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High School Poetry Prize

Photo of journal with the written word "poetry"

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 and Guidelines

  • 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
SUBMIT A POEM

Winning Poems

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
WINNER, 12th Annual Poetry Prize for High School Girls in New England

Crabbing In Bethany, Delaware

He told me how he caught
blue crabs off the dock sinking
in wet sand and beer cans behind the beach cottage, splitting
the haul with his immigrant mother who cooked until
the pale bodies flushed red. He used to lure them with chicken
necks bought for ten cents a piece, money
from returnable Coke bottles stolen
from the neighbors’ yards. He remembers still
how she ate them: slurping the soft
flesh from the inner skeleton, the hack
and hiss of screen doors shuddering in their frames,
blackened nails from umpteen packs of Merits,
the “Who’s your boy?” and “What you looking at?”
Red-faced Floyd West lighting stray cats afire,
the Austin boys belt-whipped on their front porch.
This was being mixed in rural Delaware.
Sheryl wheezing in her yard, hair in curlers, bloated ticks
hanging from dogs’ ears, and the ex-Green Beret who snuck boys
his homemade wine. This was to be mixed
up in rural Delaware in the ‘80s. My father promises we’ll go crabbing
sometime, buy the necks and stand above the marsh stream on the wooden bridge
in another state. He tells me: the trick
to crabbing is tickling their white stomachs,
loosening their muscles on the net until, resigned,
they let go.  

 

Lexie von der Luft

The Holderness School, Plymouth, NH
FINALIST, 12th Annual Poetry Prize for High School Girls in New England

Light​ ​in​ ​the​ ​Wreckage

We are the empty dogs that hound in pitch darkness,
With snow scraping our feet and fur infecting our backs.
Although scars cut our pelts,
We bark anyway.

We resemble the shiny apples that fall from the wise tree
Into a bushel, with bruises freckling our rotted minds,
Our cores filled with seed,
And that is terrifying.

And we spread our seed.

We act like the frozen rings trapped in correlation around the orbit
Of Saturn’s ruthless pull, drifting from the Sun and
Still manage to live
Without the freedom of Mars.

We roughly inhale a breath of fresh smoke as the sky darkens,
Modifying the associations of quickly rising fire
From light,
To destruction.

We are the empty dogs.
We are the stars that don’t shine.
So glisten for me.


Maureena Murphy

Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, NH
FINALIST, 12th Annual Poetry Prize for High School Girls in New England

Her Afro Pick Speaks

girl.

this black girl.

birthed of melanin,

of a bronze-eyed star gazer,

of clear island nights on the beach,

of dripping mango juice and coconut water on shore.

Her. she held me before she could learn how to hold herself.

ripped through curl and coil searching for answers i could not give her

i am her savior.

it was my fingers that ran through her hair whispering beauty between strands like hymnals

directed her nervous hands through twisting fiber of cotton made silk upon her touch

taught her the heat of oxtails and dumplings fresh off a stove of matches and gas

showed her the adventure of climbing jack tree on bare foot and oiled palm

Me. it was through me that she brought herself out of chemical hiding

washed perm and applicator away with the waves of the island

held broken parts of her from root and cut them like weeds

turned back-bar comments and weary glare into

patois that rang like music in her ears.

she has found herself now.

discovered the art upon

her that god spent so

long to create.

a black girl

crowned.


Susan Li

Deerfield Academy, Deerfield, MA
FINALIST, 12th Annual Poetry Prize for High School Girls in New England

November      

& then, as if by magic,

                                    the late light sweeps up the last stragglers
loitering outside of the Motel 6, stalking shadows half-crescent,

                                    beating geese songs into the gravel, teething
on the ruins of this summer. Mother says this is just

                                    the way of the world: how every tick of the clock
presses another bruise under the great white eye

                                    of the moon. She tells me it is always dawn somewhere,
but it is hard to believe in anything beyond the tight mean pulse

                                    of these hours. And down here there is no exit sign,
not a soul on the interstate 95 for so many decades, nothing left to happen— 

                                    mother shivering in the stillness, praying
to steal away from these bodies for one night, as if

                                    forgiveness could make gravity unhinge all around us;
summer sucking its lungs in, moaning for any small mercy;

                                    the dim flickering lamp between us a lighthouse
shining on the ragged edges of the world.

                                    Meanwhile the geese are still singing their hymns, still
splitting open on the knife-points of their own limbs.

                                    We know that sharp need. The midnight brash,
shuddering where our limbs puncture the sky.

