Isaac Lu, a junior at Cedar Tree School in Clark County, is the 2018 Poetry Out Loud Washington State Champion.
Photo by Jesse Gardner.

OLYMPIA, WA – Isaac Lu, a junior at Cedar Tree School in Clark County, is the Poetry Out Loud Washington State Champion for the 2017-18 school year. Janelle Thirtyacre, a senior at Eatonville High School in Pierce County, was named first runner-up. Honorable mentions went to Addi Garner, a senior at Anacortes High School in Skagit County; John Jones, a senior at Rainier High School in Thurston County; and Mackenzie Woodworth, a senior at Liberty Bell High School in Okanogan County.

Lu earned the honor of representing Washington State at the Poetry Out Loud National Finals later this spring in Washington D.C.  Rising to the top from a competitive field of over 18,000 students from 66 schools across the state, Lu was among the 13 regional Poetry Out Loud champions who competed at the State Final held March 10, 2018 at the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts, Theatre on the Square in Tacoma. Lu is the first student from the Southwest Washington region to win the state competition in the 10 years that it has been held.

Although he had competed in Poetry Out Loud before, this was the first time Lu made it through regional to the state competition. He credits his success to his choice of poems and the work he did to try to understand what the poems meant.

“When I finally thought I understood the meaning of the poems, I became more confident,” he said.

All participating students begin by choosing and memorizing poems from the official Poetry Out Loud anthology, a collection of over 900 classic and contemporary poems. At the state and national finals, students are required to have three poems prepared. Lu’s poems were The Glories of our Blood and State” by James Shirley and A Thank-You Note by Michael Ryan, with From Blossoms by Li-Young Lee as the final recitation.

Watch Isaac Lu’s recitation of A Thank-You Note by Michael Ryan 

Okanogan High School English teacher Dennis O’Connor, who has been teaching Poetry Out Loud for ten years, says some students come to the program reluctantly but eventually come to appreciate poetry. “It’s the performance of the students in class who are so passionate about it and so good in so many ways that raises the appreciation and understanding of poetry for all the other kids,” he said. “Suddenly the students in the audience are discovering that they like poetry.”

Poetry Out Loud uses a pyramid structure to advance the students from classrooms to school-wide competitions with each school sending its top student to a regional competition. This year ArtsWA partnered with six regions to support school participation and the regional finals across the state: Eastern Washington, coordinated by Spokane Arts; Southeast Washington, coordinated by Educational Service District 123; Central Washington, coordinated by Yakima Valley College; Puget Sound, coordinated by ArtsWA; Northwest Washington, coordinated by Skagit River Poetry Foundation; and Southwest Washington, coordinated by Educational Service District 112.

Sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation and coordinated in Washington by the Washington State Arts Commission (ArtsWA), the program encourages the study of great poetry by offering educational materials and a dynamic recitation competition to high schools across the country. At each stage of the competition, student recitations are judged according to the Poetry Out Loud evaluation criteria, including physical presence, voice and articulation, evidence of understanding, and accuracy.

This year’s Poetry Out Loud State Final judges included:

  • Danielle Gahl, Executive Director at ArtsEd Washington
  • Aira Jackson, English Language Arts and Literacy Director for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI)
  • Daniel Mancoff, English Language Arts Department Chair at Mount Si High School
  • Kellie Richardson, current Poet Laureate for the City of Tacoma
  • Dr. LaWonda Smith, Executive Director of the Race to the Top Road Map Consortium Project, Puget Sound Educational Service District
  • Cory Southwell, a theatre designer, director, and teaching artist at Youth Theatre Northwest

As the Washington State Champion, Isaac Lu will receive an award of $200 and an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. to compete at the national championship. Cedar Tree School will receive a $500 stipend for the purchase of poetry materials. First runner-up Janelle Thirtyacre will receive $100, with a $200 stipend going to Eatonville High School’s library.