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Creative Minds Poetry Contest Winners

Our Creative Minds Imagine contests have allowed us to recognize the remarkable work of many young writers over the years. We hope you enjoy reading their poems.

 

2016

Ages 14-18: First Place | Second Place | Third Place

Ages 13 & under: First Place | Second Place | Third Place

About our judge

Ages 14-18

First Place

Prodigy
by Lisa Zou

Of course, he meant nothing to me
alive, why would he, a boy
in the neighborhood I’d only ever
glimpse slumped in the black bench
or hunched behind the circle of fifths. 

The only thing that passed between us
was a look—when I asked him for music
theory workbooks—with his faint scrawls
in D minor and the way the trophies decorated
the wallpaper. He hurled them as if I wasn’t there. 

The day before he died I drove back to Dallas
and saw his shadow on the concrete for the first time,
cigarette anchored to his pearly teeth. Yes,
I remember the teacher’s incessant praise, the way
all mothers prayed for genius sons like David. 

And in the rear view mirror, the golden
line from the sun pierced through his hair, as if he
had already become an angel or a madman.
A few hours later, the sidewalk was reportedly bare.
I didn’t think much of it. Days stretched by 

and I stumbled over a stack of theory books
at the thrift store, my quarter notes
on top of his erased rests. God, I could almost
hear him singing Caruso. The night he swam
in the infested river and became oxygen-free, 

he must have drowned the jealousy behind
the melodies or all the years I spent aching
to be a prodigy, still wondering how
we forgive ourselves for all the better lives
we were only almost good enough for.

Lisa Zou, 17, previously placed in Imagine’s fiction contest, and her poetry has been recognized by Sierra Nevada College and Rider University. She reads and writes for Winter Tangerine Review and studies at the University of Pennsylvania. In her free time, she enjoys blogging.

Judge’s comments: This tantalizing elegy is by turns direct and lyrical, colloquial—offhand even—and exalted. The poem’s arrivals and revelations are stark and sad, the voice modern and bright, as it examines Salierian envy between musicians, mortality, desire, and indifference. An extremely impressive poem I will not soon forget.

 

Second Place

tempest
by Arielle DeVito

true, there are leaves
in every shade of green
and red and sunset-yellow-orange
but there are paper-thin brown ones, too
skeletons ground into the sidewalk
crushed beneath your feet on the way
to school in the morning, your
head bowed to avoid the wind whipping
your icy hair, lashing your cheeks
and there is birdsong, yes
but tentative
afraid
throaty cries desperate for
companionship
which you don’t even hear,
ears plugged up with shouts from
this morning’s sparring match
your tongue is not as sharp as you desire
not like the icicles that hang from your eyelashes

Arielle DeVito, native to the suburbs of Cleveland, OH, can often be found lurking in libraries and comic book stores. A passionate writer since the age of six, she has had poems published in The Writer’s Slate, Navigating the Maze, Dancing with the Pen!, and Teenage Wasteland Review. She is also a first reader for the youth literary magazine Polyphony H.S. When not hunched feverishly over a pen and paper, she enjoys reading anything and everything she can get her hands on, sewing historical costumes, and baking (usually cupcakes). 

Judge’s comments: This stormy poem draws upon the lyric’s tradition of compression, vividness of natural description, and a collapsing of inner and outer worlds. The landscape the poet creates is an expressionistic landscape—even the birds call out in their loneliness. But it’s the intriguing and intrusive speaker—“true,” “yes,” “your tongue is not as sharp as you desire”—that truly make the poem present, strange, and beautiful.

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Third Place

Mother
by Allison Huang

At night we wandered to the porch
pressed our faces against the cold paint, cheeks
risen like warm bread. The heat that summer rotted
lemons from the trees, scattered them like hooves.
You wore a yellow sundress. Your head bloomed
& you crumpled like a sheet down the stairs. This was before
your 36th birthday, ten tiny flames smearing ghosts
onto your face. After that you forgot
to smile. After that you scrubbed rags
in the basin out back, knuckles dragging against wood
until they left red petals
in the water. “Give it time,” Father said.
Maybe it was the rhythm
that reminded you of the sea, of
home, water nestling into water like chicks
into a mother. After that you were a stranger
until we found you one day sobbing,
a rat drifting in the basin after it
had tried to taste the sea & didn't know
that the sea washes everything away—
the torrid nights when you gathered our drooping
sleep-bodies from the planks, your lips on our necks,
how your hips moved in a terrified
whisper when you danced, the house
silent & everyone else asleep or
the way you once grinned, each tooth
glowing as pearly as a star. 

Allison Huang is a poetry reader for The Adroit Journal. She first encountered poetry in fifth grade as part of a summer creative writing program at CTY. Allison’s poetry has been recognized by the National YoungArts Foundation and the Leonard L. Milberg Poetry Prize, and her work has been published in Sugar House Review and Sprout Magazine, among others.

Judge’s comments: This poem impressively cloaks its difficult narrative in striking metaphors. Lemons scattered “like hooves.” I am impressed by the shifting emphasis of the narrative elements—“You wore a yellow sundress”—and the bizarre and brilliant figurative web the poet spins.

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Ages 13 and under

First Place

Requiem

by Rose Guan

The gray-brown rocks by the railroad track crunch underfoot like grinding glass.
They’ve nestled wire here, between the planks of rotting iron-wood,
invisible through the white fog and curling leaves and taupe dust
were it not spray-painted blue. There’s a wistfulness here, and at the same time
an unashamed ferocity, a bared edge to the scene,
like an eagle’s eye, or a wolf showing teeth

Further along the track, in the center,
a plant has sprouted. It’s warm to the touch, somehow, and incongruously green,
leaves spread as if waiting for something indistinct and indefinable,
like a fragment of a half-remembered poem, or the tune to a half-forgotten song
left on the tip of your tongue. Then the flap of wings cuts through the sound of silence:
a blackbird’s taken off from a tree nearby
cawing there’s a train coming, and oh,
isn’t that sad.

An avid reader, writer, and creator, Rose Guan attends The Harker School in San Jose, CA. In addition to writing, she enjoys photography and STEM and likes to draw, bake, and play the piano. Rose also participates in her school’s journalism program and is learning capoeira, a Brazilian martial art.

Judge’s comments: This surprising and sure-voiced poem reminds me of Auden’s definition of poetry as the “clear expression of mixed emotions.” It moves with incredible maturity and gracefulness—the speaker is at once distant and attuned to feeling, observant and detached. The landscape the poem carefully constructs for us quickly gives way to an emotive landscape beneath the surface, one full of danger and enthrallment, which captivated me from start to finish.

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Second Place

To Remove the Splinter from my Palm
by Gayatri Rajan

My father recited a story in a soft voice.
I watched his gentle face and not
the long tweezers he held. Before the story ended,
he had removed the splinter I thought I’d die from.
I can’t remember the story. Probably whimsical tales
of the dragons I so loved. But I can remember
his voice, a well of dark, still water,
calming me as I held his hand tighter,
tighter. As the story ended, my palm shook
into stillness, grasping my father’s strong fingers.
I remember his hands, firm measures of tenderness
he laid against my heart, soft flames of discipline
he raised above my head. Had you found us that afternoon,
you would have thought him planting something
within my trembling palm—
a sparkling tear, a tiny flame.

Gayatri Rajan is a seventh grader at Mason Middle School in Ohio. She enjoys the violin, the visual arts, dance, MATHCOUNTS, spelling bee, and reading anything and everything. Her greatest inspirations are poets Ted Kooser and Billy Collins. Although she is not new to poetry, she remains eager to explore its many facets.

Judge’s comments: This is a poem gorgeously attuned to sound and sense. The poem tells a story, explores the complex relationship between parent and child, between the helpless one and the nurturer, and it also creates a subtle music with slant rhymes (“water” and “tighter”; “palm” and “flame”) that heighten a reader’s attention to this “soft voice.”

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Third Place

Ode to Hair Ties
by Sasha Campbell

There is not much unity between girls these days.
Comparison over community, is the only way to be.
Even the ones who try to stay out of it
spend the extra five dollars on the fancy mascara.
The one that the other girl doesn’t have.
Despite this you bridge boundaries that no others can.
You are passed between our soft wrists like held hands.
We help each other in that way because you let us let each other in.
No promises, no strings
Just a reminder that there is still a hope we are all in this together.
You are built with a language of your own.
When you say lend,
you really mean keep,
You really mean that this is for you because I want you to have it.
You are left in old backpacks, and thrown in our pockets,
You are tangled in our hairbrushes, and found behind couches.
You witness our days from alarm clock buzzes to the click off of lights.
Every stranger we brush hands with,
Every friend we embrace, you are there too.
Teenage girls don’t often talk to others outside their friend groups unless there is
something that we need.
Thank god we always seem to need you.
When you are passed from me to her
there is a moment
when we are not so different at all.

Sasha Campbell is a student in Amherst, MA. She plays volleyball for her school team and a local club team during the off season. Her other hobbies include songwriting and sharing her original music.

Judge’s comments: This poem plays with the ode form, using the unassuming subject of hair ties to make claims about the more complex relationships that tie us to each other. I thought it was charming, vivid, contemporary, and ultimately moving.

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About our judge

Richie Hofmann is the author of a collection of poems, Second Empire, winner of the 2014 Beatrice Hawley Award. He is the recipient of a 2012 Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, and his poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Kenyon Review, New Republic, Ploughshares, New England Review, The New Criterion, The Yale Review, and Poetry. Hofmann is a doctoral candidate at Emory University and also teaches in the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop. With Kara van de Graaf, he founded Lightbox, an online educational resource featuring original interviews with poets and materials for classroom use. He lives in Chicago.

