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2021 Ohio Poetry Out Loud State Champion Monserrat Tlahuel-Flores

Columbus Student Monserrat Tlahuel-Flores Named 2021 Poetry Out Loud State Champion

Monserrat Tlahuel-Flores, a senior at St. Francis DeSales High School in Columbus, was named 2021 Ohio Poetry Out Loud state champion after reciting three poems at the State Finals event held March 5 at WOSU Public Media studios. The competition was broadcast to a virtual audience. (Photo by Terry Gilliam)Ohio’s new Poetry Out Loud (POL) State Champion Monserrat Tlahuel-Flores knows that poetry is best when it feels personal.

“I really tried to look for things that I could personally connect with because I feel like that is one of the important things when picking a poem,” said Tlahuel-Flores, a senior at St. Francis DeSales High School in Columbus. “It really needs to resonate. And it just makes it easier to memorize because it’s like telling a part of my story.”

Tlahuel-Flores was among five students who competed at the Ohio POL State Finals competition on March 5, reciting their poems live from the WOSU Public Media studios in front a virtual audience and panel of judges.

As part of the national POL program presented by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, contests are held at the school, regional, and state level. State arts agencies from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico participate every year. This year, due to coronavirus-related safety restrictions, the Ohio POL State Finals competition was broadcast publicly through Zoom. All participants and production staff followed public health and safety guidelines, such as practicing mask-wearing and social distancing, while on-site and participating in the event.

In round one of the competition, Tlahuel-Flores recited “The True-Blue American” by Delmore Schwartz, a poem she felt told an important story through its references to gilded, golden-age American iconography such as ice cream sundaes, small-town shops, and national landmarks like the Grand Canyon. Tlahuel-Flores said she was curious to explore how the American Dream touted in the poem differed from present-day realities.

“I really wanted to embody Jeremiah Dickson—the character that Delmore Schwartz was describing. I wanted to emphasize the audacity of the story being told because it’s talking about this golden time in America, it’s talking about all of these grandiose things,” she said. “The poem mentions these great ideals and dreams, but at the end of the day, only certain Americans get to have these things that they want, and they come at a cost.”

Ohio Arts Council Executive Director Donna S. Collins, OAC Arts Learning Coordinator Chiquita Mullins Lee, and 2021 Ohio Poetry Out Loud State Champion Monserrat Tlahuel-Flores at the 2021 Ohio POL State Finals. (Photo by Terry Gilliam)In the next round, Tlahuel-Flores chose to recite “The Only Mexican” by David Tomas Martinez. The poem, which Martinez wrote about his grandfather, discusses themes of inter-generational conversations, familial history, and identity.

“‘The Only Mexican’ captures the feelings younger Mexican-Americans experience when interacting with older family members who think of us as non-Mexican,” Tlahuel-Flores said. “No matter how much I try, no matter how much I try to perfect the language, I worry that my own Mexican family won’t ever accept me as Mexican and might just only think of me as American.”

In the final round, Tlahuel-Flores recited “And If I did, What Then?” by George Gascoigne, a poem she said that she chose as a technical challenge for its difficulty.

Tlahuel-Flores will have another opportunity to showcase her skills later this spring when she represents Ohio at the POL National Finals, which are being presented as a virtual, video-submission-based competition on May 2 and May 27.

“I’ve been watching the POL National Finals competitions for the past four years,” said Tlahuel-Flores, who placed second in the 2020 Ohio POL State Finals. “As I prepare for nationals, I’m looking over the poems again and finding more meanings, layers, and connections to my own life. When finding the emotion, I want to really look back at my own experiences and just let the poem flow in a natural way. I just want to take in everything that I’ve learned, everything I’ve gathered from the poem, and just really live in that moment.”

In addition to securing the title of state champion, Tlahuel-Flores received $200, while her school, St. Francis DeSales High School, received a $500 check to purchase poetry books for its library.

Five students competed in the 2021 Ohio Poetry Out Loud State Finals competition. (Back row, from left) Jakob Tucker, Archbishop McNicholas High School, second-place runner-up; Monserrat Tlahuel-Flores, St. Francis DeSales High School, 2021 Ohio POL State Champion; Lexi Gastelu, Piqua High School, third-place runner-up. (Front row, from left) Lee Wilkins, John Glenn High School; Maxwell Gierke, Toledo School for the Arts. (Photo by Terry Gilliam)Jakob Tucker, a senior at Archbishop McNicholas High School who placed second at the state finals, and Lexi Gastelu, a senior at Piqua High School who placed third, were also honored for their achievements with an art print by Columbus artist Wendy Kendrick featuring an excerpt of a poem by Ohio Poet Laureate Kari Gunter-Seymour.

Tlahuel-Flores said she is grateful for the support she’s received throughout her journey with POL. She shared that after she was announced as the state finals winner, she received a flood of celebratory emails and text messages from family members, as well as her teachers and principal, who had all tuned in to cheer her on to victory.

“I really just want to thank my family and school. They have been so supportive,” she said. “At the beginning of the year, I didn’t even know if I wanted to do this competition as a senior. My teachers really gave me that inspiration, that drive to just keep going and see what happens.”

Now Tlahuel-Flores is hoping to make Ohio proud at the national finals come May.

“Being from Ohio, I feel like people think we’re a ‘flyover’ state, and they don’t really appreciate the rich arts and culture community that we have here,” she said. “This competition gives me the chance to represent Ohio and Columbus and show what makes our state great on the national stage.”

Round one of the 2021 POL National Finals will be pre-recorded and streamed from Washington, D.C., on May 2, with a second round streaming on May 27. Both events will be available to watch on the National Endowment for the Arts’ POL website,

The nation’s largest youth poetry recitation competition is presented by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation in partnership with the Ohio Arts Council. The Poetry Out Loud program encourages high school students to learn about great poetry, master public-speaking skills, build self-confidence, and study their literary heritage.

Established by Congress in 1965, the NEA is the independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector, the NEA supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America. Visit to learn more about NEA.

The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at


Article by Amanda Etchison, Communications Strategist
Featured photo by Terry Gilliam

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