Aeva Dye-DelToro, of St. George, is the 2023 Utah Poetry Out Loud state champion.

On Winning: What Poetry Teaches Us

By Renée Leta || Photography by Samuel Jake

Aeva Dye-DelToro, of St. George, was named 2023’s Utah Poetry Out Loud champion in the annual recitation competition sponsored by Utah Division of Arts & Museums.

On May 9, Aeva will compete in the national semi-finals of the arts competition in Washington D.C. Poetry Out Loud contests emphasize reading, writing, public speaking and listening, helping students meet Utah state curriculum standards while studying great poetry.

Aeva, who honed her recitation skills in four years of competition, exemplifies the work of all the competitors who take risks as they perform. Students develop bravery and self confidence along the way, according to Jean Tokuda Irwin, who, as Utah’s arts education manager, oversees the state contest.

Irwin praised the teachers, mentors, and family members who supported the student competitors. “I never get tired of it,” she said.

“Poetry Out Loud is one of the most supportive competitive environments I’ve ever encountered.”

Aeva Dye-DelToro

The state champion won $200 from Arts & Museums, as well as $200 from the contest’s national partners, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation. She also won expenses for a trip to Washington in May for the national competition, and a $500 donation to her school library for poetry books. The runner-up, Tony Trunnell, of Springville High School, received $100 from Arts & Museums, plus $100 from the NEA and Poetry Foundation, and $200 for poetry books for his school library.

Aeva Dye-DelToro and Tony Trunnell, of Springville High School, the runnerup in Utah's 2023 Poetry Out Loud competition.
Aeva Dye-DelToro, of St. George, state champion, and Tony Trunnell, of Springville High School, the runnerup, in Utah’s 2023 Poetry Out Loud competition.

In an email interview after the competition, Aeva talked about looking forward to representing her state in the national competition. “I love Utah; it’s where I was born and where I’ve lived most of my life,” she said. “I think the literary community is a fantastic tool to help people become more open-minded and loving; that’s what I hope to do by representing Utah as a poet.” [This interview has been edited and compressed for clarity.]

What inspired you to get started and to keep competing in Poetry Out Loud?

“I loved poetry as a kid — Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein were my favorites. My English teacher, Melissa Lewis, introduced me to spoken word poetry and Poetry Out Loud in 9th grade. Things took off from there, and I met many people who inspired me to continue exploring Utah’s literary and performing arts community. 

“POL has introduced me to a rich and exciting literary community here in Utah; I’ve met an assortment of individuals that have offered feedback and brightened my interest in poetry in all its forms. Last year, I had the opportunity to recite at the Utah Arts Festival and at the Utah High School Slam Poetry state finals, where I was able to workshop with several brilliant poets, writers, and performers. 

Poetry Out Loud provides a selection of more than 1,000 poems, and each participant selects three poems to recite. What criteria did you use to choose your poems?

“I used a different method to select each of my poems. I’ve loved the deeply personal process of ‘adopting’ all three of my poems over the years and have come to treasure them. 

“I landed on the poem “No, I wasn’t meant to love and be loved” by Mirzah Asadullah Khan Ghalib all the way back in 2019 when I was reciting for the first time. I needed a poem to recite at the regional competition, but I was having trouble identifying with the rhyme patterns and cadences typical of a pre-20th-century poem. Ghalib features a more modern translation, so it immediately stood out to me; as I studied it more, I came to identify with it deeply. 

“I chose “Summer” by Chen Chen last year by searching POL’s LGBTQ+ collection; I wanted a poem that would allow me to express my queer identity, and “Summer,” with its fun, out-of-the-box language but deep-settling ruminations on queer adolescence, fits that bill perfectly. 

“‘The Only Mexican’ by David Tomas Martinez is a more recent pick for me. It almost moved me to tears on my first read. It reminded me of my struggle some years ago to communicate with and care for my aging abuelita. In her final years with dementia, my grandmother had lost what little English she originally had, and I, being enrolled in 9th-grade Spanish, could not communicate with her. I relate to “The Only Mexican” as a partial-Mexican, third-generation migrant, as someone who is aware of and treasures their heritage but knows that their ties to it are tenuous. 

What are you most looking forward to at the national competition?

“I’m excited to meet and work with the other state champions. I’m even more excited to hear them recite. POL attracts a wide variety of people, many of them far from like-minded; despite this, POL is one of the most supportive competitive environments I’ve ever encountered. You don’t need a talent or special interest to read, write, or recite poetry; you only need something to share and a willingness to learn. I’m excited about the camaraderie I know will be there.”

2023 Poetry Out Loud regional winners
Alexis Bailey, Monticello High School, Monticello
Elizabeth Butcher, Union High School, Roosevelt
Aliya Purcel, Bear River High School, Garland
Jackson Shemwell, Juan Diego Catholic High School, Draper
Keilana Tu’itupou, Salt Lake Center for Science Education, Salt Lake City

2023 winners of Utah’s Original competition
First place: Kellen Hunnicutt, West High School, Salt Lake City. Read his poem, “Counterfeit.”
Runnerup: Brynn Patterson, Viewmont High School, Bountiful. Read her poem, “Eat Less.”

The Utah Division of Arts & Museums administers Poetry Out Loud in Utah in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation. Since 2005, the program has reached more than 4.1 million students nationwide to build on poetry as an oral art form and invite participants to master public-speaking skills and learn about their literary heritage. Click here for information about the 2024 competition.