MSAC Announces "Poetry Out Loud" Maryland State Winner


BALTIMORE, MD (March 11, 2021) - Kate Maerten, a 12th grader at Gerstell Academy in Carroll County, was selected as the Poetry Out Loud (POL) Maryland State champion on March 9th during state finals. She was among eight finalists who were selected from 25 Maryland students in eight counties that competed in the statewide competitions. The POL poetry recitation contest is co-sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and The Poetry Foundation, and administered by U.S. state arts agencies and regional organizations across the country. The Maryland POL competition is produced by the Maryland State Arts Council (MSAC).

During the virtual competition, Maerten recited “Once the World Was Perfect” by Joy Harjo, “No, I wasn’t meant to love and be loved” by Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib, and “The Pull Toy” by A.E. Stallings.

Second place was awarded to Paula Yeboah, an 11th grader at Wilde Lake High School in Howard County, and third place went to Harrison Lynch, an 11th grader at The King's Christian Academy in St. Mary’s County. The five remaining finalists were Aimee Pentermann (St. Mary's County), Colin Benedict (Anne Arundel County), Ellie Heath (Anne Arundel County), Joseph Griffin (Howard County), and Katie Spencer (Anne Arundel County).

Participation in POL offers students the opportunity to learn about their literary heritage, build self-confidence, and improve their public speaking skills. The process begins in the fall when participating students select three eligible poems from the POL website, analyze and memorize them, and present the poems at their school competitions. In January and February, each school winner moves on to regionals and, in March, at the state finals competition, the participants are evaluated on physical presence, voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness, evidence of understanding, and overall performance.

“The dedication and preparation of all of this year’s competitors has been extraordinary, especially as they have navigated a fully virtual competition," said MSAC Deputy Director Steven Skerritt-Davis. "We’ve been honored to witness the growth of these young Marylanders throughout the competition, and we thank the teachers and POL coaches for the invaluable guidance they have offered over the past several months.”

The Maryland State champion receives $1,200 in combined NEA and MSAC prize funds. The Maryland winner’s school receives a $500 stipend for the purchase of poetry materials. The first runner-up receives $850 in combined NEA and MSAC prize funds, with $200 for their school library. At the National Finals, Poetry Out Loud awards a total of $50,000 in awards and school stipends with $20,000 awarded to the Poetry Out Loud National Champion.

The 2021 POL Maryland State Finals judges: 

Ali Oliver-Krueger is the Artistic Director of InterAct Story Theatre, an educational theatre company based in Wheaton. An artistic jack of all trades, Ali's broad arts and humanities background includes work as a director/playwright, composer, writer, performer, teaching artist, puppet builder, clown choreographer, and scholar.

Arao Ameny is a Ugandan-born poet and writer based in Baltimore who loves poetry and prose equally and passionately. Arao is a graduate of University of Baltimore's MFA in Creative Writing and Publishing Arts program and holds a MA in Journalism from Indiana University and a BA in Political Science from University of Indianapolis.

Desiree Witt has directed, choreographed, produced, music directed over 100 productions in various forms from choral music, musicals, ballets, plays, to variety shows. She holds a B.S. in Music Education and M. Ed. in Dance Education from Frostburg State University.  A member of MENC/MMEA, she holds a Maryland State Teaching certificate for Music K-12 and has been teaching in the state of Maryland for over 30 years.  

Grace Cavalieri was appointed Maryland Poet Laureate on November 7, 2018 by Governor Larry Hogan. Grace Cavalieri is the author of 20 books and chapbooks of poetry. She's also written texts and lyrics performed for opera, television and film and has had 26 plays produced on American stages. Grace teaches poetry workshops throughout the country at numerous colleges. 

Jeff Smallwood has been the featured poet at the Crofton Library Poetry Series and has been a regular contributor to the Poet's Circle workshop in Prince Frederick since 2016. Jeff works professionally as a software engineer at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station and lives in Prince Frederick, MD.


About Maryland State Arts Council
Founded in 1967, MSAC is an agency of the State of Maryland Department of Commerce, Division of Tourism, Film and the Arts, that plays an essential role, ensuring every person has access to the transformative power of the arts. MSAC advances the arts in our state by providing leadership that champions creative expression, diverse programming, equitable access, lifelong learning, and the arts as a celebrated contributor to the quality of life for all the people of Maryland. To do this, the agency awards grants to not-for-profit, tax-exempt organizations for ongoing arts programming and projects, awards grants to individual artists, and provides technical and advisory assistance to individuals and groups. MSAC receives its funds in an annual appropriation from the State of Maryland and from grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. The Council may also receive contributions from private, non-governmental sources. For more information, go to

About Arts Education in Maryland Schools (AEMS)
AEMS is a 501(c)(3) Maryland Non-Profit Organization committed to ensuring that all students in the state of Maryland have access to high quality arts education by mobilizing power to communities through advocacy programs, professional and leadership programs, and resource building and sharing. AEMS envisions a public education system in Maryland that supports, cultivates, nurtures, and uplifts ALL students’ creativity through a robust arts education experience so that they can thrive in a healthy society. To learn more, visit

About the National Endowment for the Arts
Established by Congress in 1965, the National Endowment for the Arts is the independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector, the Arts Endowment supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America. Visit to learn more.

About The Poetry Foundation
The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine and one of the largest literary organizations in the world, exists to discover and celebrate the best poetry and to place it before the largest possible audience. The Poetry Foundation seeks to be a leader in shaping a receptive climate for poetry by developing new audiences, creating new avenues for delivery, and encouraging new kinds of poetry through innovative literary prizes and programs. For more information, please visit