 

2015

Ages 14-18: First Place | Second Place | Third Place

Ages 13 & under: First Place | Second Place | Third Place

About our judge

Ages 14-18

First Place

Georgia on my mind
by Audrey Spensley
 
Just an old, sweet song—
Later we’ll wonder how we hadn’t noticed
the hills blooming open, goldenrod
scarring the scrub grass,  gorgeous & hungry.
This was the summer my father bought
guppies by the pound, sheared the coats
off his sheep, knuckles memorizing the difference
between hot flesh & warm air. The babies cried,
soft nervous sounds soaked up by dirt, as if the whole
world could feed on their blistered feet.
My father slept on the kitchen floor with a baseball bat,
listening to Ray Charles claw his way through
AM radio waves, dawn dripping like honey
over his thick breath, his scabbed knuckles.
We craved the acidic rain of haunted promise lands,
the only city we’d ever known a hollow circus
three hundred miles away. No peace I find,
Ray said, and we clutched at his words like
jeweled peaches, ripening. We traced the promise over
& over into the soft meat of our small palms—
The road leads back to you.
 
Audrey Spensley is a senior from Avon Lake High School in Ohio. Her poetry is published or forthcoming in Magma, The Blue Pencil Online, and The Best Teen Writing of 2015, among others. Audrey has been named a Foyle Young Poet of the Year and a National YoungArts Winner, and is a poetry reader at The Adroit Journal.
 
Judge’s comments: There’s something chilling about the beauty of this poem—a slight unease intermingles with the smooth familiarity of Ray Charles’ famous song drifting in and out like a refrain. The poet litters the lines with imagery and language that is at once soft and sharp, decadent and dire, creating a contrast that makes the poem sizzle with an haunting energy: A sheep’s fleece and scabbed knuckles, honeyed dawn and acid rain, jeweled peaches and a baseball bat. Ray Charles’s velvet voice claws its way into our ears, the speaker’s palms become soft meat. The poem makes me feel held in a manner that’s both threat and embrace. It’s a dark, lovely little lullaby.
 

Second Place

Nativity
by Daniel Blokh

Listen: this is where I want to be born,
facedown in a pool of cosmos,
in a body woven by sparrows from sticks and straw. I want to live
with birdsongs fluttering in my chest, in a field where leaves
unfurl their tongues and
teach me the silver dew of
song.

Listen: I was born in a land that is not mine,
one that has been tattooed onto me, braided into
my flesh. The sky here is bruised, its moon
a vein unhinged by careless fingers. Its inhabitants are moths,
devouring light and letting it sweat down their chins. Their brightness
shaves the receding hairline of the stars. they wish to be gods.
It is a land of soggy technicolor in breakfast bowls,
a land of hidden grief and the god of the bloody atom, a land where we leave the sun
for a song of roaring wheels and pretty steel. I run from its flood
of metal shadows and symmetry. With shaking hands, I scrub this country
from myself. The american dream
swallows my nights.

Listen: this is where I want to die,
stars away from that distant relative Sam
and his golden, oil-stained hands. This
is where I want to die, sky staining my bare feet, planets
peeling under my nails
as I kiss the mother moon, my “self”
dissolved.
This is where I want to be born.

Daniel Blokh is a 9th grade poet from Birmingham, AL. His work has previously recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. When he's not writing poems, he enjoys writing film reviews and talking to his super-talented friends at the Alabama School of Fine Arts.

Judge's comments: Listen, the poem commands, and I do. I listen as the poet patches together an origin story from bits of the cosmos and a sparrow’s nest, birdsong, bruised sky, and Technicolor. The poet cannot escape America—its dream devours, it will not be scrubbed away—but the landscape built in these lines is all the poet’s own. There is such complexity of feeling captured in this language, and such strength. 

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Third Place

Poppies
by Anna Lance

she wore a sundress patterned with poppies
and all i saw was red. the sunset bled upon us,
casually, staining slapmarks on her cheeks.
she ate strawberries and talked about the war.
“i do hope it ends soon,” she sighed, cherry lipstick
glistening. “it’s so bothersome — all those guns,
all those planes.” when she yawned, her throat
was the color of a still-beating heart. “don’t you think?”
i didn’t think much of anything, really,
except how the ink they used in the death announcements
that lined the grim-toothed newspapers was the blood
of the deceased they tallied, and how
i wanted to peel the ruby petals from the world
with my fingernails and leave it trembling,
naked, bare — a stem plus the seeds it needed
to try again.

Anna Lance, 17, a senior at West High School in Alaska, won a Gold Key for her poetry in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards last year. Anna has been writing poetry since she was in kindergarten, and she is also interested in photography and musical theater.

Judge's comments: In this poem, red is everywhere, both as beauty and violence. The poet weaves the color throughout so skillfully, we find ourselves in a field full of red, a mess of that violent beauty that is an inextricable part of us. In this poem, to quote Ben Lerner, I am “a fraud in a field of poppies.” I am exalted and indicted. I am the woman yawning a throatful of beating heart, and the speaker peeling the ruby world down to its quick. 

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Ages 13 and under

First Place

City, Night
by Lydia Wei

If you put on your
            black tights
and your
            black shoes,
and your
            black dress….
If you put them all on, and you let the record whirl, the city is so—
            peaceful.
I’d take the
            calm
            heartbeat
of Manhattan and put it in my own restless body.
And the cool
            leafy
shadows of eaves and trees in quiet Brooklyn,
I’d paint that pattern on my
skin.

Lydia Wei, 12, goes to Eastern Middle School in Silver Spring, MD. During her free time, she likes to read, write and draw. Her favorite poet is Langston Hughes.

Judge’s comments: The city is rarely a peaceful place, but in this poem it stills, through the poem’s steady beauty, in the quiet of night. The poet stands in the center of this stillness, and in plain, plaintive language, invites us to envelope ourselves in night’s cool, shadowy blackness. Together with the poet, we dress ourselves in night. We embody the city. We are at peace.

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Second Place

Not.
by Sean Dick

When you are King of the Galaxy
You think you have it all.
But when you are king,
And you tell your minions to
           get you cookies and milk
And they don’t,
You realize you’re nothing more than
A kid in a dish towel.

Twelve-year-old Sean Dick lives in Franklin, TN, and attends Franklin Classical School where his favorite classes are Latin and Humanities. Though he doesn’t (often) wear a dish towel, he likes playing sports (golf, baseball, basketball), writing, cartooning, playing drums and being creative in Destination Imagination.  

Judge's comments: I love how this poem starts in one place and ends up in quite another. When we begin, we are royalty, and by the end, we’re just standing there wearing a rag. It’s simple, funny, and so exact—how reality intrudes on imagination, how we are humbled by the world, how others can bring us down to earth.

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Third Place

The Great Blue Heron
by Gayatri Rajan

Wings coated with crushed pearls, you appreciate the artistry of sea spray.
Beside the ocean that swallows your rhythms
You stand, forged from musical angles, under a sky sanded
Smooth. Self- warbled heron, you pull us into your world
You let the winds thread their frames around your perfect form, each a desire
Fed. You have stood there patiently for fifteen summers, hung on
Invisible wires. Sharp angles and fluid motions
You swallow acrid breezes on the bare sand;
An old poet, worn by dreams but eyes still twinkling with life
Hunched in the pure white gown of your wings. The sand clustered
Around your illuminated form, seashells framing your stance
Twice you blend into the wild, then you join your form in the sea
Shifting into the lull of air currents and grace,
Becoming a silhouette of sweet solitude, outlined in the clouds,
A forgotten vision from a full moon night,
Gliding between towering waves, and children’s sand castles
With purpose pure and high.

Gayatri Rajan describes poetry as "a connection with the world and with one's emotions." She is in sixth grade and enjoys dabbling in various forms of poetry, playing her beloved violin, experimenting with the visual arts, and reading. Her favorite books are The Giver by Lois Lowry and The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.

Judge's comments: This poem takes focus on the majestic bird of its title and steadies its gaze. I admire how the poet stays with the heron, not turning away, determined to give the bird its due. Throughout the poem, we are graced with language that embodies the stately beauty of the animal. 

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About our judge

Camille Rankine’s first book of poetry, Incorrect Merciful Impulses, is forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press. She is the author of the chapbook Slow Dance with Trip Wire, selected by Cornelius Eady for the Poetry Society of America's 2010 New York Chapbook Fellowship, and the recipient of a 2010 "Discovery"/Boston Review Poetry Prize. She works as Assistant Director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Manhattanville College and lives in New York City.

 

2014

Ages 14-18: Third Place | Honorable Mention

Ages 13 & under: First Place | Second Place | Third Place

About our judge

Ages 14-18

Third Place

Lineage
by Erin Stoodley, 16, CA

1              

In drifters, fishermen shuck tobacco
from tin cans.

What the hulls would touch below

breasting the kelp, striated   turning in
and over itself.

From the dock   my mother prays
to the gulls, once buoyant.

She lets the tobacco thread their bills,
each a bullet   fed.

2

My mother her mother and mother
before

steeple their palms   on the dock
whose daughters watch   as if in church

thighs grained and crossed,
backs chafing the splintered pew.

3

We’re learning a new language   unbroken
in this sea,

where silence is not submission
but our comfort.

My mother rises   soundless from her kneel.

Beneath the pull of engine, wings
lie tethered to the seabed

feathers parting   each stroke.

Erin Stoodley is a 16-year-old student residing in Southern California. Recently, she received first place in Ventura County’s 2014 Art Tales Contest for short fiction and was named a runner-up and finalist in Hollins University’s 2013 Nancy Thorp Poetry Contest. Erin was also designated a California Arts Scholar in 2013. Her poetry is published or is forthcoming in Cargoes, The Adroit Journal, and Winter Tangerine Review, among others.

