Teen Poetry Contest

2015 Teen Poetry Contest Winners

332 poems -- our largest number so far -- were submitted electronically by teens from our region. Amanda Rutstein, a poetry professor at the University of Mary Washington and manager of the Fredericksburg Writing Center, had the unenviable task of selecting only 24 winners. But how do you choose the best of the best when there are so very many entries? “I look for a variety of characteristics in a winning poem, but my top three are vivid imagery, use of figurative language, and ingenuity,” says Amanda. “It's fun to find the poems from students who took risks and the see the effort they put into those poems to make them shine...The ones who play with language always stand out.”

Winners will be awarded prizes and invited to read their work at the Teen Poetry Night at Headquarters Library, Wednesday, May 27 from 7:30-8:30. There will be a reception afterward, and the public is warmly invited to attend.

Congratulations to the winners of our 2015 Teen Poetry Contest!

Grades 10-12: 1st Place | 2nd Place | 3rd Place | Honorable Mention

Grades 7-9: 1st Place | 2nd Place | 3rd Place | Honorable Mention

And the winners are...

First Place, Grades 10-12:

Goodbye and Forever

by Kelly F.

My feelings are moldy bread crusts

falling off grilled cheese sandwiches.

My ribs hold flowers—nothing else.

The petals grow in the

darkest places:




loud—colors mixed to bright black and dull white.

Misty eyes and cold soup taste like long goodbyes.

Adayos, my cactus, kisses my finger and leaves

a bloodprick on my skin, and whispers for the desert.

I whisper for the desert too.

Cacti men and mountains make me feel

like I could be anything—

I see things as objectives.

I still can’t speak Navajo or Zuni—

because my ears

can’t pick

up the sound.

I’ve heard the moon and more,

and Taylor Swift’s "Mean" too many times

because nobody’s given me the moon; because I couldn’t

understand how mean

some kids can be.

These grey watercolors of insults dim the sidewalk

but I’ll color kindness until it covers the world.

I am as talkative as empty guitars and soundless pages.

I jump into stories that take my heart—

fall into blue light of love too many times, the dizzy dots

sprinkle my vision; I have never seen anything more beautiful in my life.

I'll still see my peers in

vintage white T’s,


rattling cars,


I’ll still be wearing my flowers, holding my cactus.

Purple ballet flats and Disney songs of the past

call through to me on the streets at night.

When I’m older I’ll be younger.

"Cuando las cigarras llegan"-- I’ll return.

School ends and summer comes

and we try to hold its fingertips tight.

But we’re all just kids

growing up for a moment.

Popsicles mix summer in a bottle and sell it

but people drink it like water—and then it’s gone.

My feelings are mold—

my ribs hold a breathing heart.

Second Place, Grades 10-12

by Meagan W.













Third Place, Grades 10-12

The "Infinite Universe" is More Limited Than Previously Thought
by Leise C.

They taught me the solar system as a little kid.

The boys in my class wanted to be like Mars:

Strong, fierce, good at fighting.

Mars is a boy planet, my teacher made that clear,

And so are most of the others.

They taught me the solar system as a little kid.

There were only two girl planets.

I guess; I mean, they called one “Mother Earth.”

She is fertile and she takes care of her tenants.

Earth is a good hostess.

We wanted to be Earth.

They taught me the solar system as a little kid.

They said, “Venus is named after the goddess of beauty.”

Venus is a girl planet.

We wanted to be Venus.

Well, we didn't have a lot to choose from.

The boys wanted to have powers over the seas

And the stars, and the heavens, and the underworld.

And they wanted to be swift and strong and battle ready.

And the girls wanted to be beautiful and motherly and loving.

They taught us to be the Earth.

They taught the boys to own it.

They taught me the solar system as a little kid.

Honorable Mention, Grades 10-12

Simple Beauty
by Lauren F.

Simple shapes

reflected off balloons onto the ceiling.

Spinning with gravity,

moving on its own axis

reflecting light onto ceilings.

The shameless daylight screensaver.