                                    But in the morning
we will tiptoe out of our bodies- still enough

                                    we can forget to be alive.
We will flay the room raw, bone white.

                                    We will surrender
nothing to the imagination.

Masfi Khan

Queens High School for the Sciences at York College, Jamaica, NY
WINNER, 11th Annual Poetry Prize for High School Girls in New England

My Body as a Home

Ma cuts a pomegranate along its ridges.
I watch it rupture. I imagine my organs
splitting open like that. Laid out like a wound,

bare and aching. Ma offers gutted arils with
one hand. Grips my wrist with the other as if
I’ll faint again. Eat, she pleads. I trace my ribs,
collapsing railroad tracks. I am so close to becoming

past tense. Last night, Ma swabbed my flesh,
purple and pitted, like spring. I wanted to feel 
full again. Wear this body as a home.

I shrivel from the pomegranate’s sweetness. How it
erodes the tongue cradling it. My teeth whittle
the seeds into tiny gods. I call it absolution. I call it
girl becoming more than just shadow.


Alena Ayvazian

The Hartsbrook School, Hadley, MA
FINALIST, 11th Annual Poetry Prize for High School Girls in New England

Indigo-berried bees

Bees swarm in the warm sunlight
And, lower,
Like bristled pores of pollen,
They hum
Their brassy full-throated buzz that seeps
into the pores of the air,
Weaving
Their shiny bodies through the plump berries
On the bush
Blueberries
Indigo
Like the weak-lined sky.
It expands with pale pink fingers that reach
Clouds that glisten
Shimmer
Like the pale belly of an oyster


Arielle Belluck

Weston High School, Weston, CT
FINALIST, 11th Annual Poetry Prize for High School Girls in New England

תשובה (Teshuva)

The truth is, I am not sorry.
I will not apologize
For the skirt that hangs above my knees
Or the lipstick tinged with feminism.
I will not sit shiva
For your pride
And the angelic little faces
In your wallet-sized photo album.

You say, “Honey, a little teshuva never hurt a soul”
But Grandma,
Teshuva does not mean “repent”
It means “return”
And I am not sorry for moving forward.

You can toss all the breadcrumbs you want
Into the stream
With a “Boruch atah Adonai” for each damn one.
My woman knees refuse to buckle
Even for a god.

So you are welcome at my seder.
But know that in my home
The gefilte fish are seasoned with rebellion
And we do things just slightly
Out of order.


Ana Kusserow

Vermont Commons School, South Burlington, VT
FINALIST, 11th Annual Poetry Prize for High School Girls in New England

Our Father’s Garden

May in scraggly Vermont,
   our father sneaks out into the aching meadows,
branches bent from the carnage of a long winter.

Like some saintly patron of spring,
   in his dog-haired greying fleece
and halo of blonde hair,

broken in, leather boot hands,
   tending to his little ones
viciously green in their youth.

The bulbs, his first born,
   taut as we were back then,
embellied, about to burst.

In the coming months the garden will engulf him,
   pulling and twisting with vines and tendrils,
swallow him whole.

He is their prophet, their sun.
   From the window we watch, our hot blood animal eyes
he cannot see.

Thorny jealousy clambers up
   the stiff pipes of our throat.
Rapping on the glass.

fiercely we scheme,
   perhaps we’ll squash the seedlings,
perhaps we’ll lie there too.

Mirushe Zylali

Brookfield High School, Brookfield, CT
WINNER, 10th Annual Poetry Prize for High School Girls

Diaspora Anaphora

Diaspora is shattering, scattering, shards spread too far apart to be connected
but you cut your hands on the sharp edges of its fragments, trying to
piece together the puzzle of where you come from;
how do you reclaim something you didn’t know was yours?
History slips through your grasping fingers like smoke, and the countries
your ancestors hail from don’t exist anymore—the Earth, like your blood, knows
something
you don’t, and it spits out every trace of the shtetls that were grounded in its soil
Your nose is too big, your hair is too dark, and you are both
too Other and too assimilated, communist Animal Farm pigs, and capitalist filth.
Diaspora is the way your ears greet Yiddish as if it is an old friend
its bluntness familiar, a dead language resurrected by the speaker’s tongue
Your chest is a graveyard for every destroyed hometown,
your lungs wry and dry and bitterly wanting, an archive of dark jokes,
Things Are Bad Now, but They Could Always Be Worse.
The bits of memory repel one another but sometimes you catch a glimpse
of your own reflection in the glassy slivers, a scintilla of solution;
the gaps in the story are always too wide to span.
You wonder whether you have any right to take up the space you occupy,
in this identity carefully salvaged, catalogued, cultivated
It is longing for a Time, but not knowing when that Time was;
you want to go home, but you don’t know where home is;
lost faces looking for lost places buried under new, stolen cities,
whose building foundations are made from the headstones of your ancestors:
“We live here now. Go back to where you came from.”