Judge's comments: Form is never more than the revelation of content, said Denise Levertov. Well then, the three sections of “Lineage” reveal the subject (of evolution, of time moving forward), yet the poet complicates the way we usually think of time, subtly communicating the ways in which the past informs the present. I am blown away by the poet’s mature handling of hefty subject matter.

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Honorable Mention

Elegy
by Audrey Spensley, 16, OH

Perhaps she was afraid of the part that came next,
the and then. Once she danced on horizon lines with
her bare speckled feet. Once, she snapped her leg

along a fault line. A woman is someone who knows
how to die gracefully, the neat folds of her hands
white like bones or temples. A woman weaves herself

tight into a blanket, an insect feast. How long for
bones to become fossils? The world has no time
for children, she has learned. It makes them its

own. White and clasped like prayer. She is searching
for the words to say, I am a child, for the taste
of it on her sore tongue—like caramel apples,

cotton candy, so sweet it hurts. She dreams about
drowning, the possibility of it. To die without
sound, cold, dissolving and then dissolved.

Audrey Spensley is a junior at Avon Lake High School in Ohio. She primarily writes fiction and has received a national gold medal from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards for her work. When not writing, Audrey enjoys reading, running cross country and track, playing the violin, and spending time with friends.

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Ages 13 and under

First Place

Humor
by Alan Xie

You may think that poems are solemn,
But sometimes they can be funny.
They don’t have to be about
Things like love and money.

Blueberries, raspberries, and/or grapes
Could be the subject of your ballad.
Lemonade and lettuce,
Would also be sorta valid.

You could write about a frozen waste,
Maybe like Siberia,
Or write about a luscious forest,
Full of weird bacteria.

Cracking jokes could also be
Very, very nice,
But people would get tired of
A joke said more than twice.

Your story could take place
In an imaginary land.
Or, you could write about
Frodo and his boy band.

You also could write with
Words no one knows,
And make plebeians,
Feel like they are schmoes.

In conclusion, you don’t have to
Write like Edgar Poe,
But you have to make sure
Your content is apropos.

Alan Xie, 13, attends Metrolina Regional Scholars Academy in Charlotte, NC, where he is on the MATHCOUNTS team. With his younger brother, Ryan, he co-founded a school publication called Spark Magazine. He plays violin and is associate concertmaster of the NcStte Orchestra. Alan has won many trophies from state and national chess championships, swims competitively, and plays tennis. He is also a Boy Scout, loves reading, and enjoys toying with many types of puzzles.

Judge's comments: We are all guilty of taking poetry too seriously. That’s our fault, not poetry’s. Poems are mischievous deep down; they will not sit still for long. This gleeful, inclusive poem makes me smile, and I cheer on its funny author with a gift for rhyme—with all my mischievous heart!

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Second Place

When the Rain Falls
by Kaelyn Ha, 11, NY

When class falls on a pouring day,
The students would sit themselves down and look at the teacher,
With no energy in their eyes.
Empty stares, gray pupils.
And then lug their pencil to paper and write,
And then glance out the window, as if thinking,
Buy see darkened buildings and a cloudy, gray sky.   

When the school let out the students,
And the rain let go its anger,
The children would go to the park down at the end of the street
And play basketball and soccer and tag,
Bound with chains ’round their waists. 
    That hid them away from freedom,
As the children dragged their feet across the dim sunlight
With all the excitement and fierceness and bliss seeped out from the pores on their skins.
Chained from running at the sky, wild and free.

So the children would end their game early---
For their skins had become cold and wet and miserable to wear,
      Like leaning into the strickening frigid, lashing winds of winter.
For all their sneakers’ insides had turned too unpleasant to bear,
      Laced with mud-brown water and frigid wetness.
For all their hearts had gone somewhere else: home,
      Where their mothers waited patiently with baked chocolate cookies and a cup of hot cocoa,
      Where those children could drift comfortably into their warm, safe sleep,
      Away from the shivering coldness, away from the sticky wetness,
      Away from the rain.

Kaelyn Ha, 11, is a seventh grader attending Hunter College High School in New York. She enjoys debating in tournaments on a wide spectrum of topics and loves writing. Of all her pleasurable avocations, though, Kaelyn particularly loves to read literature because it is from reading that she learns the most. To her, reading literature is like traveling through the narrator's mind. 

Judge's comments: Good poems take us someplace else. Or, as is the case with “When the Rain Falls,” many places at once. Each stanza transports us somewhere new: Now we can hear the rain beating against the classroom window. Now we can feel the rush of playing tag, dragging our “feet across the dim sunlight.” And it’s all thanks to this poet’s lively imagination.

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Third Place

Gone
by Alan Xie

The brown leaves rustle
As the stormy winds pick up
And send them elsewhere.
I wish our lives were like this:
Able to go anywhere.

Alan Xie, 13, attends Metrolina Regional Scholars Academy in Charlotte, NC, where he is on the MATHCOUNTS team. With his younger brother, Ryan, he co-founded a school publication called Spark Magazine. He plays violin and is associate concertmaster of the NcStte Orchestra. Alan has won many trophies from state and national chess championships, swims competitively, and plays tennis. He is also a Boy Scout, loves reading, and enjoys toying with many types of puzzles. Read his first-place winning poem above.

Judge's comments: Don’t let the size of this poem trick you; it packs a big punch. I admire the quick turn from observing nature (which is to say, looking elsewhere) to wishful human thinking (our wishes might, and usually do, travel anywhere). “Gone” is a deceptively smart poem that rewards rereading.

About our judge

Will Schutt is the author of Westerly, winner of the 2012 Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize. His poems and translations have appeared in Agni, A Public Space, FIELD, The New Republic, and elsewhere. He currently lives in Baltimore, MD, where he serves as the Tickner Writing Fellow at the Gilman School.

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2013

Ages 14-18: First Place | Second Place | Third Place | Honorable Mentions

Ages 13 & under: First Place | Second Place | Third Place | Honorable Mentions

About our judge

Ages 14-18

First Place

Charlotte As a Husk
by Peter LaBerge

August, 2005.

Tonight, I think of everything haunted: Charlotte,
North Carolina peeled and hurricaned by the whisper
of August garden green flattened under lawn chairs.
Charlotte an echo of her previous form, houses now
shards of something bigger called a state of natural
disaster, the streets now mixed races of timber and asphalt,
misaligned vertebrae. This poem is for Charlotte, scare-curved
and still-sopping. If Charlotte were a woman, she might write
postcards to her up-coast sisters, knit sweaters and cook
gumbo, feel alone like lightning. Though she would
never admit it, she would like that I have written this.

Peter LaBerge is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania. In the past, he has been named a 2013 YoungArts Writing Finalist, a 2013 United States Presidential Scholar in the Arts semifinalist, and a two-time Scholastic Art & Writing Awards Gold Medalist. His recent work appears in The Louisville Review, DIAGRAM, The Newport Review, Assaracus, and elsewhere.

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Second Place

Six Things about Palm Desert
by Peter LaBerge

(i)
the desert invests love
in things like the possum
struck on springs expressway

(ii)
last night a corpse left unpeeled
& whole until morning when the sun
led desert traffic down the horizon’s spine

(iii)
avenues of determined ants across her arms—
put a flower in her hair because, streaming
light down an empty road, tonight she is beautiful

(iv)
she tattoos yield signs on her forearms to appear
flamboyant, derives inspiration from porch light
and waits slowly & reassuringly as scorpions emerge

(v)
protected by the moist shawl of late april, each little
body humming and twinging across a broken
radiator, finding its place in things

(vi)
one by one, from the outer-cracks of household,
family: of scorpion, of sunburn, of desert, of sprawling
sand blisters, of scorpion—the scene rises with them

Peter LaBerge is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania. In the past, he has been named a 2013 YoungArts Writing Finalist, a 2013 United States Presidential Scholar in the Arts semifinalist, and a two-time Scholastic Art & Writing Awards Gold Medalist. His recent work appears in The Louisville Review, DIAGRAM, The Newport Review, Assaracus, and elsewhere.

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Third Place

The Physics of Love and Hate
by Abraham Joyner-Meyers

Love is one attraction, pure magnetic pull
Between the two opposing poles: a force
That makes our lives and families meaningful
And brings us to a unifying source.

Hate is an opposing force: its will
Is to repel the friends we’ve made. In spite
Of love, connections born are killed.
As Newton taught us, like opposes like.

In physics, there are never mono-poles
And equal powers balance back and forth.
A magnet still has poles when split in two;
There cannot be a south without a north.

There is no weaker side, no stronger end:
The poles of love and hate are closest kin.

Abraham Joyner-Meyers is a 14-year-old homeschooler in Takoma Park, MD. He is an avid reader, a music lover, and an epee fencer. He loves to fiddle at the local farmer's market, visit the museums in DC, and shelve books at the town library. He spends his summers playing violin in a string quartet in Virginia and playing frisbee at Duke TIP in North Carolina.

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Honorable Mentions

Sanctus
by Caroline Harris, 16, CA

When the sun burns out
a trillion years from now
it will take 8 minutes and 19 seconds
for mankind to know
because that is how long it takes
for light to reach the earth

Imagine:
We move to the rise and fall of the little jazz mass–
the shadowy smoke of faded incense drifts up
from beneath the hot new mexican sun. The children here
dream in warm browns, burnt oranges, & powder blues
of terracotta castles and that old church off the side of the highway–

Chimayo. We pray
for these hopeful copper-faced children
and the way in which they see the world:
bright, alive, gasping

Hard red mesas rise up against the starry skies
& three hundred thousand people
make the pilgrimage each year to the hilltop shrine
of this holy land

That was the year
winter bore a new weight
(a blue-lipped boy with fingers
crackling like electric sparks)
We remember the ghost of his touch now,
lift our palms in exaltation,

and wonder where we will be
in those 8 minutes and 19 seconds

Where will we be when
these times mark the end of all times?

