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High School Poetry Prize

In 2006, The Poetry Center launched its first annual Poetry Prize for High School Girls in Massachusetts (open to sophomores and juniors); since then, our contest has expanded into the other New England states and New York. Poet Naomi Shihab Nye graciously agreed to be the first judge, and each contest since has been judged by another prestigious poet. The winner receives a $500 prize from The Poetry Center in recognition of her outstanding work, and the winner and finalists are invited to share their work at a reading at Smith College.

Rules & Guidelines

  • The winner & three finalists will read their poems at the judge’s reading on April 9, 2024.
  • Submissions accepted: September 1–December 1, 2023. Winners will be announced in March 2024.
  • No entry fee. Application form required.
  • One poem per student.
  • Maximum of 25 lines.
  • Children of Smith employees are not eligible to enter.
  • Winner and finalists of previous years may not re-enter; past semifinalists may re-enter.

In addition to the cash prize awarded to the winner, she and the three finalists will receive a signed copy of a book of poems by the judge. The winner and finalists will also spend the day at Smith College, meeting as a small group with the judge to discuss poetry and presenting their winning work at the judge’s evening reading.

Submit Your Poem

About This Year’s Judge

Nicky Beer

Nicky Beer is a bi/queer writer, and the author of three collections of poems, most recently Real Phonies and Genuine Fakes (Milkweed Editions, 2022). In a review for Lavender Magazine, Conlan Carter describes Beer’s voice as “a mix of delightful humor and deep, delicate sadness.” Beer’s awards include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the NEA, and a Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, among others. Her poems have been published in Best American Poetry, Poetry, The Nation, The New Yorker, and elsewhere. She is an associate professor at the University of Colorado Denver, where she is a poetry editor for the journal Copper Nickel.

Nicky Beer

Winning Poems

Aurora Hao

Concord Academy, Concord, MA
WINNER, 18th Annual Poetry Prize for High School Girls in New England

A Silent L in the World

A Silent L in the World by Aurora Hao (PDF)

Anahitha Menon

Newton South High School, Newton, MA
FINALIST, 18th Annual Poetry Prize for High School Girls in New England

AP statistics teaches me about intersectionality

AP statistics teaches me about intersectionality by Anahitha Menon (PDF)

Pranavi Vedula

Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, NH
FINALIST, 18th Annual Poetry Prize for High School Girls in New England

mother tongue

mother tongue by Pranavi Vedula (PDF)

Eleanor Bolas

The Beacon School, New York, NY
FINALIST, 18th Annual Poetry Prize for High School Girls in New England

love poem (research from my high school’s production of RENT)

love poem (research from my high school’s production of RENT) by Eleanor Bolas (PDF)

Roxane Park

Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, NH
WINNER, 17th Annual Poetry Prize for High School Girls in New England


Audrey O’Heir

Hunter College High School, New York, NY
FINALIST, 17th Annual Poetry Prize for High School Girls in New England

& Holy Ghost

Ava Chen

Phillips Academy, Andover, MA
FINALIST, 17th Annual Poetry Prize for High School Girls in New England

Dusk Requiem at Perrin Park

Elena Ferrari

Milton Academy, Milton, MA
FINALIST, 17th Annual Poetry Prize for High School Girls in New England

a history of speaking     

Arim Lee
WINNER, 16th Annual Poetry Prize for High School Girls


Vivian Danahy
FINALIST, 16th Annual Poetry Prize for High School Girls

Reasons for Staying

Sophia Hall
FINALIST, 16th Annual Poetry Prize for High School Girls


Erin Kim
FINALIST, 16th Annual Poetry Prize for High School Girls

Beautiful Country (미국)


Katie Tian
FINALIST, 16th Annual Poetry Prize for High School Girls

your mother doubts your dumplings

Olivia Yang

Phillips Andover Academy, Andover, MA
Winner, 15th Annual Prize for High School Girls in New England and New York