Michelle Chen

Hunter College High School, New York, NY
FINALIST, 10th Annual Poetry Prize for High School Girls in New England

Wanting, 1999

[Poem not posted by request of the poet]


Catherine Wise

Milton Academy, Milton, MA
FINALIST, 10th Annual Poetry Prize for High School Girls in New England

Other

On Christmas morning, grandma makes Arroz Caldo,
says it is healthy, good for bones, and scoops for me.
She tells me to never forget I am Filipino, that Asian
is not good enough. She tells stories

of herself, my age, a little girl unaware
she was in a warzone—remembering how she was chased down
a dusted street by Japanese soldiers, guns in hand, until she fell

and rolled down a cliff, split her head. Her brother
found her, and carried her back home.
They had to leave, her mother said it was not safe—
she left with only one thing: her mother’s recipe book.

Mother scoffs, remembering her childhood of straight A’s
and home on weekends. She left one time, wanting to be white
for a night, not knowing she would be locked out, sleeping in cold.

She pulls me aside, says grandma isn’t able to understand
that times are different, always growing
with my bones and body—says I represent my own past,
that we each make our stories from stories we choose to hear.

I see what I’ve made: nose of mother, mouth of father.
I am a mix, a mutt, and belong to no breed. Nothing
but the “other” box on the SATs, a disrespect to grandma.

Every day I become less and less of the past,
forgetting the Arroz Caldo and the Japanese,
forgetting to get straight A’s because I choose not to listen—
lost in a future that has no past, and never will.


Abigayle Hodson

Westover School, Middlebury, CT
FINALIST, 10th Annual Poetry Prize for High School Girls in New England

Meadow Under Snow

In a night unpricked with stars,
grumbling violets tucked in too early rustle
among bedraggled grasses hushed to sleep
under a heavy blanket drawn tightly over their eyes.
The meadow under snow never sees the moon.
Sheets of frost and snow dampen and mute the quiet glow,
even in the languorous gray mornings that linger till noon.
Winter continues to pickpocket hard-earned daylight
until a faded sunset shows all the glory
one could expect from the world,
and the constellations are simply thumbtacks
and pins scattered across the heavens
like a handful of sand in the sky penciled into swans.


Abigail Dwight

Pomperaug High School, Southbury, CT
FINALIST, 10th Annual Poetry Prize for High School Girls in New England

The Calling

Ten hissing queens
are nails in my back.
It yields like the earth,
pregnant with the burden of shrunken winter
and poison raindrops beaded against the fresh-lily
Skin of girls whose shoulders are milk
against the low-lit forests.
And they are shrouded,
like widows in their veils and they are
painted, like corpses fragile as
Tissue, and they
are a whispered suggestion.
The moon, a ticking clock;
the stars, each a raised finger and
an upturned sentence.
They are beckoning the ocean;
It is over me, under me;
but my ribs are buried under topsoil and
sunlight, swimmingly.
Wallowing seascape—
The unstill mountains are calling,
and I
must go.

Clara Henderson

The Sharon Academy, Sharon, VT
WINNER, 9th Annual Poetry Prize for High School Girls

Daddy

I am moving towards my thinking
Like an American should. Red faced, and
Guided and dirty from the land.
And I’m feeling what I speak now, which is gonna make me better.
Better enough for you, and the handshakes, and my brand new religion.
But mostly just for you. Because
You’re gonna let me into your house again.
You’re gonna hand me a Coke.
It’s all gonna mean something. And
Until that era, I’ll be waiting,
Like after football practice.
When all the others slid to their warm cars
With mothers and radios and yellow light in.
But I knew you’d come your own way.
Steady, bended.
Like a mountain.


Mallory Chabre

Rockville High School, Vernon, CT
FINALIST, 9th Annual Poetry Prize for High School Girls in New England

Every Bad Thing Happened on a Tuesday

1. Last year my grandfather purchased a Yorkstone grave marker as a
Christmas gift to himself.
He unwrapped it in the morning.
Wide-eyed and reeling
Like a child showing us a brand-name contraption.
Red ribbons fit tightly around the monolith as they would around his throat.