Caroline Harris is a California-based writer. Most recently, she won the international 2013 KidSpirit award in poetry, attended UVA Young Writers, and was published in The Claremont Review and Creative Communication. When not writing, Caroline enjoys debating, singing, piano, and running track.

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The Simple Joys of Individual Soccer on a Summer Afternoon
by Cecilia Hsu

I can’t see the boy’s face, hidden by shadows of
a peeling wooden fence and the tree that towers above it,
but I can see the worn soccer ball he kicks, as he waves his hands about:
a soft thud, and then another,
the ball hitting the fence post again and again.

I wonder if he is happy here,
in this busy village with candy-colored houses,
vendors of freshly stripped sugar cane and souvenir keychains,
stray dogs weaving through the legs of
tourists on cracked stone sidewalks,
villagers’ hearty streetside conversations in rapid Spanish,
blazing August heat relieved only by
wire-framed fans and mariachi music.

Maybe I’m the ignorant, arrogant stranger,
with my pity for these materially impoverished natives,
who have become an attraction themselves,
their every step falling under tourist eyes,
at once misguided, critical, and sympathetic.

As I pass the boy’s small yard
for a second I catch his expression
through the window of the rented vacation car.

It was a pure, sunlit joy.

Cecilia Hsu is a sophomore at Centennial High School in Ellicott City, MD. Her hobbies include playing piano, singing, writing poems, and swimming on a year-round team. In her free time, she enjoys baking cupcakes, cloud gazing, and maintaining "Sing On," her blog. She considers Duke TIP, her summer camp in Durham, NC, as her second home. She hopes to be an opera or classical crossover singer when she's older.

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Ages 13 and under

First Place

Pantoum: Mint Tea on a Rainy Morning
by Molly Pyne-Jaeger

Wafting from the skin-smooth mug
is the scent of brown leaves.
Drops pour down the window glass
like tears that sparrows drink.

Wafting from the skin-smooth mug,
it winds a mint spiderweb through the air.
Like tears that sparrows drink,
drops hover on the leaves of the willow.

It winds a mint spiderweb through the air.
Your eyes would cry if you let them.
Drops hover on the leaves of the willow,
like your tears, that hover, unshed.

Your eyes would cry if you let them.
But you trap tears in the mint spiderweb.
Like your tears, that hover, unshed,
rain quivers its way down the windows.

But you trap tears in the mint spiderweb,
sending them tumbling into the brown leaves.
Rain quivers its way down the windows,
as liquid pools on the wet brown porch.

Sending them tumbling into the brown leaves,
you weep your endless tears into the mint spiderweb.
As liquid pools on the wet brown porch,
water trickles off the silvery leaves of the willow.

Is the scent of brown leaves
something more than it seems?
Like tears that sparrows drink,
faint brown rain spills down the skin-smooth mug.


Molly Pyne-Jaeger, 12, is in eighth grade at the Mirman School in Los Angeles, CA. She lives in Eagle Rock with her parents, younger sister, dog, hamster, fish, and bird.  Most of her time is taken up by club soccer, horseback riding, and violin, but when not doing one of those she can be found attempting to teach herself various fictional languages, giggling over Terry Pratchett, Monty Python and Star Trek, or composing fantastical tales of starships, demons, and bionic hipster ocelots.

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Second Place

Picture Perfect
by Alexandra Hughes

Imperfection frames perfection
Just as Yin and Yang
Just as one note out of tune
In melody the songbird sang

Perfection is quite possible
But we have yet to sight
A shallow surface
A reflection

Silhouetted at the light

Alexandra Hughes is a 13-year- old author from Illinois. Writing poetry and reading literature are some of her favorite pastimes, along with competitive basketball, zip lining, and culinary pursuits. Alexandra finds inspiration in the outdoors and human nature. Her favorite writing companion is her cat, Willow.

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Third Place

The Boat of Possibilities
by Evan Crosby

Come on over,
All you dreamers,
To The Boat of Possibilities,
The Vessel of Forever,
The Water-House of Whatever,
The River-Engine of Why-ever,
The Ship of Whomever,
As we sail away from the Coasts of Corruption,
And towards the Islands of Infinite,
And we’ll take a little spin ‘round the Gulf of Greatness,
How ‘bout the Glacier of Glory?
And we’ll take The Righteous River,
And Sail the Sea of Surrealism,
And finally we’ll reach the Peninsula of Perfection.
So come on over,
All you dreamers,
To the Boat of Possibilities,
The Hotel on the Sea,
Capacity: Infinite
Tenants: Not enough

Evan Crosby was born and raised in Las Vegas, NV. His hobbies include reading, writing, and watching films. In the future, he wishes to become a film director, while still writing as a hobby.

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Honorable Mentions

Lachrymose
by Anna Wan

Humans fall in love
with the idea of
their hands fitting
perfectly into each others.
Humans fall in love
with the possibility of looking
upon a face
and seeing a panacea.
Humans fall in love with how
the scorching sun
sheds eternal light
on the earth
never expecting anything in return
no matter how long
it is sent away.
And they illuminate the whole world.

Humans fall in love
with an untamed force
that can control us
heal us
or destroy us.

Humans are in love
with the idea of
being in love.
Humans are not
in love
with
each other.

Anna Wan is a freshman at Taylor Allderdice High School in Pittsburgh, PA. She is a member of her school's debate team, Literary Society, and French Club. She is also active in science, and her project earned a first place award both regionally and statewide. She plays the piano and the cello and is a classical music enthusiast.

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Kitchen
by Zelin Liu

A cold room
A flame rising slowly
With power
A warm room
Not for long
An empty room
People come in
Smiles
Talking
A homely room
Not for long
An idle room
Cooking
Eating
A room with a use
Not for long
Something perfect
Not for long
Something positive
Not for long
Something existing
Not for long
For
What is eternal?
Nothing good can
Last

Zelin Liu, 13, is from the Greater Washington, DC, area, and attends Tilden Middle school.  He enjoys reading, playing table tennis and volleyball, and studying Classics and general world history.

About our judge

Sasha West’s first book, Failure and I Bury the Body (Harper Perennial), won the 2012 National Poetry Series. Her poems have appeared in The Southern Review, Ninth Letter, Forklift, OH, Third Coast, and American Poet. She lives in Austin with her husband and daughter and teaches writing at UT Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs.

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2012

Ages 14-18: First Place | Second Place | Third Place

Ages 13 & under: First Place | Second Place | Third Place

About our judge


Ages 14-18

First Place

blonde on blonde
by Taite Puhala

having decided that your duty is to bring music
and maybe a little bit of danger to the lifeless streets

of suburbia, you draw yourself up as a rebel with a cause,
hold your arms out like the spirals of the milky way, 

sending the glowing children congregating around you
into a feverish whirl, because space is curved 

and so are the suburbs you traversed across to bring them here,
winding through hills and streets to conduct 

this sermon on a mount, so even the things that
appear to move straight are really spinning around 

you have stolen your father’s turntable,
and his old records, and his oversized coat, 

and while the sunset begins to stain things
in a golden light, you put the needle 

on the vinyl and open old wounds
while the only voice you have ever loved 

claws its way out of the box and into
the grooves of the sky, making the stars 

scratch and whir, and time instead
settles into the beats, breaks its lineage, 

and begins to, like everything, spin.

Taite Puhala, 15, is a junior at Westminster School in Simsbury, CT. She lives in nearby East Granby with her parents, brother, grandmother, dogs, and cat. When she's not wrapped in a blanket cuddling with her pets, you can find her baking cupcakes or rooting for the Red Sox.

Judge's comments: This poem has cast a spell on itself and is true to it throughout. A riff on Bob Dylan rightly becomes a riff on culture and on the metaphysical (the sources of art). Its headlong structure, 21 lines in a single sentence, is not easy to attain, but is seamless, and in its way appropriately Dylanesque.


Second Place

Dressmaker
by Camille Petersen

The dressmaker, she lives for the storefront window
Displays made secretly by calloused thumbs and
Unraveled silk fingertips in the slate awakening
Of night

In the slate awakening of all that has been alive unseen
Outside her rotting window
The dahlias and the birch trees and the stories of mothers
Sewing their ways out of wartime jail cells

As a child she caught fireflies and tried to keep them forever
In old jam jars but always they lit up her fingertips
Like streaks of solar heartache
So always, always she let them free
Frightened of imprisoning streetlamp wings

This was her start as an artist of the thread
As all artists begin
A thrill from a strange illumination followed by
A sudden love for creation
For more light, more noise for the unheard voices

With each stitch the dressmaker shakes another hand
Understands another friend under summer stars
Revolving around the axis of science and love
These dresses are stories to wear

The dressmaker, she knows people are just
Color and thread
What holds us together and how we show it
She lives for the storefront window storybooks

The dressmaker, she lives for the light
Of freed wings

Camille Petersen, 17, lives in Mendham, NJ, and is a senior at Villa Walsh Academy. Besides writing, she enjoys reading, cross country and track, music, Mock Trial, Extemporaneous Speaking, volunteering, running her school's service club, learning about the world and human rights, and spending time with her wonderful friends. She is inspired by people who do good for others, dare to express the truth, and fight for universal human values. She would like to thank her family and unique friends for their constant support and encouragement.

