SLO County Poetry Out Loud Champion Blair Bishop, reciting Victoria Chang’s “I Once Was a Child”

Editor’s Note: Alex Yue of Sacramento County was named this year’s California Poetry Out Loud state champion on March 19, 2023.

The 2023 California Poetry Out Loud State Finals, featuring high school poetry champions from 10 counties, will be held March 19 from 5 to 6:30 p.m. The 18th annual event, which is free and open to the public, is accessible on Zoom via phone or web link.

San Luis Obispo County’s champion, Blair Victoria Bishop, submitted a pre-recorded poem recitation video to the California competition, one of 48 entries that was assessed and scored by a team of judges. Bishop didn’t make the final cut, but the Paso Robles High School student and five other SLO County students can be seen on a video posted to the local Poetry Out Loud website. The other students featured and their high schools are Scarlett Helmeke (SLO Classical Academy), Gavin Lundy (Coast Union), Sydney Mendoza (Nipomo), Clarissa Olmos (Morro Bay), and Dawson Sennes (San Luis Obispo).

In the state competition, Bishop recited “I Once Was a Child” by Victoria Chang, “Early Affection” by George Moses Horton, and “You, If No One Else” by Tino Villanueva. Her statement published on the California Poetry Out Loud website speaks to meaning: “Poetry Out Loud and the arts mean finding a way to connect with someone else’s work to understand the deeper meaning, or find what it means to you.” Her teacher at Paso Robles High School is Jeffrey Mount.

California’s Poetry Out Loud is the largest event of its kind in the U.S. and has grown steadily since its inception. The 2023 competition encompassed 223 schools and 514 teachers, reaching nearly 14,418 students statewide. An initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts and The Poetry Foundation, it is administered statewide by the California Arts Council. Participants master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about literary history and contemporary life.

The state champion receives a $200 cash prize and an all-expense paid trip to and a chance to win the Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest, held May 8-10 in Washington, D.C. The winner’s school receives $500 toward literary materials. Last year, California’s champion secured the top spot in the national contest.

The State Finals will be hosted by California Poet Laureate Lee Herrick. “Poetry Out Loud celebrates the art of poetry and the joyful experience of hearing it read aloud by our inspiring youth,” said Lee Herrick. “Their bravery and talent are impressive and admirable. The future of poetry is bright with these students leading the way.”

:: Charlotte Alexander