2. Every week my mother took us to church.
She thought it was better than the usual backyard sacrilege.
I never had much faith by four o’clock.
And after nine years of playing God,
I’ve found holiness in a bottle of Bailey’s.
The day had a way of bleaching me.

3. I was thirteen when the doctors told me they had a cure for sadness.
My mother wouldn’t let me have it.
I thought she had too much faith in God.
Instead I caught her popping tiny blue pills like penny candy buttons
They were never that cheap.

4. Going northbound on I-84 I watched a navy blue pickup go tumbling
Stumbling into the median.
The car was unrecognizable.
I’m pretty sure the people were too. No one stopped.
An hour later only scraps of metal and chips of skin carved out of their faces
littered the grass.
I guess the cleanup crew got carried away.
They never would have known your name.

5. Today is Tuesday. I have already unraveled.
You left me with blood in my mouth and the door still swinging.


Sarah Norden

Maine Coast Waldorf School, Freeport, ME
FINALIST, 9th Annual Poetry Prize for High School Girls in New England

To His Landlocked Lover

The sea is angry. I hear it roaring
from its depths. At night
I feel it churn beneath
our tiny vessel. It sends stallions
up from the thrashing surf
to batter the gunnels
with their hooves.
I shiver as I undress at night.
Many of the men mutter
as the wind coughs through the sails.
I still steer straight,
knowing your peachy
cheeks await my arrival.
The frame of your photo is polished
like gold. The salt off my fingers
caresses it nightly.
A lull approaches from the east.
Silence, deafening.
The crew flicks its eyes.
Sweat mixes with salty chill.
No one has sneezed
since the Sabbath.
I think of you,
but the image trembles.


Joscelyn Norris

Westover School, Middlebury, CT
FINALIST, 9th Annual Poetry Prize for High School Girls in New England

Tides

Back off the coastal interstate,
The motel dilapidates behind the guardrail
With the ghostly white bags and beer bottles,
And the lone bedside lamp drawing in the darkness
Pays no heed to the limp shade untangling
Its body from the window on the other wall,
Where trucker’s lights taunt the glass.
The grey mirror seizing my reflection
Leaves it on the sandy curb sprigged
With sharp blue sea grasses and signs
Bleaching under the moon with other opportunities.
I could squeeze the salt out of the air
And with it take the paper houses
Teetering on their stilts along the dunes,
And past that, only the green light of a cargo barge
Would be left floating on the ocean’s pulse
That kisses these dependable configurations
Of reefs and salt marshes that stretch into estuaries,
Places where we might count the blue crabs and linger
With the same tides that prostrate themselves
Upon our separate shores,
And fitting my thumb to the size of the moon’s face
I would measure the margins left on these longitudes
That keep us distant and apart.

2013 - 2014

WINNER

Maria Theano Juran, St. Luke's School, New Caanan, CT for "you don't know anything so don't even"

FINALISTS

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"


2012 - 2013 

WINNER

Helena Ainsworth, Newburyport High School, Newburyport, MA for "Space Cadet Noggin Socket Helmet"

FINALISTS

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"


2011 - 2012

WINNER

Taite Puhala, the Westminster School, Simsbury, CT for "a cappella"

FINALISTS

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"


2010 - 2011

WINNER

Juliette Rose Wunrow, U-32 High School, Montpelier, VT for "Unconventional Couples"

FINALISTS

Natalie Freidin, Homeschooled, 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"


2009 - 2010

WINNER

Haeyeon Cho, Milton Academy, Milton, MA for "The Soup Kitchen"

FINALISTS

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"


2008 - 2009

WINNER

Taylor Clarke, Phillips Academy Andover, Andover MA for "Charlotte Mason"

FINALISTS

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"


2007 - 2008

WINNER

Maia ten Bring, Falmouth Academy, Falmouth, MA for "renunciation"

FINALISTS

Sarah Ftizgibbons, Frontier Regional High School, Deerfield, MA for "This Mellennium's List"

Rebekah-Shireen Lefebrve, Hopkins Academy, Hadley, MA for "meeting"

Sadie McCarney, Walnut Hill School for the Arts, Natick, MA for "Swimming Pool"


2006 - 2007

WINNER

Sarah Loucks, Milton Academy, Milton, MA for "In Memoriam"

FINALISTS

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"

 

 

 

 

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