奉⼦成婚1, 2004

on my parents’ wedding day, my mother refuses
to wear a dress. for the love of god just put it on, my mother’s mother
screams into the wet rotting air, which only knows to sink.
the sky a hazing, a haze of dust you could bite
into. at this point i am nothing
but an ideation of a goddess nobody wished to
serve. a sticky amorphous
oozing. i only have two

one as glue                                                                                                      and one as the dress
my mother refuses to wear. the fabric itself only has two colors,
a chinoiserie of muted red                                                                  and fading gold.
one to fight the fear of dying                          and the other of poverty.
in china, we bury our old at our weddings,
inside our newness                                         and our wanting.
we join two together with glue, accepting silence as
i have no way of knowing what my mother
wants because i am merely the dress she refuses
to wear, a bulge of stretched skin pressing firmly against
cloth. all i know is that i do not want to force anything upon
at the wedding table we sharpen our aged knives. the guests prey.
a bruise dresses the rabbit’s leg. my mother turns her face and
lends a prayer to the rotting sky. when a rabbit is chased by a dog,
its chest shudders with an instinctual desperation
telling it to go faster                                                                or it will surely die.
that fear is a kind of glue that welds the world together by force.
my mother’s mother screams at her
to wear the dress even if she doesn’t like it.
to have a child even if she doesn’t know how to raise it.



1 奉⼦成婚 (pinyin: fèng zǐ chéng hūn)
literal translation: married by the order of a child
definition: marriage necessitated by an unplanned pregnancy

Sophia Liu

Great Neck South High School, Great Neck, NY
Finalist, 15th Annual Prize for High School Girls in New England and New York

Pixie Dust

The suicide rate of Palo Alto’s high schools is about five times the national average.

After six months, Mama buys a new bag of rice—weighing down her
        shoulders on the way home. At once, she spills it all out on the kitchen table.

Say there are 100,000 grains here and say you are one. The marble countertop stands
        between us. She bends over and holds a translucent pellet up to me, then throws it back

the white mass, crashing down like a fist full of stones sinking into a river basin.
        I forget that life is more than a granary.

The Caltrain blows in the distance, ghouling, strong enough for me to mistake it with the perched
       fan—blustering its breath over us. The way the rice squirm becomes too familiar.

We exist. Silhouetted against the BigTech rail advertisements—remember, we are as alive as the
      winter wind accompanying Baba’s nightly phone calls.

Mama tells me to clean up, so I spoon every grain back into the bag, double-checking that each
      lands with the rest. Too early on, I assume I am too slow because

she slides her hand through to finish the job for me. Few fall on our
       tiled floor and in a sweep, she tosses those in the bin—and like that—vaporized.

Mama, I could have been under the screeching metal—another body in that black mass.
       A foot off the blacktop and my existence would linger in every direction. I can only

blame whatever configuration of stars that have placed us here—
       far from hungry, but nonetheless, unfed. The absence of one, then another,

become ghosts in our classrooms that I am too scared to begin
        counting. And too scared to ask Mama if she knows why. Some days, I think

I should just accept the silence; a sickness passing through left to its own accord.
       Like always, Mama scoops out three cups of rice for dinner and draws

water to her first knuckle. But the rice is too thick today: reminiscent of pumpkin millet,
       of powdered chalk peppered into the wind from the names etched on our school steps.

Chalk carried by the train to Menlo Park, to San Antonio, to Sunnyvale, to heaven.