Judge's comments: "Dressmaker" is unapologetically Romantic (a GOOD thing when done with conviction). It believes in beauty, and in art, and in how the extraordinary lives always in the ordinary.


Third Place

I'm Sorry
by Kennedi Whittingham

Read to her the pages of the book I'm Sorry. 
"I'm sorry I found you,
I'm sorry I pulled you out of the water, 
I'm sorry I fell in love with you"
Close your eyes, and read her softly the words you've held back. 
"I love you, but I don't believe in love."
Lungs dusted with the clichés of the American teenager,  
and lips painted with the week old essence of yours 
But we've been to the top of the last wiry tree, 
and we've ingested the last of the illuminated cities, 
and the book I'm Sorry will soon be set down. 
Throw her back into the water, love,
and fall asleep to her whispering your name. 

Kennedi Whittingham, 16, attends La Salle High School in Pasadena, CA. She loves running track during the spring and writing whenever she can. After college, Kennedi aspires to a career in a creative writing field or law enforcement.

Judge's comments: At the back of this poem is the story of Odysseus and Nausicaa, the princess who rescues the near-drowned wanderer who washes up on her shores and falls in love with him. Because he is fated to wander, he throws her away (though it may be a mistake to do so). In that sense, a story about love, and rescue, and loss is rooted deeply in the history of the human heart, and this poem evokes that history.


Ages 13 & Under

First Place

Apple Eyes
by Ashley Zhang

They say it was the apples.
Was it? I asked
Did a basket with apples change you?
No, they said
It was that day.
Her eyes were
Red.
As red
As the basket
Of apples.
She didn’t talk.
nod.
acknowledge your presence.
The door closes.
Didn’t you see, child?
It was that day.
She didn’t want you to know.
She was leaving.
Going.
Going.
Gone.
She begged for forgiveness
left the door open.
Yet
     Yet
          Yet

you never came
Running with open arms.
You never came.

Ashley Zhang, 11, is in seventh grade at Jordan Middle School in California. She has played piano for the Palo Alto School District Honors Orchestra and chamber music with different groups, and has won various writing prizes and published in several newspapers and magazines. Ashley loves the smell of rain on the sidewalk, pirouetting across her backyard, and biking to farmers' markets on Sunday mornings.

Judge's comments: Like the #1 poem in the older category, this poem invokes an emotional flood and allows it to flow without interference. One of the first lessons a good poet learns is not to get in the way of one's own material--by excessive commentary, or by trying too hard to make one's poem sound like a poem. This poet wisely opens the floodgate and stands aside.


Second Place

Garden of the Seasons: Four Haikus
by Natalia Zorrilla

Lonely white snowfield
Cold moon shining on canvas
Painting dark shadows

White with emerald tinge
Timid buds poking through snow
“Can we come out now?”

Meadow bursting green
Rainbow of flowers blooming
Sun greets them warmly

Trees grow bare again
Leaves fall like so many snowflakes
Sunset of the year

Natalia Zorrilla, 11, of San Diego, CA, is an enthusiastic reader and writer. This is her first year participating in CTY; she has enjoyed both a Young Readers online course and the Writing Modern Fantasy summer camp at CTY La Jolla. When not writing, reading, or attending 6th grade at Solana Pacific Elementary School, Natalia likes to run, ski, and spend time with friends and family.

Judge's comments: The haiku form (especially in English) can be its own worst enemy; the brevity of the form invites cliche, mannerism, and falsification. These four connect nicely together, and manage to feel fresh, even while dealing with very familiar material.


Third Place

Lies
by Jack Lawlor

Those silvery tongues that slip us news,
A well-oiled siren song that soothes,
And strives to tell.
Wanting attention like a roaring sequoia fell,
Like a celebrity silently stealing
Through a crowd, head down.
Try we will, but ‘till from tongue flagrant falsehoods float
That mouth across scythes and baskets buckets of truth.
But then,
That simple veracity and scintillating mind now crumble
A jangling jumble of sounds now is sold.
So how it seems that authenticity told
To you, today,
Is now false and cold.

Words carry meaning.
The worth is why words work.
Why words carry the world.
Why words can wheel-deal, wheedle, wail, wheeze.
Why words can wage wars.
Why words can win or sin.
And a well-woven falsehood wrought double
Upon the wrong wary person
Leaves only trouble.

Jack Lawlor, 13, is from Salem, NH, and is in the eighth grade at Hampstead Academy. He enjoys piano, baseball, improv and drama,Destination ImagiNation, summer in Maine, making videos, art, instruments, and cool explosions, and reading anything and everything. He is new to poetry and  eager to explore its forms.

Judge's comments: The music of language is poetry's stock in trade, and though music (like poetry) is constantly being re-defined, those who are deaf to the music of language cannot possibly write poetry (nor do they usually want to). This poem--though it says it is about the meaning of words--is in fact about the music of words, and this double awareness lends it power. 


About our judge

T.R. Hummer is the author of ten books of poetry, including Ephemeron and Bluegrass Wasteland: Selected Poems. He has been editor of Kenyon Review, New England Review, and Georgia Review. A native of Mississippi and longtime devotee and practitioner of jazz, he lives in Phoenix, where he teaches creative writing at Arizona State University.

2011

Ages 14-18: First Place | Second Place | Third Place

Ages 13 and under: First Place | Second Place | Third Place

About our judge


Ages 14-18

First Place

At the End of a Long Winter
by John Lutz

The wind still chills a gray expanse
Of clouds and asphalt. Birth is slow
At first, and brews beneath the earth,
But every day the warmth matures
And clears the frost from boulders. Night
Relaxes; sunlight burns again.
The cold-oppressed and restless youth
Can feel the springtime first. Their shirts

And skirts recede to let inside
The heavy feeling in the air
Of pollen, bees, fresh grass, and dirt.

John Lutz is a junior at Ridgefield High School in Ridgefield, CT. He is a member of the RHS Math Team, Mandarin Club, and Literary Society. His poetry has been published in the RHS literary journal, Lodestar. John is active in debate, and finished a top underclassman speaker in last year’s Connecticut Debate Association State Finals and as second-highest novice at last year’s Yale Osterweis tournament.

Judge’s comments: This short poem packs a lot. There is a quiet elegance to it and a very mature, confident voice, which reminds me of Robert Frost. The images are clear and simple, such that the art of the poem is not at all intrusive: we are drawn into it by its own effortlessness. There is an odd line (“their shirts and skirts recede…”) which stands out and, despite its prosaicness, fits so well in the poem because of the assured tone in which it is stated, especially as it is followed by such a swirl of images that seem to complement it so logically. I am amazed at the technical dexterity and the maturity of the voice in this poem.
 


Second Place

Truth
by Camille Petersen

Somebody once told me that
Knowing the truth is like
Putting a candle into your eye
And watching it swallow the miles and miles
Of memories trapped in the iris

They explained that St. John Bosco
Asked his dead friend to tell him whether
Heaven is a fable or the reality of the dead
His response came in the wind of unknotted ends
In the breath of unfinished canvases

My biggest fear is to be untying knots for eternity
Deftly pulling apart reclusive ideas
Blindfolded and so dim that their ropes
Fold into the crystalline patterns of snow
Falling to escape knowing the boundaries of knotted homes

I fear waiting for an answer in the wind
And only hearing the shadow of nighttime clouds
Tiptoeing over storytelling stars
The second dimension of the plastered dark
Telling me that all light is tarnished

I fear that when the truth takes over my windows
Suspends itself like gold in a field of rusting iron
Every shutter I closed will open
Every careful doubt will become a vivid hope
I will no longer tolerate the unspoken

Camille Petersen, 16, lives in Mendham, NJ, and attends Villa Walsh Academy. Her interests besides writing include current events, extemporaneous speaking competitions, mock trial, volunteering, music, cross country and track, reading, and spending time with friends. She would like to thank everyone who has encouraged and supported her writing, especially her friends.

Judge's comments: There is a deep sense of hunger for the philosophical that I find admirable in this poem and the author’s fear of being “de-centered” which is expressed quite eloquently in the final stanza. The idea that truth could lead to mere nothingness, or a shattering of comfortable illusion, sounds like nothing one would expect a teenager to ponder so seriously, but this poem does so, and fearlessly. The last line is a gem; it reminds me of some of the best late French surrealist poems (like those of Michaux) who expressed the same emotions.


Third Place

Sestina
by Catherine Wong

Little things. He packs a bracelet knotted with pewter charm horses,
a four-leaf clover in a block of stone, a book on how to fold a thousand
paper birds as a charm. They buy tissue for the cranes,

five nickels a stack in brown bags stamped “lucky”,
and at the station they linger by the telephone,
folding and watching the rain fall like orbs of glass.

On the train car he presses his nose and hands to the glass,
she outside and he inside, bounced with the motion of going like carousel horses,
a merry-go-round of soldiers on a train. He calls out, They screen the telephone

but I’ll call with a thousand stories a night, your own Scheherazade, every day a lucky
break from death and be sure to remember we’re cranes.

This from a documentary, they pressed cheek to cheek watching two cranes
dance on the snow, a narrator’s voice saying they move like glass
dolls, sway in fragile perfect synchrony, and a crane is lucky

to find a single mate in its life but this is nature. The scene fades to horses,
barreling wild-maned wild-muscled things with a thousand
hoof beats and there is dust and sweat and he says Looks like war, then the telephone

rings and they rise as one, turn together to the chime of the telephone
and when they hear the news their heads fall in unison, as cranes.

