

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. 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.

Poetry Out Loud: National RecitationContest, a partnership with RISCA, National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Poetry Foundation, 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. For more information, visit

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.

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.

More From What'sUpNewp


Something went wrong. Please refresh the page and/or try again.