Sprayed perfume

cascading off the nozzle of a bottle

onto the suspiciously innocuous immortal

blush colored flowers;

covering shelves;

hiding the constant nagging scent of polished floors

and strained glances around the large

sunlit lounge.

Its funny, hospitals are the home

of several thousand windows

constantly reminding

glazed eyes and

fluttering hearts

what they will be leaving

and how they will never see anything but the

perception a piece of glass holds.

And nothing but white asbestos tiled ceilings and

soap operas that remind you of


or maybe

those family dinners with too much alcohol

and how everyone relied on

slurred voices

and the clink of horseshoes on

iron bars.

Like prison bars.

Like hospital windows.

And how they remind you to take your meds

and sit up every now and again

hoping you pretend you don't hear

the family next door who whispers

that maybe grandma won't

wake up.

Or how after you wake from a

blissful morphine induced coma

like every other day,

and your roommates hacking cough

is gone.

Replaced by empty stained sheets and a saggy mattress

used fifty times too long or too many.

But the windows’ still there.

Never a lever to open

because they probably think youre so senile

you'll jump,

or fly away from the picture-esque point of view

only disguised prison bars

sorry, prison windows

opps, hospital windows,

can show.

And you're left with your family

sleeping across from you

on paper covered chairs

with vampire eyes.

While your own heartbeat

isnt a secret anymore

and everyone knows your body more

than you ever did, or ever will

and you watch the spinning balloons

and the refractions of light

like fortune tellers crystals,

float around the room

bouncing off dying flowers

and beeping monitors.

And as the beeps grow into an incandescent

constant blare of white noise,

you wish it would just


And it does.

You look out the window into the the bright summer day

of June 22 and

it reminds you of a lie.

A lie that the day

is beautiful for everyone.

A mirror that only shows happiness.

And the doctor says,

Time of death, 2:32 p.m.

And your family still sleeps.

Cigarette Lips
by Tricia D.

All too often do your lips

Taste like the last drag of a cigarette.

The heat floating through the filter,



just a little,

just enough to burn my mouth and tongue,

The areas you claim linger of coffee and mint.

And by god, do i love that sensation.

The scorching tango,

So elegantly choreographed.

My lips, puckered, and burnt.

Yours, not taking the lead,

But making the magic happen nonetheless.

As we speak without speaking

And tell without telling

And sing without singing.


Our mouths are occupied.

There’s no time for anything else.

At least not until you have to leave.

Now, I'll smoke another cigarette,

The first one in months,

All the way down to the filter.

Enough to burn my lips.

Just like you used to.  

when charm kissed tragedy

by Eula C.

tell me what is the name of that feeling

the one full of beautiful pain you know the

one with heartbreak the color of rain where you

sit still deciding not to scream and begging the world

not to take it from you that lattice of light and

shadow caused by fiction they tell me i’m

too old for the flurry of pictures the tears the boys are

not ashamed to cry the scattered blue amongst the red

the simple complexity the quixotic serendipity the chimeric grasp

the kind that makes me put my head on your shoulder

and sing you that old song i once knew

maybe the clash the cure the cult maybe just the piano man

oh that feeling i’m sure you know it i’ve seen

bits of it fluttering snowlike through your eyes

don’t you know what it’s called that sweet shiver

that makes you believe in gatsby’s green light even

though we know it failed we know the tattoo of footsteps

coming for us the choice was wrong but we know why now

it’s the piece where you look for your star among them

those last seconds not knowing that it’s gone it’s dead and the one you

claim to know is older and won’t stop talking about leaving

oh it hurts because it’s real but i can’t live without

that elusive fleeing butterfly of an emotion

or maybe it’s a moth creeping away under cover of night

drawn to the silky moon burned by those lamps those

electric convenient killers that i try to ignore and imagine

that there’s a sword at my side pearl in my pocket

instead of this list of last week’s latin vocabulary

amo i love volare to fly away from this place

please tell me what is it called this scar shaped

like the hope in the back of my heart

what is this feeling do you know

Second-Hand Knowledge

by Regan F.