Gaia Rajan

Phillips Andover Academy, Andover, MA
Finalist, 15th Annual Prize for High School Girls in New England and New York

We Were Birds

That night he wore a white shirt and leapt
                   into the river. Didn’t surface for air. More water
                              than body, more tide than blood.
We’d just turned thirteen.       After,
         I closed every window. The mouths of tulips
broken. Beneath every oak, a lost limb.
                  I folded hundreds of pigeons, mangled paper into a beak
and a body. This poem is for how his voice cleaved the air
         into feathers, how I took a knife to the wall                 after,
until a moon of light shone through the apartment,
until my knuckles bled like his.
                 Suppose I woke and saw only lightning.
        Suppose the birds burned their songs
that summer. Suppose I speared sharks
                  in the river. I screamed Peter
which meant pray which meant please. How a name can sound
                  like a clock. A grave in a field full of ticking. Week-old
feathers. This boy, this bird-- too human
          for this earth. Which is to say: sometimes, I don’t exist
except in the universe where everyone stays alive, where wings sprout
             from our spines, where we have more to give
 than prayer. Which is to say: the morning                      after,
I gave my bones to the water. Feathers wavering
           in the river.
                      A blackbird in the oaks.

Originally published in Kissing Dynamite

Sophie Zhu

Williamsville High School East, Williamsville, NY
Finalist, 15th Annual Prize for High School Girls in New England and New York
The Film of Yellow (poem not posted as per author’s request)

Rachel Brooks

Christian Heritage School, Trumbull, CT
WINNER, 14th Annual Prize for High School Girls in New England and New York

Of Aching Knots

Brezel, my mother says, is German for pretzel,
but it isn’t enough to turn dough into knots.

The art’s rigid, divinely mathematical, so
she takes each body of flour and sugar,

water and yeast, twisting till the two ends touch.
Taste, she pleads. Her voice a rising cadence, a

punctured syllable. My teeth whittle the salt into bits,
grains of bitter earth lingering on lips. I just want

to gulp it down. In the kitchen: pot boils, while I sit
cross-legged and mother kneads

with calloused palms, dropping each shape into
the steam. How I wait for the vapors to condense,

form a ghost, my thoughts to settle like precipitate
and I wonder where the brezel got its shape.

So I read up on the monks in northern Italy, who
twisted strips of bread as rewards for their pupils’

holy efforts— kneeling, chanting hymns, slivered
tongues reciting scriptures. If you flip a pretzel

verkehrt herum, meaning upside down, it resembles
hands crossed in prayer. Now I picture that knot

in my stomach: calcified. This mouth has not tasted
brezel since I was nine and no wiry nymph of willow

limbs, free from the plagues haunting my thinning
wrists, sifting the rifts of my clavicles. My ribs

protruding like railroad tracks. I’ve forgotten
that hour where my body didn’t scorn me for

eating wheat’s bounty. I want absolution. To taste
blessing and bread as one. The pain’s sharp,

hollowing out my organ. Jagged. Like a knife slicing
fish belly to the bone. For now, I’ll fold my own arms.

What else am I to do but pray?

Carolyn Hohl

The Masters School, White Plains, NY
FINALIST, 14th Annual Prize for High School Girls in New England and New York


She asked me what I would do if I
could change my life,

to dance in wicked steps on the High Line

and christen myself with asbestos dust
from beneath the linoleum tiled floors.

I told her I’d make a new holiday for the romantics,
that it would be Ash Wednesday without any mention of repentance.

I would call the martyrs, call the boys with no last names
who lounge in the funeral homes
beside the women with wrinkled breaths and

tell them that there is no Lent
this year for the binge drinkers and the home
wreckers who’ve starved themselves too thin.

I’d call it Palm Sunday, I say,
that it’s for the people without psalms,
a celebration of the Eucharist,
the celebration of the body

and that all we would do is hold ourselves to each
other, become emphatically empathetic,

and give ourselves back to the soil entirely.
Keep the wild in our pockets, and play games in the
woods until we no longer

remember the Book of Genesis,
maybe even say we have enough genius to forget
the forbidden fruit.