Days pass. She cooks dinners for one and dusts the rooms too many times and counts lucky
numbers on her fingers and toes, finds them in telephone
books and in fortune cookie slips and the backs of race horses.

When they call to tell her she is waiting in a line of a thousand
cars. When they call her they begin, Up until now he was lucky.
When they tell her she quietly puts her fist through the glass

and everyone in the line of cars rolls down their windows, cranes
their neck to watch as she makes a sound like the cry of dying horses.

They send it back but she does not keep the bracelet with horses, nor the thousand
words of praise nor the paper that reminds her of cranes because she does not believe in lucky.
She keeps the telephone, and at night she looks in the mirror and is alone in the glass.

Catherine Wong, 16, is a junior attending Morristown High School in New Jersey. She has been recognized for her writing in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, and has published in numerous literary magazines as well as on Cogito.org. When not writing, she enjoys reading over old novels, managing the website Better Than Wikinotes, and catching raindrops on her tongue.

Judge's comments: Bravo for attempting to write a sestina, and for writing one that is so compelling. The narrative is moving without being maudlin, and the use of the colloquial ("she does not believe in lucky") adds to the immediacy and realism of the poem. The choice of words to repeat, moreover, is pretty daring: how often can one use "telephone" and "horses"? This poem does, and does so much more, and is an amazing accomplishment.

Ages 13 and under

First place

Top of the Food Chain
by Odetta Li

The first embryo to eat its way out
Wins, with serrated teeth the opportune
First born has the honor of consuming his
Unborn brethren. Such fratricidal
Tendencies start early, to the misfortune
Of his cannibalized siblings.
At birth he is abandoned by his mother,
Not that he needs one really, for already
He kills like no other.

A single drop, shed in a moment
Of weakness, is sufficient. Once he has
Determined his target it does not escape.
His blade, arched and eager, cleaves silent
Through the shimmering water, invisible,
Until he greets his victim, jaws agape;
The pink crevasse clarifies his intent.
The last thing his prey feels before succumbing
Is the sting of salt water sliding over
Its brutalized body.

In a happy manner he indulges in this game.
He feels no remorse; he does not know shame.
He strikes terror with his very silhouette,
Scouring and devouring without a second regret
Until the day he is spotted by a crew.
Foiled by a simple net,
He is promptly served in stew.

Odetta Li, 13, is a Year 8 student at Island School, Hong Kong. She dabbles in many activities, including archery, debate, math competitions, writing, and table tennis. She also enjoys playing several instruments, namely the piano, the violin in the school orchestra, and the recorder. Recently, she has tried composing and is currently studying for a piano diploma.

Judge’s comments: The poem opens with a very vivid, if disturbing, image and never lets go. This seems apt for the central idea, which nonetheless is treated with sardonic humor. There are images that are so graphic they successfully convey not just the ferocity of the strong, but also the terror of the weak. In the final stanza, the poet gives this game of hunter vs. hunted its absurd (and logical) end. It’s more than a punch line; it makes the “crew” seem oddly godlike. And it leaves one wondering, after all the graphic imagery, if the food chain keeps going up, and what fate (gasp!) awaits us.


Second place

Waiting for Colors
by Kacey Fang

Spring promised me things would change.

She said it was the custom of life that the world should turn

and tilt so the sun could thaw out the soul,
that trees choked by ice would breathe a shuddering breath,
and that blossoms in bloom would once more blush
under Nature’s smile.  

She told me, in a whisper, that the colors would return.

So I waited,
but nothing came except spattered skies
and pollen-ridden clouds, umbrellas raised as shields.

And I wished I’d captured the light myself
and taken it home when the time was still right,

when the colors were still in flight,
because Spring is but a promise
of blossoms without leaves and
sunlight without warmth.

Kacey Fang is entering her freshman year at The Harker School in California. She is constantly trying to balance her creative side and her logical side, along with her crazy-and-obsessed-over-penguins side. She spends her time drawing endless sketches for her art teacher’s prompts, trudging through Lewis Dot structures and moles of iron (II) sulfate, indulging in undeserved tea breaks, wishing for an actual sonic screwdriver, reading, writing, writing long-winded nonsense about nothing in particular, and referring to herself in autobiographies using third person.

Judge's comments: This poem has a lot of promise. Although the images are not unexpected, there is a commendable consistency in the theme of expectation and disappointment: as we wait for the colors, there is nothing but clouds and umbrellas. I think a little bit more of the colors or colorlessness would make this poem even stronger, since they are images we can really imagine visually. The idea of taking the light home was quite appealing and could offer the poem a lot more room to work in.
 


Third place

Silver
by Yvonne Ye

Silver
falls.
Gray wool
shrouds a mourning sky.
The slender grass stands,
helpless to run
as the silver rises
and they drown.

Yvonne Ye is a 13-year-old dancer, incoming freshman, writer, and bookworm who lives in Saratoga, California. She has a cat, a brother, and a much-used—and much-loved—laptop that she uses for her midnight epiphanies. Yvonne also plays piano, practices procrastination, and likes poking things that don’t make sense.

Judge's comments: There is an almost haiku-like economy of words and imagery in this poem. We know what the silver and wool are, but the image of the grass being unable to escape the downpour gives the poem its twist (and perhaps a little philosophical insight) much like the way a haiku reveals an unexpected observation in its last line.


About our judge

Eric Gamalinda divides his time between family in Manila and work in New York. His writing awards include the Asian American Literary Award, the Philippine Centennial Literary Prize, the Philippine National Book Award, the Asiaweek short story prize, and several Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards. He teaches at Columbia University.

2010

Ages 15-18: First Place | Second Place | Third Place

Ages 14 & Under: First Place  |  Second Place Third Place |  Honorable Mention

About our judge


Ages 15-18

First Place

The Light at 3rd and Melrose
by Tori Campbell

He’s keeping the time, passing it by
calm and measured.
Part beat, all rhythm,
no funk, just standard,
But it’s the right kind of standard—
It fits the sky with no trouble.

He’ll sit up with me,
here on the curb
As he punches his card,
there on the street
As I patrol for the morning
and he protects against the dark.
Or maybe the other way around.

There’s got to be some reason
that he flips color by color,
With nothing but complaints
about time and it’s delay
Drifting out of halfwayed windows
for thanks.
There’s got to be some kind of love.

Even now
with no one to see him,
He keeps rounding his circuit.
It’s just what he does
so he’ll be ready if someone needs him.
Or maybe he does it
because he knows I’m still there,
Watching him burn on
against the rival stars.
And that I’m cheering for him.

Tori Campbell is an 11th-grader at The Pingry School in Martinsville, NJ. She has practiced tae kwon do for 10 years, has been acting for 13, and is a co-founder of  Book Buddies, a charity that she and her siblings developed in 2007. She enjoys reading, playing bass guitar, attending youth group, and raising money for her occasional trips to China.

Judge’s comments: I envy this poem’s startlingly original tone: a pitch-perfect, meditative jazz. Sunlight is imagined as a guy on the street, a Joe the speaker admires; the speaker’s reflection reveals a quiet, effecting joy in the perseverance of days. Sophisticated and seemingly effortless, this poem isn’t just great writing by a young person. It’s quite simply a fabulous poem.

Second Place

Holding Words Hostage
by Camille Petersen

A rose is a rose is a rose
But I know the style of
Meandering words
Words that expand like balloons
Inflated by Big Foot
And fade like playground bruises

I know how they turn their backs
As if escape can be sneaky
Rather than explosive and dramatic
They’re not used to this type of place
Where analysis squirms through keyholes
And scrutiny arrives disguised as rain

One day while they sleep
Dreaming of alphabets plunged in gold
I will make their secrets flee
Like zoo animals freed from their cages
Their minds will become creaky doors on a blustery day
I will have the map for all their mazes

The words themselves will give in
If I hold scissors to dictionaries
And carelessly wave a flame’s glimmer
I will be able to peel their pronunciation tables
From their meticulously cleaned work desks
Where they construct linguistic fables

I’d like to know what they feel
About their little identification formula
A me is a me is a me?
Their background research is unseen
Do they dot their i’s and cross their t’s
When they define me?

Camille Petersen, 15,  lives in Mendham, NJ, and attends Villa Walsh Academy. She enjoys running cross country and track, volunteering and community service, reading ,writing, Mock Trial, participating in extemporaneous speaking competitions, current events, trivia, playing cello, listening to music, and hanging out with friends. Camille's poem "Museum" won an honorable mention in last year's Creative Minds Poetry Contest.


Third Place

Sunset on Childhood
by Vivek Choksi

The sun dripped down,
Streaking self-betrayal
From the cheeks
Of the child
Who could never get
His watercolors
To look the way
They were supposed to.

It dripped down and further down
As if in tributaries
Of neglected ice-cream,
If gelato di lampone trickled
Wriggling snake sweat
And radiated the sense of dread you get
After wetting yourself
During a fascinating nightmare.

On the one hand,
You want to know how
Everything will come together;
On the other,
You prefer to hide
From endings.

Vivek Choksi is a senior at Gunn High School in Palo Alto, CA. He plans to study engineering in college.


Ages 14 & Under

First Place

Still
by Rachel Xu

and there are moments

cocoons hung from a spider web

when the world holds it breath

and you are the only one

breathing

you’re standing

asthmatic

lungs dirty with despair

we knew you couldn’t catch up, so

We tried to hold the train for you,

But you didn’t even run to catch it.

Rachel Xu is a sophomore at the Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville, NJ. She has volunteered as a camp counselor and instructor at a performing arts camp, as well as interned in a microbiology lab at UPenn. Rachel is a member of debate club and math club, and a contributor to her school’s literary magazine.

