Eighteen finalists attended the Louisiana Poetry Out Loud state competition at the Capitol Park Museum in Baton Rouge March 7.

The 18 students performed two poems each, with eight finalists performing a third, said Danny Belanger, director of arts education at the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism’s Office of Cultural Development’s Division of the Arts.

Zachary High theater students Kyla Bates and Alexis Granville took home the top honors, finishing in first and second places, respectively. McKinley High’s Malik Smith finished third.

Bates, a junior, recited the poems “To David, About His Education” by Howard Nemerov; “I’m a Fool to Love You” by Cornelius Eady; and “For the Young Who Want To” by Marge Piercy.

As one of the eight state finalists, Bates received a $200 cash award, a $500 stipend for ZHS to purchase poetry books and an all-expenses-paid trip to represent Louisiana at the national Poetry Out Loud competition April 27-29 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

As runner-up, Granville wins $100, as well as $200 for the ZHS library. The senior won Poetry Out Loud at the state level in 2013.

Students are judged on accuracy, physical presence, voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness, level of complexity, evidence of understanding and overall performance, Masterson said.

Poetry Out Loud uses a pyramid structure that starts at the classroom level with winners advancing to a schoolwide competition and then to a regional round.

This year, more than 300 students from more than 20 schools throughout Louisiana participated in five regional rounds prior to advancing to the state finals in March.

A total of $50,000 in awards and school stipends is awarded annually at the nationals.

Masterson said the program helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence and learn about their literary heritage.

After successful pilot programs in D.C. and Chicago, Poetry Out Loud was launched in high schools nationwide in 2006 and has grown to involve millions of students.

To learn more, visit www.poetryoutloud.org.