Debby Shi

Walnut Hill School, Natick, MA
FINALIST, 14th Annual Prize for High School Girls in New England and New York

Lidded Eye

God called me one day through a hole in the moon, said
this is your last chance for never ending life.
He showed me his dark ringed moon, its nimbus
burning the hole in the night sky.
I can’t tell you much about Him, I can’t remember well,
but his space was meticulously cut into grids.
He touched me and my body was rendered glass-like,
the little roots of my body went ribboning down.

The trees were all planted in the same month
in this place He showed me.
Planted after the same fire that burned that hole in the moon.
He promises me I’ll burn in concentric circles,
slashed by the same crossbeams, the same light, the same grids.
My skin will oxidize to a pretty, burnished hue
opaque like glazed pottery, like a placid lake that never blinks.

We stand face to face, neither embracing nor touching,
lake-slick hair flat against bare shoulders.
His eyes are closed. And when He opens one
what spills from them coats the lake.
Then I open my eye and what spills from them is
a dim blue, orange, gold nothingness.

The promise of a new purified body is not enough, promises
are gone the next day, easily launched into the gray sky,
only the swirling galaxies and my trackless body.

Charlotte Watts

Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts
FINALIST, 14th Annual Prize for High School Girls in New England and New York

my grandfather (or life in italics)

my grandfather still lingers
in his photographs I’ve saved
a bird frozen in lilac sky
& the shadow of a mountain grazing a field

he lived surrounded by guarded visions of
peace, slowly forgetting
war and its horrors

he scaled a car to save my mother’s balloon
he saved every photo of his son
he raced an eagle
and beat him
to the edge of the horizon

still, he lived
out of an apartment that grew
worn down by age and experience

he kept photos of eagles and me in the same manila envelope

and while my grandmother wanted to
preserve his beauty
it is useless to
forget death and
deny his attempts
it would be a betrayal
to take his life
and define it in any way but 
among forest and sky.

Claire Shang

Hunter College High School, New York, NY
WINNER, 13th Annual Prize for High School Girls in New England and New York

Ears (Broken Ghazal)

In summer we sprawl onto the streets—legs and eyes and ears
all attune to the heat. Love to become less, I am all ears

as we dissect ourselves. Removed from our bodies, examining
from afar. Mom has always told me about my ears

and their lobes, thick like Buddha’s, a sign of prosperity. In first
grade we learned homophones and I confused years with ears,

missing the y, the way mom had always said it, equating some truth
like time with a part of my own transient body. My palms, ears,

pressed with sweat, back bending into cement steps. Once
a campmate told me she couldn’t find a part of my face she liked. My ears,

I wanted to say. I am lucky to have these ears, you can’t tell. To be born
with the width, the weight, years of potential, you see? I want to siphon into my ears

all the sounds of the world. All the words in their correct pronunciations. All
the city sidewalk summer swell. All of the things I say, and don’t. One ear

for each of my two languages. One ear that always catches the y. For now,
I slump on the stoop and wait to become beautiful under summer sun.

Anaya Kaul

Worcester Academy, Worcester, MA
FINALIST, 13th Annual Prize for High School Girls in New England and New York

My Kashmiri

If you ask me if I speak “Indian” I’ll probably respond in one of two ways. I’ll respectfully tell you Indian isn’t a language, Hindi is, that each state has its own and mine is Kashmiri. Or I’ll respond in the more fun “Do you speak American?”

My Kashmiri is what some Indians would call “Pakistani,” a symbol for foreign politics that no one here, not even I, fully understands.

My Kashmiri smells of chili powder and cumin seeds fried in oil, wafting throughout the kitchen.

My Kashmiri is never Indian enough and its skin is white like the snow drifts it left behind.

My Kashmiri is the weight of ancestral scholars, spanning generations.

My Kashmiri has a meaning as complex as the swirling pattern of the soft rugs beneath my feet, a remnant of days long past.

My Kashmiri is the “only reason” I do well in school.

My Kashmiri wears Salwar Kameez dresses at parties while tapping its foot to Bollywood music.

