MONTPELIER -- Four Bennington County students are headed to the 2014 Vermont Poetry Out Loud State Competition.

The state-level finals of the annual recitation competition will take place at the Barre Opera House on March 12-13. The four students from Bennington County will compete with 36 other school champions, representing 12 of Vermont's 14 counties. The state winner will receive $200 and an all-expenses-paid trip with a chaperone to Washington D.C. to compete in the National Championship on April 28-30. The state winner's school will also receive $500 for the purchase of books for the school library. The state runner up will receive $100, and $200 for their school's library.

The four students from Bennington County that will be competing are Jesse Keel, of Arlington Memorial High School in Arlington, Anjelica Carroll, of Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester, Katianna Nardone, of Mount Anthony Union High School in Bennington, and Bridgette Evans of the Southwest Vermont Career Development Center in Bennington.

Nearly 5,000 students participated in the school competitions across Vermont. Last year, about 375,000 students competed nation-wide, with Langston Ward, of Mead High School in Spokane, Wash., winning the $20,000 first-place award. Ward out-recited 53 students in the finals at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium, one from every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.


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S. Virgin Islands. The second-place finalist, Blessed Sheriff, of Rockville, Md., received $10,000, the third-place finalist, Denise Burns of Lawton, Okla., received $5,000, and the fourth-ninth place finalists received $1,000 each. No students from New England were among the nine finalists.

Poetry Out Loud was launched in high schools across the country in spring 2006. Every year, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation team with state art agencies to put on the program, which is described as, "a contest that encourages the nation's youth to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation. This program helps students master public peaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about their literary heritage," according to the program's website.

Poetry Out Loud sends materials, including a teacher's guide, a DVD of past performances, lesson plans, and promotional items to schools in August, so that school competitions can take place over the winter. The contest also features a large poetry anthology on their website, which students are required to make their poetry selections from. Last year, Ward won by reciting Kenneth Rexroth's "The Bad Old Days," as well as Walt Whitman's "A March in the Ranks Hard-Prest, and the Road Unknown" and Li-Young Lee's "The Gift" in the finals. "I'll keep these poems with me forever, that much I know," said Ward.

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB