WATERVILLE —  Eleven high school students from all over the state will compete at 4:45 p.m. Friday in “The Poetry Out Loud” contest at the Waterville Opera House.

The event is free and open to the public. The students will recite classical and contemporary poetry they have memorized and one will walk away with the title of Maine State Champion and will represent the state at the national finals on April 26 and 27 in Washington, D.C.

Award-winning poets Lee Sharkey, Dawn Potter, Jeffrey Thomson and Leonore Hildebrandt will judge the competition.

Maine’s First Lady, Karen Baldacci, will introduce participants; live entertainment will feature award-winning female hip-hop emcee, Sontiago.

“The Poetry Out Loud contest has proven to be one of the most invigorating programs mounted around poetry that we have administrated,” said Maine Arts Commission Director Donna McNeil.

The winner of the finals will receive $200, and the winner’s school will receive a $500 stipend for the purchase of poetry books. The second place finalist will receive $100, with $200 for his or her school library. The state champion will also receive an all-expenses-paid trip (with a chaperone) to compete in the national finals where a total of $50,000 in scholarships and school stipends will be awarded.

This year’s finalists are Paige Meserve from Thornton Academy in Saco; Erica Lance, Leavitt Area High School in Turner; Aaron Bartlett, Gorham High School; Caleb Shomaker, Sanford High School; Emma Bailey, Messalonskee High School in Oakland; John Booth, Gardiner Area High School; Mary Montalvo, Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham; Will Whitham, Bangor High School; Jorgi Young, Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield; Rosie Ditre, Maranacook Community High School; and Jacob Simonds, Rangeley Lakes Regional School.

Poetry Out Loud is a partnership initiative of the Poetry Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts that encourages the study of great poetry by offering educational materials and a dynamic recitation competition to high schools across the country.

For more information, contact Darrell Bulmer at the Maine Arts Commission at 287-6746 or [email protected]