Judge’s comments: An amazingly sophisticated piece of writing, this small poem is much larger than it looks. An unspoken narrative lies within the tone and imagery, a story about loss and other complicated emotions. But instead of waxing rhapsodically, the poem is more moving for its restraint and what it does not say. The speaker does not—cannot—let the poem breathe. That’s how powerful the emotions are. The few words, the sparse images—these tell everything.


Second Place

THE END
by Garam Noh

Looking down at the clean, tidy hospital sheets,
And looking at the now-empty screen, you know
With that line that went
Straight with a "beep beep" sound,
One book came to a sudden close.

You came to love the main character of that book,
You went through all hardships together,
But in the END, you only find that the character
Leaves your life forever,
Only leaving a story you already read
For the sake of remembrance.

Feeling like the story’s not over yet--
No, it CAN’T be over ‘cause you want to read more--
You frantically turn the pages until you get to those few
Blank
Ones at the back.

Then it hits you.
It’s really over.
Then maybe you’ll turn back the pages to
Read it all over again, but you know it’s different.
You know how the book ends, and you know you have
Nothing to look forward to.
Like the rest of the book has no meaning because at some point,
It just had to end.

It left only you behind.

Garam Noh is an eighth grader at Tenakill Middle Schoolin New Jersey. She spends most of her time buried in books and spends the rest enjoying sketching, music, problem solving, and writing. Her future plans are to study politics and become a published author.

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Third Place

Dandelion
by David Rathmann-Bloch

Like a wisp of cloud
The geodesic jungle stands
With trees as thin as eyelashes

Like a wisp of cloud
The geodesic jungle stands
A watchtower at the edge
Over the ever forgotten mingling
Of road-kill and tar and soil

Like a tornado in Kansas
Your breath sends wishful seeds
Out on their own

And for this,
As we hubris-filled humans believe
Our own wishes, hopes and dreams
May be fulfilled.

And sometimes they are.

David Rathmann-Bloch enjoys writing poetry because it allows him to "reach deep wells of emotion and flights of fancy with only a few words." In addition to writing, David likes to travel, compose lyrics, and hang out with his friends, family, and rabbit.


Honorable Mention

A Young Writer
by Crystal Song

Sitting in a swivel chair
Lights on
Fingers ready and itching for inspiration
To spring forth from these
Commonplace pale beige walls

The sound of some winged insect
Wildly flinging itself against the wall
An irritating and irrational
buzz buzz buzz

Muggy air leaks in
Through the open window

Everything off balance
The page is too white
Too blank, ready to be filled
With things I know nothing of

Just a young girl
With no real
Life experience
Just aspirations
That border on impossibility
Ready to defy gravity
But not sure how
Trapped in beige walls
Of writer’s block
And anonymity

Crystal Song, 14, loves reading and writing as well as ballet, music, and watching competitive cooking shows. Two of Crystal's favorite books are The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and The Host by Stephenie Meyer.


About our judge

Anna George Meek has published her poetry in Poetry, Kenyon Review, Yale Review, Crazyhorse, Seneca Review, and Missouri Review, among other national journals. She is the recipient of an American Academy of Poetry Prize, two Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowships, and a National Endowment for the Arts Individual Artist Grant. Her first book, Acts of Contortion, won the 2002 Brittingham Prize in Poetry. Meek lives with her husband and daughter in Minneapolis, where she works as a freelance musician and as a professor of English.

2009

Ages 15-18: First Place | Second Place | Third Place | Honorable Mentions

Ages 14 & under: First Place | Second Place | Third Place | Honorable Mentions

About our judge


Ages 15-18

First Place

Escape
by Emily Rutherford

The air smells of suburbia in summer:
sunshine, hot dogs, and lawn clippings.
The sweet rain of the sprinkler
falls gently on the prone forms
of two intrepid travelers.
They have been to Mars and back
this afternoon. How lovely,
to once again feel the familiar
prickle of grass at their backs.
Alien planets are all well and good,
but this Rock circling the sun is ours.
Though they both know this is a fact,
neither speaks of it.
They only speak of leaving,
not returning.

Emily Rutherford is a sophomore at the Bryn Mawr School for Girls in Baltimore, MD. She runs cross-country and track, and has been a competitive swimmer since age six. She has been writing fiction since age four. Despite her love of reading and writing, she aspires to become a surgeon.

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Second Place

Lottery
by Theophilus Kwek

The people who as children queued at downtown slot machines
now surround the lottery
with shaded wishes in their hands
but what they do not know is that the dream they hope to buy
has bought their hearts with promises
of castles in the air

dispensers of false hope and merchants
of forbidden thoughts, selling gleaming golden eggs with
unhatched daydreams by the dollar
and scribbled on each price-tag is a hurried afterthought:
“if expectations fail, no refund
for shattered dreams.”  I sit by the counter

and watch reverent fingers brush against
the belly of the Buddha. The money’s handed over
four digits are scribbled down
and the customer is pleased with the heaven he has bought
like the child on the street
with the bubble
he has blown.

Theophilus Kwek spent three of his six primary school years in the Gifted Education Programme at Tao Nan School and is now a student at Raffles Institution in Singapore, where he is vice-chairman of the school newsletter. Theophilus is a first violinist in the Singapore National Youth Orchestra and his school’s string ensemble. He loves traveling and exploring new places, but still feels that there is nowhere like home.

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Third Place

Time
by Nol Swaddiwudhipong

Drifting downriver I watch the water’s
Slithering slyness shift the sands—
Powerless grains whisked from old banks to
New homes while trees above regard
With calm amusement these journeys, recalling
How they once drifted groping for a
Centre. They watch as our smiles shine like
The sudden bird’s bright yellow against the river’s green
While Dad’s laughter—red, round and cheery
Fills the trees with fruit
Like him the trees are heavy with tales—
Beneath their leaves hiding a smooth
Ceaseless flow just like the river that
Tugs at these yarns in currents where
There is no time
Before long I find myself on another river
Where a flush of the office’s building’s cold breath
Shuts speech off
Fluorescent lights cut one’s presence out
Far too clearly and I march across tiles that
Map and carve out solitary
Cells just like the doors lining the corridor
Like the leaves each door conceals people and stories
But for everyone along this river frozen rigid
There is no time

Nol Swaddiwudhipong studies at Raffles Institution, Singapore, where he leads a fairly enjoyable existence struggling against the constant tirade of assignments. Outside school hours, he shoots for the school’s rifle team and competes for the school’s science club. As a student of literature, he loves poetry and draws inspiration from many like-minded peers.

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Honorable Mentions

Portraits
by Jessie Li

It is here I was born twice,
crushed streaks of charcoal hair
dotting your salted banks before
you pushed back in deft defiance
while the weeping willows claimed you,
grazing the sages amongst these loose yellow
leaves—whispering of ancient turtles
who claimed the wise never succumb to change.
You called me home, etching my name
into your russet bark as though
sealing my promise to come back.
Twigs flailing like infants in the water,
a heron frozen, beak piercing the
gyres of time.  The burden of
these lacerations that marked
my heartbeat, your crimson life
pulsating through my veins,
somehow forcing glass to rewind
into quicksand—soft, silky, forgiving
bits undoing, enveloping cemented lies. 
Tormented day and night into
restless slumber, you wished only
to enroot my stiff limbs beneath your skin.
Unlike the rose who withers and atrophies
when forced away from her soil,
crushed in the shadows of midnight
by hollow love, you delivered a dreamer,
forever changing—who must hold on by letting go.

Jessie Li is a junior at State College Area High School in State College, PA. She enjoys writing, reading, and running and has played piano for over 10 years. A member of her school's Thespian troupe and forensics team, Jessie also studies Chinese, Latin, and Spanish.

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Native Spring
by Erica Cervantes

Her braids flap wildly against her bare back,
Reminiscent of native ancestors.
She skips eagerly to greet
The first bloom, a tulip,
She has ever grown
Over her sparse seven springs.

Her tiny nose presses into the pollen,
Deeply inhaling the subtle scent.
She pinches her eyes and imagines
She is Pocahontas harvesting the early maize
She has so painstakingly cultivated
With natural-born instinct and skilled hands.

She exhales and withdraws
From her fantastical escapade.
She wipes the saffron powder from the tip of her nose
And smears it over her forehead in seven symbolic swirls
As donned by her alter ego who partakes
In this seventh spring.

Erica Cervantes, 16, is from Schnecksville, PA.

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For Darfur: Finding Love
by Asia Ayabe

They could not find Rudo today
Though the shadows stretch their fingers
The children raise their hands and pray

A mother, no longer, is now pure pain
Loss by trigger and the trigger:
They could not find Rudo today

The rain would long have swept away
His Aisha into the river
The children raise their hands and pray

They grab their guns, their hand grenades
Motives hidden behind a dagger
They could not find Rudo today

Splotches of fire to light the way
And light the festering anger
The children raise their hands and pray

Only the old ones can truly say
How dark the night the nigt has grown
They could not find Rudo today
The children raise their hands and pray

*Rudo – love
 *Aisha – love

Asia Ayabeis a senior at Iolani School in Honolulu, HI. She enjoys swimming, singing, and reading.

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Ages 14 & under

First Place

Here's to You, Romeo
by Ivy Zheng

I heard you kiss by the book,
But you’re no modern day
Love story prince who
Sweeps me away.

This is a tragedy.
It’s a bittersweet novel
With tears on the cover
And the last two pages
Missing.

Yet I kept reading on,
Hoping that we could have
Another ending instead,
With a happily
And an ever
And an after

But our fate was already
Sold from the beginning
And I’m sorry, but
We’re stuck as star-cross’d.

So it’s not as if
I expected anything
From the beginning.