My Kashmiri is the blank, confused stares of elementary school children who are taught that there is only one skin color for Indians.

My Kashmiri is stories of our homeland from my father, over the hum of a moving car.

My Kashmiri is a shiny, metal plate piled with rice, yogurt, lamb, and vegetables.

My Kashmiri respects its elders, pressing its hands together and greeting: “Namaskar.”

My Kashmiri has never been ashamed of itself, its voice rises loud above all challenges and tells its story.

My Kashmiri doesn’t eat cows no matter how “good” a hamburger seems to others.

My Kashmiri is early morning pooja with my grandparents praying to the pictures of all-powerful gods and reciting foreign words.

My Kashmiri gets lost sometimes in the cacophony that is America, it gets scared of voices of hate and dives deep into my body, only acts of love and tolerance can cause it to resurface.

My Kashmiri is something I would never give up.

Evita Thadhani

Milton Academy, Milton, MA
FINALIST, 13th Annual Prize for High School Girls in New England and New York

Life Rules

Dogs scare her, she says
spelled backwards
they are gods
and gods are meant to be feared
just like food is never to be wasted and
parents are meant to be obeyed,
just like wrinkled cabbage leaves are meant
to be wrapped around thin ankles
because they heal pain and
turmeric should spice everything
to clear demons and
knives should never be handed between people
because passing on death is worse than death itself.

My grandmother has never felt love.
She talks to her dead husband
as someone would a priest,
obedient, every word
weighted with the abruption of sin.
She only remembers they shared beers
and clothes, late nights at school plays,
dim lit emergency rooms and now
he looks through the picture frame
on her three drawer dresser.

I can only hope something inside of her
dreams of cutting dead fruit and finding white flesh,
of puncturing old skin with a knife
that lets her finger feel two lives at once.

Emmy Vitali

The Ethel Walker School, Simsbury, CT
FINALIST, 13th Annual Prize for High School Girls in New England and New York

An Ode to Congenital Hypothyroidism

A Blue Morpho butterfly swathed around
the windpipe beneath the Adam’s Apple.
Indiscernible to those it perched upon,
its iridescent pigment remained totally unblemished.

One girl’s throat, however, fused
dimensions of space and time
yet lacked the orbiting brilliance
of a blue sapphire insect around her windpipe.

To her, a Blue Morpho’s abidance scoped beyond geography.
Others had cosmic mechanisms the girl could not fathom
without her small, blue pills, elixirs
brewing an aspiring butterfly functioning on a windpipe.

When she swallowed her daily dosage, each pill swamped itself
into what seemed like an abyssal lagoon in her throat.
Those with the Blue Morpho blossomed into metamorphosis
amidst the sweetness of a nectar, while she remained a caterpillar.


  • Malia Chung, Milton Academy, Milton, MA, for "Crabbing In Bethany, Delaware"
  • Lexie von der Luft, The Holderness School, Plymouth, NH, for "Light​ ​in​ ​the​ ​Wreckage"
  • Maureena Murphy, Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, NH, for "Her Afro Pick Speaks"
  • Susan Li, Deerfield Academy, Deerfield, MA, for "November"


  • Masfi Khan, Queens High School for the Sciences at York College, Jamaica, NY for "My Body as a Home"
  • Alena Ayvazian, The Hartsbrook School, Hadley, MA, for "Indigo-Berried Bees"
  • Arielle Belluck, Weston High School, Weston, CT for "תשובה (Teshuva)"
  • Ana Kusserow, Vermont Commons School, South Burlington, VT for "Our Father's Garden"


  • Mirushe Zylali, Brookfield High School, Brookfield, CT for "Diaspora Anaphora"
  • Michelle Chen, Hunter College High School, New York, NY for "Wanting, 1999"
  • Abigail Dwight, Pomperaug High School, Southbury, CT for "The Calling"
  • Abigayle Hodson, Westover School, Middlebury, CT for "Meadow Under Snow"
  • Catherine Wise, Milton Academy, Milton, MA, for "Other"


