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Elijah Thiessen of Marshalltown High School wins 2021 Poetry Out Loud state final

Mar 16, 2021

Elijah Thiessen of Marshalltown High School took first place in the 2021 Poetry Out Loud in Iowa state finals Sunday, earning a chance to compete for a national championship and a share of $50,000 in scholarships and school prize money.

Thiessen won this year's state competition with recitations of "Beautiful Wreckage" by W.D. Ehrhart, "Rondeau" by Leigh Hunt and "There Are Birds Here" by Jamaal May. Benjamin Siegel of Gilbert High School took second and Olivia Adams-Zmolek of Marshalltown High School finished third.

With the victory, Thiessen received a $200 cash prize and $500 for his school to purchase poetry books. In May, he will compete virtually against students from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and American Somoa for the national championship. Cash prizes and stipends are provided by the Poetry Foundation.

This year’s state competition was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 260 Iowa students participated by memorizing and reciting poems on video for school and semi-final state competitions. The top 15 scoring students advanced to the state contest.

Now in its 16th year, the program is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts and is overseen in Iowa by the Iowa Arts Council. It encourages high school students to study great works of poetry, master public speaking skills, build self-confidence and learn about their literary heritage. Student competitors are judged on accuracy, physical presence, voice and articulation, appropriateness of dramatization, evidence of understanding and overall performance.

The National Endowment for the Arts provides free, standards-based curriculum materials for participating state arts agencies and schools, including an online poetry anthology and a program guide to help instructors teach recitation and performance.

A list of Iowa’s past state Poetry Out Loud champions follows:

2020 – Amya Thornton of Cedar Falls Holmes Junior High School
2019 – Foster Johnson of Sioux City Bishop Heelan High School
2018 – Sarah Beumler of Sioux City Bishop Heelan High School
2017 – Grace Kiple of Sioux City LAMB School of Theatre and Music
2016 – Grace Beumler of Sioux City Bishop Heelan High School
2015 – Josie Kasik of Sergeant Bluff-Luton High School
2014 – Josie Everett of Sioux City LAMB Arts Regional Theatre
2013 – Dakota Meyer of the Iowa School for the Deaf in Council Bluffs
2012 – Gwen Morrison of Marshalltown High School
2011 – Grace Rants of Sioux City East High School
2010 – John-Emmett Mahon of Sioux City PeaceMakers Academy
2009 – Mia Pierson of Roland-Story High School
2008 – Emily Mortvedt of Roland-Story High School
2007 – Spencer Gilbert of West Des Moines Valley High School
2006 – Ashley Baccam of Des Moines East High School

The Poetry Out Loud in Iowa program is overseen by the Iowa Arts Council, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs. Iowa Arts Council programs and grants are supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. More information is available at and

The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs and its three divisions – the Iowa Arts Council, Produce Iowa - State Office of Media Production and the State Historical Society of Iowa – empower Iowa to build and sustain culturally vibrant communities by connecting Iowans to the people, places and points of pride that define our state. The department’s work enables Iowa to be recognized as a state that fosters creativity and serves as a catalyst for innovation where the stories of Iowa are preserved and communicated to connect past, present and future generations.