Really.

Ivy Zheng is a sophomore at Canyon High School in California. She loves all things creative—including writing novels and lyrics, studying fashion, and photography. Ivy enjoys playing tennis and spending free times with friends. Her dreams include becoming a published author and attending Wharton Business School.

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Second Place

Us
by Shelby Burke

Whisper-quiet dawn
Like a rustle through the heart –
We were sewn together here,
But the seams were ripped apart.
We breathed in fiery sunsets
And milky, love-soft snow.
I watched you in your palest state;
I watched you in your glow.
Do you remember this?
Our lives unfolded here,
And now we will return again,
Another vanished year.

Shelby Burke is a freshman at Moorestown High School in New Jersey. When not writing, she loves playing tennis, listening to music, reading, and hanging out with her friends. Shelby also writes short stories.

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Third Place

The Lake
by Julia Rathmann-Bloch

The way the willow fronds sweep
The crystal clear blue water   
The duck’s prints in the mud
The way their feet wobble as they swim

The way a flock of birds calls
As it lands between the willows
A fragment of moon
Holding all the peace
There is locked in the world.

Julia Rathmann-Bloch describes poetry as "an e-mail to one's emotions. I like to write poetry because it helps me express myself about experiences and images and also connects me to other people."  Julia is in the fifth grade and enjoys reading, soccer, volleyball, spending time with her family, and playing with friends and her rabbit, Honey.

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Honorable Mentions

Five Girls in a Tent on a Stormy Night
by Brooke Helder

There we lay with shrieks rattling
through the veins of our breathless eyes,
shadows sprawl onto our effortless pillows,
pillows, soft as a feathers heartbeat.
As we all squeal, our goose bumps plunge
into our quaking souls which fling them loose
into the ghostly stars,
we lay in our second skeleton with joints of courage
we quiver with the knocking thunder,
which tries to break our bones
and thrust them into the shaking ground,
we engraved our hands into one another’s,
as the clouds trip and its belongings  
disperse into a field,
our tent wilts in that field,
our walls glisten,
we eat each others screams as we gulp the
nightmares of the ravenous wolves,
we are tortured in the limelight as
cries strike the fire through the torment of our panting breath,
we plant graves into the bruised faces of our pale hearts,
I pull blankets over my head and surrender.

Brooke Helder, 13, is from Wyoming, MI.

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Poetry As It Emerges
by David Rathmann-Bloch

Poetry
            Is an act of deception
Sometimes true to life.
When it calls, you write flowering lines of words
                        Words of beauty, words of sorrow
                                    That you may
                                                Or may not
                                                            Have to edit.
When it does not call
            Feel like springing up
            You cajole it. You start writing inauthentic pictures
                                    With your words.
You will definitely have to edit that.
You might try to write
            While pressing the keys of a computer
                                    Or your grandmother’s ancient typewriter
                                                That you loved to use
                                                            Before she died.
You might try to write
            While at the beach, or in an ancient ruin
                        Or you could even write it on a
                                    Pad of paper, in your living room
                                                After seeing a movie, or playing a game
                                                                        With your sister.
Your poetry might start out like a closed anemone
                        With the shells of other poems sticking to the outside
                                                And luminescent tentacles
                                                            Ready to grab an unwitting reader
Or even
           An unwitting poet.

David Rathmann-Bloch enjoys writing, spending time with his family, and, like his sister, Julia (whose poem appears above), playing with their rabbit.

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Museum
by Camille Peterson

This is a hungry world
With an anorexic mindset
And a blurred heart murmur

We meet it best at night,
In the woods, alone on a field,
And lost inside a museum

When we greet the statues
Tossing invisible Frisbees all day
The sun just a sigh and a quiver,

When we reach the skeletons
Hidden by the map of the building
Held hostage by perky colors

We are sure to grab our mind
Like it’s a certified identification pin
Hoping it will stutter the way out

And the portraits portray nothing
But the prolific workings of the eye,
Of an eye carelessly blind

We make footsteps bipolar
Befriending circles, sudden stops,
The devious definition of here and there

By the eeriest abstract works
Born of frantic dots and paint splatters
We learn that the museum is near closing

Now it is time to retrace
With a fat, peeling crayon
Already in desperate need of sharpening

We let this crayon lead us home
Past the crumbling bronze revolutionary
Where we swear that the exit just wasn’t there

Camille Petersen lives in Mendham, NJ, and has recently developed in interest in writing. In school, she has participated in Science Olympiad, Student Council, trivia competitions, cross country, track, Girl Scouts, and orchestra as a cellist. She also enjoys community service and fundraising, as well as reading.

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About our judge

Katherine Cottle received her MFA in creative writing from the University of Maryland at College Park. Her work has appeared in many literary magazines, including Poetry East, Willow Springs, Puerto del Sol, Tar River Poetry, The Pinch, and The Greensboro Review.  Her chapbook, My Father’s Speech, was released by Apprentice House Press in January 2008. She lives in Glen Arm, MD, with her husband, two children, two dogs, and a cat.

2008

First Place | Second Place | Third Place | Honorable Mentions


First Place

An Ode that Rhymes
by Matt Kaiser

To write an ode that rhymes
requires an art:
to set from spoken word apart
the poet wishing to impart
a wisdom so profound.

Expect the verse, at times,
to change a sound:
the center of a stanza bound
to flip the former form around
and end much like the start.

A new sound may appear,
and fill the space
of other words that take this place,
which one expects to fit the case
of patterns that repeat.

But to the mold adhere
and too the beat,
to, without error, thus complete
a poem on poetic feat
of planned and perfect pace.

[and just to lead the audience astray
(and dodge the risk of sounding too cliché),
I’ll change the beat and scheme and, if I may,
throw in a needless bit that in no way
can possibly fit in an ode that rhymes]

Matt Kaiser is a senior at Pikesville High School in Baltimore, MD. He loves to draw and has a passion for graphic design, which he plans to study in college. Matt enjoys running races, playing soccer, and in his down time, surfing the Internet, which is where he discovered poetry and has received the most help with improving his own.

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Second Place

The Coming of Night
by Allegra Krasznekewicz

They came to watch the sunset,
drinking in the light spattered
on their faces, honey-colored dew
sweet and lingering on rosy cheeks.
Now, still-warm limbs glide
through purple-indigo air that
vibrates with the chant of crickets,
retreating like dying rays
into the first shadows of twilight. 

His hands, their intricate topography of
craggy mountains, wispy white forests, blistered plains,
throw the rope deftly; boat brought safely home,
dock’s ancient bones creaking in protest.
Shadows stroke the ocean’s furrowed brow
as it laments the depart of sun
and awaits the arrival of stars.
His footsteps on barnacled wood
summon with plaintive  calls
the black waves of night.

Fireflies swimming in an obsidian sea,
flickering to a silent rhythm.
They glimmer innocuously—
the souls of the dead, her mother used to say—
and she can’t help but wonder
if each is put in its place
by the hand of an artist or chance.
Cool body nestled in July grass,
her thoughts ascend like angels
into the folds of darkness.

Allegra Krasznekewicz is a senior at Santa Catalina School in Monterey, CA. Last year, she received a National Gold Key in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards and was a finalist in the River of Words International Poetry Contest. Her research on Shakespeare was published in two national journals, and she was an invited speaker at the National Shakespeare Authorship Conference. Allegra is a first violinist in the Monterey County Honors Orchestra.

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Third Place

Icelandic Glacier, June
by Stephanie Tam

This glacial valley is yet a sight
Beautiful in stark grandeur;
Though it does not slope in snowy white,
It is no less lovely cut with shadows,
This scene of rock and charcoal sand,
This cold, quiet, contemplative land.

There is a contained, strong wilderness
That asserts itself in this place;
Grey-set mist ghosts across still pools of water,
Setting in from shrouded sky to glacial base,
As cold catches at fingers, feet, and face.

It is not in familiar color or life
This place derives its beauty,
But strangeness, silhouette of sweet solitude;
The forgotten dream from a moonless night,
Gliding between clefts of jet, pale gray, white.

Stephanie Tam is a senior at the Chapin School in Manhattan. She has enjoyed creative writing since third grade but only recently began sharing her writing with others. Stephanie works on her school's literary magazine and plays on the varsity badminton team. She enjoys creating things, and her hobbies include making cards.

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Honorable Mentions

The Birch Haiku
by Asha Merz

A birch tree stands
Bark falling gently
Writing to the earth.

Asha Merz, 10, is in fifth grade at Norton School in Cheshire, CT. She is active in community theater, most recently appearing as a wife in the Warner Theater's production of The King and I. She is a member of the Elm City Girls Choir and loves to sing. Asha also enjoys tennis, skiing, gymnastics, and playing with her younger sister and baby brother.

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Wooden Girl
by Allegra Krasznekewicz

I watched him work, bending over the saw,
its ravenous jaws hungry
for the smooth piece of wood
that he slowly fed it.
I had only seen the father
whose hands were adept
at juggling papers and phones,
and now I blinked,
my young eyes struggling to understand
this familiar stranger.

When you finished, you stroked your creation
with the same caresses my cheek hand know
as you whispered good-night.
A wooden girl, without a face,
just an outline, generic and anonymous,
but in our eyes, it rivaled
the works of Michelangelo.
You told me to paint it, to make it me
so when you took it in your hands,
you could again hold
your little girl.

Today, it sits on your office desk
the same way it was when first revealed
by your sawdust hands.
By the way you look at it,
I know you can see
a rainbow of faces, my faces,
smiling up at you
beaming through
the unpainted wood.

Read Allegra's second-place poem, "The Coming of Night," above.

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