His knowledge came off of him like smoke from a pipe,

drifting into people and causing them to sputter and choke

with the uneasiness of trying to understand



they became addicted to his words.

His smoky wisdom attracted them,

drew them.

They added their stolen knowledge to their shelves.

They felt wise, but they knew nothing.

They could only repeat what he had said

without even understanding.

They knew nothing on their own.



by Journey K.


down to veins of cotton,

down to veins of needles and thread.

Peeled away,

shaved away,

grated away,

to the last layer of physical being.



morphed and deformed.

I bled my mother,

and I bled her lover,

until I myself no longer existed.

I dissolved into the atmosphere,

into black lungs and beer tongues,

until I disappeared.

That it was it is to be stripped.



by Rachel L.

we are the hidden potholes in the road

tunnels shut down for repair.

stars forgotten in the constellations

cherished books worn down with tears.

we are the blown out flames on birthday cakes

the miscellaneous junk dumped outside

cracked glass held together with duct-tape and wood

we are the flaws that we desperately try to hide.

First Place, Grades 7-9

Internal Combustion

by Isabella R.

clouds run down your face with the ease of an ocean wave on a warm summer night

tears hit the floor with the pounding of your father's hammer on the nail that won't budge

laughter is stalled with the silence of a thousand crickets who lost their pins

hearts beat in rhythm like the symphony you played when the sun went away

hands interlaced like the strings on a peg held tight by lyrical harmony

wishes for hate held back by a dam of blood stained bricks

eyes closed with the trust of a promise bound by love

hope lost in a second like a child in a maze piled high with curiosity

the life of a dream woken by a warning for dawn is in sight

torture as if that was the only way to see through lies of last minute innocence

cares washed away like a spill of wine on your mother's white carpet that soon becomes

an unforgettable imperfection

rain falls like the wounded dragon in the tale of heroes and sacrifice

it starts slowly like falling asleep Christmas night, knowing the surprise to come

then your eyes start to sting and your feet falter

is this what it feels like to fall apart

one seam at a time

perhaps this is what it feels like to drop from the sky

the downside to internal combustion

Second Place, Grades 7-9

We Are The Artists With Pens & Paint

by Emily R.

The streets were lit by our firework eyes.

Figures with scribbled faces and half erased minds passed by us threatening to erase the

color from our own. The sirens blared frequencies to wreck our train of thought. You

held my hand like I was the one who kept you running. Maybe I was? I could feel your

grip loosen, but I wasn't going to let you fall to ruin. One step forward and one crack in

the pavement led to thousand of battle cries from the strangers, whose minds hadn't gone

numb. The army of artists with armories of paint marched alongside the writers with

machine gun words. Explosions of vibrant chroma freed us from the cinereal horizons as

we the gladiators contended in the ruins of coliseums. You were just a boy who was

paralyzed, but you advanced into battle. With a pen in hand, the girl with her mouth sewn

shut screamed. We have won.

Third Place, Grades 7-9

No One

by Sriram D.

I make stories that No One reads,

I do favors that No One needs.

I say sorry for No One's deeds,

And if No One is there, I plead.

I take the blame for No One's harm,

I harvest the wheat on No One's farm.

The wheat, it was so bright,

But No One, he was as dark as the night.

I work for No One all night and day,

I do No One's deeds, yet I get no pay.

I got hurt if I did work slow,

I got hurt if the plants didn't grow.

I got hurt if I broke an antique,

After all of this, I still couldn't eat.

And if you didn't know, yes I'm No one's slave,

And No One is my master, will I ever be saved?

And this torture, it lasted for years,

And all I could do was cower in fear.

But the worst was already done,

By that monster, that No One.

Honorable Mention, Grades 7-9


by Meg K.