  • Clara Henderson, The Sharon Academy, Sharon, VT for "Daddy"
  • Mallory Chabre, Rockville High School, Vernon, CT for "Every Bad Thing Happened on a Tuesday"
  • Sarah Norden, Maine Coast Waldorf School, Freeport, ME, for "To His Landlocked Lover"
  • Joscelyn Norris, Westover School, Middlebury, CT for "Tides"


  • Maria Theano Juran, St. Luke's School, New Caanan, CT for "you don't know anything so don't even"
  • Ruting Li, Milton Academy, Milton, MA for "Ode to Summer Storms"
  • Courtney Breiner, the Emma Willard School, Troy, NY for "Sweetheart, you were rude"
  • Isabelle Ness, Northampton High School, Northampton, MA for "When No One's Watching"


  • Helena Ainsworth, Newburyport High School, Newburyport, MA for "Space Cadet Noggin Socket Helmet"
  • Annalise Cain, Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Public Charter School, South Hadley, MA for "Porky the Papa"
  • Deja Carr, Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Public Charter School, South Hadley, MA for "John Deere and Aunt Jemima"
  • Nadia Gribkova, the Westover School, Middlebury, CT for "Daybreak"


  • Taite Puhala, the Westminster School, Simsbury, CT for "a cappella"
  • Riley Boeth, the Westover School, Middlebury, CT for "A Last Apology"
  • Madeleine Chill, Homeschooled, Andover, CT for "Antlers"
  • Kathleen Reilly, Marblehead High School, Marblehead, MA for "Looking for Why"


  • Juliette Rose Wunrow, U-32 High School, Montpelier, VT for "Unconventional Couples"
  • Natalie Freidin, Marblehead High School, Marblehead, MA for "Things a Stripper Does While Trapped Inside a Cake"
  • Hayley McKie, Algonquin Regional High School, Northborough, MA for "Untitled"
  • Reina Sekiguchi, Marblehead High School, Marblehead, MA for "Bellum Inferre"
  • Katie Spencer, Sharon Academy, Sharon, VT for "Trumpeting"


  • Haeyeon Cho, Milton Academy, Milton, MA for "The Soup Kitchen"
  • Samantha Ardoin, Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, NH for "No Meaning Intended"
  • Elizabeth Bennett, Milton Academy, Milton, MA for "Race Day"
  • Carly McIver, Marblehead High School, Marblehead, MA for "In Which a Past Shows Visions of the Future and the Mallard Duck Regrets His Choice of Living Quarters"


  • Taylor Clarke, Phillips Academy Andover, Andover MA for "Charlotte Mason"
  • Gabriella Fee, Walnut Hill High School for the Arts, Natick, MA for "Nobska"
  • Stephanie Saywell, Lawrence Academy, Groton, MA for "Candlewick"
  • Bryna Confrin-Shaw, Stoneleigh-Burnham School, Greenfield, MA for "Things Change Size"


  • Maia ten Bring, Falmouth Academy, Falmouth, MA for "renunciation"
  • Sarah Fitzgibbons, Frontier Regional High School, Deerfield, MA for "This Millennium's List"
  • Rebekah-Shireen Lefebrve, Hopkins Academy, Hadley, MA for "meeting"
  • Sadie McCarney, Walnut Hill School for the Arts, Natick, MA for "Swimming Pool"


  • Sarah Loucks, Milton Academy, Milton, MA for "In Memoriam"
  • Michaela Forfa, Monument Mountain Regional High School, Great Barrington, MA for "Turn-Down Service"
  • Joanna Rosenberg, Westford Academy, Westford, MA for "i'm smaller than yesterday"
  • Elizabeth Scheer, the Williston Northampton School, Easthampton, MA for "Alone on Bedford Street"
Two students in the Poetry Center

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