2021 Vermont Poetry Out Loud Champion Announced
MONTPELIER, VT— Irén Hangen Vázquez, a student at Burr and Burton Academy, took top honors at the Poetry Out Loud State Finals, held virtually on Vermont PBS’s OVEE platform on March 15.

Gavin Ghafoori, a student at St. Johnsbury Academy, was the runner up.

Twenty-four high schools across Vermont registered to bring the national Poetry Out Loud program to their classrooms in 2021. Sixteen students were selected by their teachers as school champions and advanced to participate in the 2021 statewide competition.
Irén Hangen Vázquez
2021 Vermont Poetry Out Loud Champion
Photo Credit: Hector Hernandez
The Poetry Out Loud program was created by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, and is administered statewide by the Vermont Arts Council. Now celebrating its 16th year in Vermont, Poetry Out Loud has inspired hundreds of thousands of American high school students to discover and know by heart classic and contemporary poetry.

One recitation video from each of the three poems that the students submitted for the competition was aired during the broadcast, and the six judges—all Vermont poets--shared their encouragement for poetry. A lively chat was held online during the event, as actor Andy Butterfield emceed.

Participants with the five highest cumulative scores were recognized. After Vázquez and Ghafoori, the next highest scorers were Grace Brink from Williamstown Middle High School, Mollie Allen from South Burlington High School, and Greta Alexandra-Parker from Rice Memorial High School.

During the broadcast, Vázquez’s recitation of Caminitos by Carmen Tafolla was aired, as was Ghafoori’s recitation of Cathedral of Salt by Nick Flynn.

A recording of the broadcast will be available on the Vermont Arts Council’s Poetry Out Loud web page soon at https://www.vermontartscouncil.org/programs/poetry-out-loud.

Due to the pandemic, the school champions submitted their three poetry recitations by video, which were evaluated by the judges, using these criteria: physical presence, voice and articulation, evidence of understanding, dramatic appropriateness, accuracy, and overall performance.

"Each year I am amazed and moved by the courage, eloquence, and grace that Vermont students bring on stage during Poetry Out Loud," said Vermont Arts Council executive director Karen Mittelman. "Now more than ever, we all need the inspiration and courage that the arts bring us, to move forward from this moment together."

State champion Vázquez receives $200 and advances to the national finals where $50,000 in awards and school stipends will be distributed. The state champion’s school--Burr and Burton Academy—receives $500 for the purchase of poetry materials. First runner-up Ghafoori receives $100, with $200 for his school library at St. Johnsbury Academy. 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 arts.gov.

Also announced today as a part of Poetry Out Loud, for the second year, the Vermont Arts Council partnered with the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center's Scholastic Writing Awards program to hold the Original Poetry Awards. This year, four poems from four students are recognized with a $100 cash award. The Original Poetry Award winners are as follows:

  • Samantha Aikman from Mt. Mansfield Union High School for her poem Undone. Aikman was also a writing award winner in 2020.
  • Brooks Balkan from South Burlington High School for his poem One Night in the Barn
  • Talia Gibbs from Vermont Commons School for her poem Fun-size
  • Beniamino Nardin from Harwood Union High School for his poem That Which Darkens

Vermont Poetry Out Loud is supported by the Poetry Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the state of Vermont. Since the program began in 2005, more than four million students across the country have participated in the national program.

For more information about Vermont Poetry Out Loud including list of all 2021 participants, visit https://www.vermontartscouncil.org/programs/poetry-out-loud.

The Vermont Arts Council envisions a Vermont where all people have access to the arts and creativity in their lives, education, and communities. Engagement with the arts transforms individuals, connects us more deeply to each other, energizes the economy, and sustains the vibrant cultural landscape that makes Vermont a great place to live. Since 1965, the Council has been the state's primary provider of funding, advocacy, and information for the arts in Vermont. Learn more at vermontartscouncil.org
Catherine Crawley, VAC Communications Director, ccrawley@vermontartscouncil.org, 802-828-5422