I’ve always had to fake a smile

Keep all my feelings bundled up inside

Hold that smile a little longer just for a little while

Maybe I’m just a mistake and this world isn’t big enough for me

But you’ll never notice because there’s a smile hiding the pain you cannot see

But not for long because I’m starting to see what was meant for me

I wonder why it had to be me

The one who had to have this poison burning inside me painfully

The one who had no point in life

The one who had to be the sacrifice

So I’ll say my goodbyes and be a good little child

As I close my eyes one last time with a smile


Where I'm From

by Rhianon

I am from lilacs, from the sun and the rain

I am from the green, long grass under the clouds

I am from the daisies, the roses

I am from the chocolate kisses at Christmas and green eyes, from Nye and Jaqueline and Michael

I am from the swaying of the wind and the sun shining down on my face

From being yourself and being kind

I am from running around in the grass and swimming in the ocean

I’m from Boca Raton, ice cream and pasta

From the “Trip to Wardour Castle,” the dark cavern, and the brown dog

I am from old albums holding my past and old picture frames showing me things I couldn’t see


A Feeling That Can't Be Described....

by Jadia B.

I feel like I’ve been hit by a car

No one can see me dying.

I feel like I’ve been climbing up a rope for years

Nobody can see me trying.

I feel like I’ve been screaming

I must be dreaming

I feel like a confused kid

Who doesn’t know what she did

I feel like I’m alone

Everyone around me is gone

I feel like nobody understands or cares

Even though my heart is beginning to tear

The ones I trusted the most began to fade

As the words they said just stayed

I tried to hide how I feel because

The people I tell will never help me heal

I try to say

But the words seem to go away

I run and hide

Putting how I feel aside

I smile through my feelings all the time

Wondering “why” every time

My feelings can’t be shared because

I always end up getting scared

So, how I feel, is not going to be expressed

because I don’t want anyone else to feel depressed.  


i didnt mean to

by Anette N.

I didn’t mean to     

Acting is not asking

Bleeding is not breaking

As I walked I choked but I was not chewing

I was dancing; I didn’t mean to break the wide window

I was singing but I ended up screaming

The music teacher ended up quitting

I talked but my word didn’t come out right

So I had to repeat myself

The music stopped playing so I felt so embarrassed



by Sarah H.

The sky is grey today

Like yesterday

And the day before that.

My first daffodil bloomed

I picked it.

The poinsettia that never dies


To withstand my moms black thumb.

My sisters trophies

Polished, dustless,

Her accomplishments, My repeated efforts

Wash away an "I miss you."

My first 100%


Meets with my dads reply,

"Thats great"

The same one I get for everything.

Dark swirls of honey in oatmeal

My brother asks, "please make pancakes"

I sigh, and put away the to-do list that always gets longer

To fill a never ending hole.


Home Town

by Bronson M.

We are now leaving, how forlorn!

As we drive out of the town to which I was born.

I leave my home like warmth from winter.

The pain is fierce, like acid on a splinter.

I know not yet to where I am going.

While memories of my Home Town disappear,

Like wind that is briefly blowing.

Even though the decision to move may have seemed smart.

This new town will never replace my Home Town,

Which still occupies the hallways of my heart.

2014 Teen Poetry Contest Winners

11 Annual Teen Poetry Contest

Congratulations to the 11th Annual Teen Poetry Contest Winners!

Each year we celebrate National Poetry Month in April with our Teen Poetry Contest.
Teens in grades 7-12 from Fredericksburg, Stafford, Spotsylvania, and Westmoreland, are invited to submit up to three original poems. Out-of-region library cardholders may also enter. 

This year's winners were chosen (anonymously) by Amanda Rutstein, poetry professor at the University of Mary Washington and manager of the Fredericksburg Writing Center.

Entries were accepted online between April 1 - 14, and winners were selected from participants in grades 7-9 and grades 10-12.

We had 320 entries this year - the most EVER!

Winners are awarded prizes and invited to read their work at Teen Poetry Night at Headquarters Library, Monday, May 19, 7:30-8:30.

And the winners are ...

