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Elizabethtown High School senior Kiara Jones with Kentucky’s Poetry Out Loud state championship

Elizabethtown High School senior Kiara Jones, 16, emerged as the leader of the pack among 16 competitors to win the Poetry Out Loud state championship March 13 at Frankfort’s Grand Theatre.

Sixteen Kentucky high school students represented their respective schools at the poetry recitation contest, which is sponsored by the Kentucky Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation. Each student is judged on the recitation, from memory, of two poems, one poem each in the first and second round. Poems are selected by the student and their teachers from a selected list of works. Five students were selected to advance to the third and final round, where they recited another prepared poem.

Kiara Jones

“I feel really excited, and grateful and also a little nervous at the responsibility of having to represent the state at nationals,” Jones said. Jones’ path to the championship included recitations of “Passing” by Toi Derricotte and “Life in Love” by Robert Browning in the first and second rounds, respectively. She clinched the state title with her interpretation of “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by Langston Hughes.

“I picked (‘Passing’) because I feel like it really applied to me. I knew what the author was talking about when she was writing the poem and it was really easy for me to interpret it,” Jones said of her poetry selections. “(‘Life in a Love’) was really complex, just because the wording that was used isn’t normal for our everyday language. So it was fun to analyze that and figure out what he was trying to say. The third poem (‘The Negro Speaks of Rivers’) I thought had a nice flow to it and was easy to interpret.”

Jones will represent Kentucky at the Poetry Out Loud National Finals, April 23-25 at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Other finalists were runner-up MacKenzie Ray from Grant County High School, Brianna Bradford from Betsy Layne High School, Suzanne M. Daniels from Allen County-Scottsville High School and Emma Mitmesser from George Rogers Clark High School.

In addition to an all-expense-paid trip for herself and a chaperone to the national finals, Jones will receive $200, and her school will receive a $500 stipend for the purchase of poetry books. As runner-up, Ray will receive $100, and her school will receive a $200 stipend.

Along with Jones, Ray, Bradford, Daniels and Mitmesser, other school champions included:

Angelica Murphy, Augusta Independent School, Bracken
Blanca Aleman, Bowling Green High School, Warren
Trent Joseph Litteral, Boyd County High School, Boyd
Leann Goodman, Central Hardin High School, Hardin
Cameron Drew, Conner High School, Boone
Emilia Marks, Hart County High School, Hart
James Ray Hall, Jenkins Middle High School, Letcher
Morgan Price, Marshall County High School, Marshall
Jillian Smith, McCracken County High School, McCracken
Cody Baynori, Newport High School, Campbell
Luke Wheatley, Saint Xavier High School, Jefferson

From Kentucky Arts Council

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