It was any other day in Angela Roloson’s English class at Altoona High School, her students reciting poems aloud as part of an assignment.
But among all the students, one stood out from the others.
As Daeja Loew began to recite her poem, Roloson, head coach of the high school’s forensics team, knew she’d found a talented orator. And she knew she wanted her on the team.
“I said to myself, ‘We need that girl. She needs to be on the team,’” Roloson said, chuckling at the memory. “She was like two lines in and I just knew.”
Flash forward nearly two years later, and Loew, now a junior, is a successful forensics competitor in the poetry and prose categories. And in about three weeks, Loew will represent Wisconsin at the Poetry Out Loud national competitions after taking the title at the state contest last month.
“It’s no surprise — she’s incredible,” Roloson said. “There was a type of diction and presentation style that is kind of unique to poetry. You can’t really teach it. It’s either they have it or they don’t — I call it the ‘poetry voice.’ And she has that.”
Poetry Out Loud is a national poetry recitation competition powered by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation. The agency aims to encourage high school students to learn about poetry through memorization and recitation while also helping students master public speaking skills, boost their self confidence and learn about literary history, according to its website.
The contest starts at the classroom level, where winners are selected to advance to a school-wide competition. From there, students head to regional and state competitions. Only one — the champion — moves past the state competition.
Loew will be one of 53 students — one from each state, plus students from the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the District of Colombia — competing in the April 30 contest at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The winner will be awarded $20,000, $10,000 for second place, $5,000 for third place and $1,000 for those who place fourth to 12th places.
After taking second place at the state competition last year, Loew said she’s excited to advance to nationals this year. Loew is the second student from Altoona High School to advance
“It’s definitely a lot of pressure on me, at the very least do my best,” Loew said. “It’s also very humbling to know that I out of everybody else managed to make it to nationals. That’s pretty cool.”
Loew said she developed a love for poetry at a young age, starting to write poems of her own, but it wasn’t until Roloson told her she had a talent for reciting poetry that she’d considered that as a hobby or extracurricular.
“It was funny because it was just an assignment — when I read I wasn’t expecting anything to come from it,” Loew said. “That kind of sparked my interest in reciting poems instead of just writing them.”
While the prospect of heading to nationals is a bit intimidating, Loew said she’s continuing to practice her three poems — “Kin” by Maya Angelou, “Testimonial” by Rita Dove and “Marshlands” by Emily Pauline Johnson — for anyone and everyone willing to listen other than her usual audience of Roloson and her parents.
“It’s a little nerve-racking to perform in front of this huge audience,” Loew said. “But for some reason, when I’m up there I’m just focused on the poem and how I’m reciting it. I don’t really have time to be too nervous.”
Regardless of the outcome, Loew said she’s grateful for the opportunity.
“To me, this is about making long-lasting memories and connections with not only my family and friends but the people I meet along the way,” she said.