First Place, Grades 10-12 

the filling-space

by William
Grade 12, North Stafford High

somewhere between orion and his arm is a hole of dark wider than years of light and heavier than clouds fat with dreams of snow there is a feeling lost in that irregular void of not absence but memory (if only there was some way to perfectly recall) of love’s sweet touch on your leg or promises mouthed across rooms because your headphones are thick or knowing that you will be happy hope is the thing that wings its way into the holes in a heart bigger than the whole sky (how you looked that night under the velvet veil of starlight falling around you) and comes bursting forth in times when that very same sky promises to fall on your head to fill you with the sort of purpose found only in books that you haven’t read because you like the smell of springtime (because I can’t remember) there must be something around us swaddling our being with fibers woven of experience and dark matter which actually makes up most of the universe so maybe if we dig deep enough in our lives we will find something invisible and unyielding (but it doesn’t matter) like the spaces between words better left unsaid or dreams and what actually happens in a rather arbitrary cycle of existence under the space between orion and his arm which isn’t actually empty at all but full of light (because I can imagine it)


Second Place, Grades 10-12 

The Secret Life of Bees

by Shelby
Grade 12, Colonial Forge High

Honey seeps down the wall—dark oak
thicker than the amber mass
now sluicing into cracks and seams
and under the door, where light and glass
are trapped in the golden ruin
of the mason jar.
I feel the way the young girl sobs,
I know the way the honey pulls down
on skin and wood alike, inviting
us on their downward pilgrimage.
Her tears roll down slow and warm,
like it’s honey leaking from her
more than salt and breath,
and I feel the sticking sweetness
of her loneliness.

Third Place, Grades 10-12 

To My Mother: Two Years Late

by Caitlin
Grade 11, Stafford Senior High

You think of her as you look in the mirror
and try to fix her curls you suddenly inherited.
When you kiss a boy for the first time
and you wonder if she'd approve.
Hearing a song she used to sing
as you scan the radio.
Remembering promises you made
before you fall back four years.
Shes in every exhale of smoke
and every cloud of hairspray.

Honorable Mention, Grades 10-12

I Am From--

by Madison
Grade 11, North Stafford High

I am from pre- bought pies, 
Grilled cheese with no crust,
And late night chocolate milk. 

I am from fields of blue,
Tractor supply stores,
Strategically placed rocks,
Gravel with a speed limit,
And easter eggs on the wall. 

I am from strong, close- knit, 
Last minute Christmas traditions,
Pretending to always be right, 

Second chances create a family, 
Stubbornness destroys. 

I am from Roman Catholics and rule followers, 
Heidelberg and Philippines,
Thanksgiving newspaper,
Dinner out of cans, 
And sleeping on the stairs. 

I am from the Heart of Dixie,
Moved to the suburbs of Stafford,
From two plus one,
“I’m easy”. 

I am from small towns in Ohio to New York City, 
Lovers of bologna, 

I am from wooden head wounds and diving board accidents,
The Heaney wave and late night swims,
Chunky mashed potatoes, and falling up the stairs- 
Smiles, car dancing, corniches, family pong. 

Sonnet Duet

by Sarah
Grade 12, Stafford Senior High

I was a camel once.
I had 4 legs 4 arms 2 heads 
and 4 black-brown braids
with twin brains, twisted like twine.
I only have one face
duplicated like a handsome mirror,
even hidden under the blanket
that created the camel hump.
I would play the day away, and game
into the night, until falling into one bed,
to rest both heads, to sleep until light --
under the blanket that made 2 into a camel.
We used to be a camel once, together always
and now we are two humans, grown apart.

Born to Be

by Bridgitte
Grade 11, Fredericksburg Christian High School

The florist said you need roses-
cliché and bland,
prim and proper.
Store-bought perfection.

I say you need sunflowers-
Queen Anne's Lace
And every wild thing.


First Place, Grades 7-9 

Catching Lightning

by Julia
Grade 7, Holy Cross Academy

Storm coming in the night
                                      Clouds swelling, diminishing light
                                      Metal staffs pierce the ground
                                      Then you hear a rumbling sound

                                      Waves washing with whistling wind
                                      Purple skies start to spin
                                      Flashes bright as the sun
                                      As quickly as it came it’s gone

                                      Striking the poles rapidly
                                      Fire in sand unable to break free
                                      Festering, freezing
                                      As the storm is seizing

                                     Once the rain has finally gone
                                     Harvest the glass just past dawn
                                     Treasures from the ground tapped
                                     The lightning trapped

