Catherine Herrera

Catherine Herrera, 2021 Illinois State Champion

From her mouth perfect words exploded,
intact formulas of light and darkness.
She dared to rhyme with words like cochineal
and described the skies like diadem.
Obscurely worded incantations filled the room
with an alchemy that made the very molecules quake.

These lines from “Emily Dickinson at the Poetry Slam” by Dan Vera were among those recited by Catherine Herrera (Taft High School, Chicago), the 2021 Illinois State champion in the Poetry Out Loud: National Recitation Contest. The competition was held virtually earlier this week.

To win the competition, Herrera also recited “The Collar” by George Herbert and “Bright Copper Kettles” by Vijay Seshadri. Herrera now will advance to the virtual national competition in May.

Riley Tomes from Wheaton-Warrenville High School was declared the runner-up. Rounding out the top five were Madden Delaney (Franklin High School), Candice Epps (Rolling Meadows High School), and Liesl Schrag (Champaign Central High School).

The Illinois State Contest featured recitations by two students from each of eight Poetry Out Loud regions in the state: Central, Chicago-City, Chicago-Metro, Eastern, Northern, South-central, Southern, and Western.

Other students participating from around the state:
Thaddeus Bergschneider (Franklin High School, Franklin)
Emma Carmona (Jefferson High School, Rockford )
Michelle Castelan (Von Steuben High School, Chicago)
Regan Cook (Bureau Valley High School, Manlius)
Ellyne Crowden (Agape Christian High School, Marion)
Jordyn Ginestra (Edwardsville High School, Edwardsville)
Paige Graves (Agape Christian High School, Marion)
Joshua Merz (Freeburg High School, Freeburg)
Genna Roth (Central High School, Champaign)
Raeanna Tremethick (Jefferson High School, Rockford )
Paige Twidell (Bureau Valley High School, Manlius)

Contest staff for the 2021 Illinois State Contest included
Joanne Diáz, poet and college professor (Bloomington)
Ronald Lybarger, poet and teacher (Decatur)
Rapheal Mathis, poet and performer (Chicago)
Peggy Oulvey, college professor and forensics coach (Glen Carbon)

Théa Chesley, poet and librarian (Springfield)

Bob Jessup, mainframe programmer (Springfield)

David Cain, videographer (Girard)

Carey Smith, writer (Springfield)

Contest coordinator was Sheila Walk (Springfield Area Arts Council). Program manager was Susan Dickson (Illinois Arts Council Agency).

Poetry Out Loud in Illinois is a collaborative project of the Illinois Arts Council Agency and seven arts agencies, each of which hosts a regional contest. The Poetry Out Loud: National Recitation Contest is a national program that encourages high school students to learn about great poetry through analysis, memorization, performance, and competition. The National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, in conjunction with state arts agencies, support this nation-wide program with participants from all fifty states plus Washington, D.C., the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and Puerto Rico.

Statewide this year, 3079 students and 84 teachers from 26 schools entered the program.

“Among the benefits of the Poetry Out Loud program is that it helps young women and men find something they’re good at. These students are so brave and talented and insightful,” said Sheila Walk, contest organizer, during the post-contest reception, “and they are supportive of one another.”

More information is available at or from the Springfield Area Arts Council.