2023 Poetry Out Missouri State Champion Nick Merlo


2023 Missouri state champion is Nick Merlo of St. Louis

Nick Merlo, a senior at Crossroads College Preparatory School in St. Louis, is the 2023 Missouri state champion of Poetry Out Loud. He won the championship at the Missouri state competition held in Jefferson City on March 9. He went on to represent Missouri in the national finals May 8-10 in Washington, D.C.

“I got into poetry through the Poetry Out Loud competition, so I am in a way a product of one of the goals of the competition, which is to spread and share poetry with students across America,” Mr. Merlo said. “I enjoy the sense of community that Poetry Cut Loud fosters between complete strangers. Heading into the competition rounds, I did not know any of my competitors but we had an instant connection. A shared experience with poetry.”

Mr. Merlo chose to perform these poems. “I centered them around a loose theme—rather apocalyptic, nature reclaiming the earth.”

The runner-up in the Missouri state finals was Erin William, a senior at Pembroke Hill School in Kansas City.

“Students tell us this dynamic competition has a powerful impact on their lives,” said Michael Donovan, Missouri Arts Council executive director. “Poetry Out Loud reaches students in schools all over Missouri. We are proud to have been part of this program from its beginning in 2006.”

Poetry Out Loud encourages the study of great poetry by providing free educational materials and a dynamic recitation competition to high school students across the country. Competitions start in individual high schools or with local organizations such as libraries and other nonprofits. The winners of one tier of competition advance to the next, ending at the national finals.

Poetry Out Loud helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about literary history and contemporary life. The program was created in 2006 by the  Poetry Foundation and the  National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and is supported by the Foundation, NEA, and state and jurisdictional arts agencies. Missouri has participated in Poetry Out Loud from the beginning. The Missouri Arts Council and the  Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education work in partnership to bring Poetry Out Loud to Missouri.

Judges for the Missouri state finals, drawn from throughout the state, were Kate Brown, 2019 Missouri state champion; Aryiel Everett, 2008 Missouri state champion; Teresa Miller, digital expert, Hannibal; Stuart Smith, assistant curriculum director, Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education; and Janette Williams, retired teacher, Raytown South High School.


• Gilberto Alexander, junior, Stockton High School, Stockton
• Hayley Brown, senior, Cole Camp R-1 High School, Cole Camp
• Bella Lutfiyya, senior, Timberland High School, Wentzville
• Nick Merlo, senior, Crossroads College Preparatory School, St. Louis
• Zoe Skidis, senior, Parkway West High School, Ballwin
• Erin William, senior, Pembroke Hill School, Kansas City


From the first national Poetry Out Loud in 2006 through today, these are Missouri’s state champions.

2023 | Nick Merlo, Crossroads College Preparatory School, St. Louis

2022 | Ava Maupin, School of the Osage High School, Osage Beach
2021 | Mattie Mills, Notre Dame de Sion High School, Kansas City
2020 | Mary Margaret Hughes, Central High School, Springfield
2019 | Kate Brown, Stockton High School, Stockton
2018 | Shakira Cross, Hickman High School, Columbia
2017 | Emily Bauer, Parkway West High School, St. Louis County
2016 | Sarah Koo, Parkway North High School, St. Louis County
2015 | Maya Bryant, Holt High School, Wentzville
2014 | Thomas Fields, St. Louis University High School, St. Louis

2013 | Essence Imani Lee, Crossroads College Preparatory School, St. Louis
2012 | Cameron Locke, Stockton High School, Stockton
2011 | Terry Watkins, Jr., Crossroads College Preparatory, St. Louis
 | Nicole Andrews, Springfield R-12 Central High School, Springfield
2009 | Pete Winfrey, St. Louis University High School, St. Louis
2008 | Aryiel Everett, Park Hill South High School, Riverside
2007 | Michael Brown, Blue Springs High School, Blue Springs
2006 | Aislinn Lowry, Jefferson City High School, Jefferson City


Schools begin to register for Poetry Out Loud every fall at the beginning of the academic year. Check these resources to learn more about how the program works and the benefits it brings to students and schools. Also, contact Virginia Sanders, Missouri Arts Council special initiatives coordinator, at 314-340-6851 or  virginia.sanders@ltgov.mo.gov.

  • Poetry Out Loud national program
  • National Endowment for the Arts pages about Poetry Out Loud
  • Poetry Foundation
  • Get Involved in Poetry Out Loud!  video – Hear from students and teachers about why they love the program in this five-minute video. Missouri is prominently featured. There are comments from Thomas Fields, 2014 Missouri State Champion and one of only nine finalists in the 2014 nationals. There are also comments from Charles Hussung, teacher at St. Louis University High School at which Thomas was a senior, and from Virginia Sanders of the Missouri Arts Council, our Missouri Poetry Out Loud coordinator.
  • Letter from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to school superintendents describing the 2021-22 program and how Poetry Out Loud benefits schools
  • Article (PDF) by the National Association of State Arts Agencies lauding the program’s life-changing “power of poetry and partnership”