A competition that just wrapped up at high schools around the state is designed to promote poetry as an oral art form, where students bring words on paper to life with dramatic gestures, changing tone of voice and general presentation of a memorized work.

On Jan. 22, a dozen Searsport District High School students competed in the school-wide Poetry Out Loud 2014 contest for the right to advance to the state’s northern regional at UMaine. At Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro, where all sophomores participate at the classroom level, 20 students competed.

This year's SDHS winner, sophomore Ari Jihan, kicked off his performance with "I am offering this poem" by Jimmy Santiago Baca and finished with "A march in the ranks hard-prest, and the road unknown" by Walt Whitman. When asked what drew him to the Poetry Out Loud contest, Jihan said it fit in with his other interests so he decided to give it a try after transferring from Mount View High School to SDHS this year.

"I've always been sort of an outgoing, out there kind of person, and I do drama," said Jihan.

Jihan said he was honored to be selected to represent SDHS in the 2014 competition, especially given the fine performances offered by his fellow student performers.

"I'm happy, but I'm a little bit nervous," he said. "It's going to be a lot of work to prepare for the regionals."

Poetry Out Loud is the result of a partnership between the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation and state arts agencies including the Maine Arts Commission to encourage youths to learn about poetry through memorization and performance, according to the MAC website.

The contests begin in participating Maine schools, where school champions are selected to advance to two regional finals. At regionals, 10 students are chosen to compete in the state final. From there, one youth performer will move on to the national event in Washington D.C., in April, where part of the grand prize is $50,000 in awards and school stipends to be used toward the purchase of poetry books.

For Jihan, poetry is more than rhyme and stanzas.

"I like to tell a story," he said. "I love poetry because it's like literature on steroids."

At SDHS, which had a finalist at the state level the last two years, the following students placed in the school’s top five: Jihan, first place; Ida Eriksson and Allyson Corriveau, tied for second place; Sarah Libby, third place; Arianna Tang, fourth place and Gabe Libby, fifth place. Additional 2014 performers included Meagan McKeon, Mackenzie Philbrick, Dakota Bowen, Anna Bucklin, Alivia Cross and John Guerette.

At Medomak Valley, which has gone to the state level twice, this year’s finalists had closely competitive scores: Ariel Haskins, first place; McKenzie Wing, second place; and Katrin Williams, third place.

The Maine Northern Regional Final is set for Wednesday, Feb. 12 at 4 p.m. at the University of Maine’s Minsky Recital Hall, Orono; snow date is Feb. 13. The Maine State Final will take place Wednesday, Sept. 26, at the Waterville Opera House. For more information, visit mainearts.maine.gov.