Second Place, Grades 7-9 

My Life in Metaphors

by Macy
Grade 7, Walker-Grant Middle

I am the silence of my heart
I am the quickness to judge 
I am the happiness of writting in my journal
I am the color of red 
I am the the sadness of my sister leaving me 
I am the music of keeping somethings to myself
I am the strength of never ending love
I am the taste of fake happiness 
I am the whisper of missing my sister
I am the sweetness of myself 
I am the curtains of my feelings
I am thre calm of my mind 
I am the size of how much I love you 
I am the yellow of black
I am the teeth of nothing
I am the sound of a still beating heart
I am the stillnes of silence
I am the anger of not being able to understand

Third Place, Grades 7-9 

Ode to Six Stringed

by Grace
Grade 7, Holy Cross Academy

Plucking along, you hum, Cheerfully calling about 
Or you whisper, not disturb, or simply to express the silence
You can scream, exhaling frustration into a single maddened strike, wailing until it fades.
And again. And again. The sensation, aligning to a perfect sound, strings under your fingertips:
Elation. Striking a single strum sweetly feels like no other.
The guitar, pleased with its powers, knows its importance.
Maybe too sudden and strong, or maybe just right.
Are you a song? Or are you an idea, soon to be forgotten?
Which is evidently the worst.
Could have been amazing, a spectacular hit, but left to nothing
But all things great have a price
The sores on your fingers might raise question.

Honorable Mention, Grades 7-9


by Kimberly
Grade 9, Chancellor High

I am a pebble
In a sea of octagons
I am smooth and unique
Surrounded by harsh corners
Who wish to grate away my personality
Like cheese


by Melanie
Grade 8, Freedom Middle

There is a small pond that sleeps in the desert
It dreams of being an oasis
Its surface is still and smooth, but underneath there is a current
It is seen by all, yet found by none
It has no friends or foes
Its only company is Moonlight as she dips her toes


by Dylan
Grade 9, Fredericksburg Academy

The void things dwarfed us
We could not so much scrabble about in their environment
Made of grace and silence
They were formless protean things
Incomprehensibly alien to us
And we to them
We in laughable comparison
Monkeys down from branches
Humanity was just taking a child’s first steps
Drifting through darkness
We will dwarf them
In time


2015 Contest & Teen Poetry Night Reception

2015 Teen Poetry Contest

12th Annual Teen Poetry Contest

Each year we celebrate National Poetry Month in April with our Teen Poetry Contest.

Teens in grades 7-12 from Fredericksburg, Stafford, Spotsylvania, and Westmoreland, are invited to submit up to three original poems. Out-of-region library cardholders may also enter. Entries will be accepted between April 1 - 19, 2015, and winners will be selected from participants in two categories -- grades 7-9 and grades 10-12.

Winners will be chosen anonymously by Amanda Rutstein, poetry professor at the University of Mary Washington and manager of the Fredericksburg Writing Center.

Winners are awarded cash prizes and invited to read their work at Teen Poetry Night Reception at Headquarters Library, Wednesday, May 27, 7:30-8:30.


2015 Teen Poetry Night Reception

Celebrate National Poetry Month by joining us at Headquarters Library on Wednesday, May 27, 7:30-8:30, for poetry readings by the winners of our Teen Poetry Contest.

Refreshments will be served.

Sign-up begins April 1. For grades 7 to adult.

Claudia Emerson, 1957-2014

Claudia Emerson

We would not be celebrating our annual Teen Poetry Contest if not for the help and guidance of Claudia Emerson, former professor at the University of Mary Washington and a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, who also served as Virginia's Poet Laureate. She judged the Teen Poetry Contest and hosted Teen Poetry Night from its inception, encouraging countless young poets and gently shaping the event as it grew to over 300 entries. Before each winning poem was read, Claudia shared what it was about that poem the moved her. Her goal was to empower the young poets, and her comments showed the depth of thought and attention she had given their works.

Claudia's talent as a poet was equaled by her generosity of spirit and passion for developing young poets.