Claudia Emerson Teen Poetry Contest

2016 Teen Poetry Contest Winners

Congratulations to the winners of the 2016 Claudia Emerson Teen Poetry Contest!

Many thanks to our contest judge, Amanda Rutstein, Adjunct English Instructor and Assistant Director of the Writing Center at the University of Mary Washington.

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

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

First Place, Grades 10-12:

Paper Lanterns

Caroline P.

Books are swallowed by fire

words descend like dust.

Who will save them,

the things that fill us

with light,

give artistry

to dreary lives.


Who will take the pen,

light the flame,

allow the words to reunite

and books to rise.

Again they will sail

through minds like paper lanterns

                                                          across the sky.

Second Place, Grades 10-12:

Picture Perfect

Elijah J.

I see these plastic people, Barbie dolls.

With their dream houses and expensive cars.

And their plastic friends, at their plastic malls.

Getting “white-girl wasted” at plastic bars.


Plastic masks are completely transparent.

Such a hollow frame, there’s nothing inside.

They need plastic Kens for plastic marriage.

They only love money, such plastic wives.


But I’m plastic too, since I love these girls.

In their plastic party, life’s a child's game.

We’re just plastic kids in a plastic world.

I love plastic ones because we're the same.


We worship plastic idols, live or fake.

But it's trivial because plastic breaks.

Third Place, Grades 10-12:


Regan F.

I can remember

that dreaded game of tag.

Those blue soccer balls that came,

like cannonballs, 

over the fence.

Sitting to finish lunches,

singing songs,

inventing worlds.

The mulch that always snuck its way

into our shoes.

The yellow ladder where I sat

to read books

and have conversations

about superheroes

with a boy,

whom barely knew me,

but thought he loved me.

I can remember

the whistle that

called  us to line up

and return to class,

the conversations

we tried to finish

before being shushed into silence.

I can remember

the scraped knees that led to printed Band-Aids

and cupcake stickers,

all the time we spent

trying to learn to flip over a beam,

the monkey bars—

forbidden because one too many students had fallen—

and the contest we made

of climbing up the long, blue slide,

a trivial matter

we all thought held

great importance.

Honorable Mentions, Grades 10-12:

Chloe A.
Keighan S.
Eula C.
Samuel W.
Jonathan C.

First Place, Grades 7-9:

Rain Window

by Mira D.

Rain taps away




At my roof.

I like it when

Rain drowns out

The shouts

From below

Until they are nothing

And I disappear

Out the window

Down the fire escape

Of a small

Apartment building

across the street

Where worn shoes


Hand-me-down sweaters


Always have a hole

In the same place

Don't matter.

Where shadows are warped


Nothing is as it should be.

In the rain

Everyone sees the same way

A little bit fuzzy

And a whole lot cold

Drops fall from the heavens.

They are old windows

That are made from

Old glass

So that everything looks


And so that I can dance and smile

Away from the world

And nobody can tell the difference between




Second Place, Grades 7-9:

Their Talk

by Mira D.

They talk about themselves

In their brightly colored clothing

And jewelery

The outer shell to the shallow inside.


Drip from their mouths

Like a wet painting

Whose owner left it standing upright

On a blank piece of paper

And now

The sheet is drenched

In colors it does not want

And feelings it doesn't need

I wish they would lay flat again.

Each one is a cookie cutter version

Of the next

Baked in exactly the same way

And while

Frosted differently

They all taste the same.

Details fall from their mouths

Like leaves on a tree

In a cold autumn breeze

That shakes

Even the strongest


You can tell a lot

 by a person who only


Or maybe you can't.

Until the painting lays flat

The cookies are made


And the leaves have


They will never know.

Third Place, Grades 7-9:

When I Speak

by Athena H.

When I speak you hear your name

When I speak the dog barks

When I speak you should listen

Because when I speak

You should of not spoken

When I speak the night is dark

When I speak the day is bright

When I speak it is magical

Because when I speak

You should of not spoken

When I speak the cat’s meow

When I speak to you

When I speak

You speak too

Do not speak when I am speaking

Do peep when I speak

Do not make one single no

Because when I speak

You don’t speak

Because when I speak

Honorable Mentions, Grades 7-9:

Eric S.
Mina Grace D.
Job C.
Rebekah B.
Sarah H.
Mira D.

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.

2016 Contest

Claudia Emerson Teen Poetry Contest

Each year we celebrate National Poetry Month in April with our Teen Poetry Contest. 2016 marks our thirteenth year hosting this event and we are proud to announce the renaming of the poetry contest to the Claudia Emerson Teen Poetry Contest in memory of Claudia Emerson, former judge and advocate for our teen poets.

Teens in grades 7-12 from Fredericksburg, Stafford, Spotsylvania, and Westmoreland, and out-of-region library cardholders submitted entries online between April 1 - 15, 2016, and winners were selected from participants in two categories -- grades 7-9 and grades 10-12.

Winners were chosen anonymously by Amanda Rutstein, Adjunct English Instructor and Assistant Director of the Writing Center at the University of Mary Washington.

In addition to the Claudia Emerson Teen Poetry Contest, this year the CRRL held it’s first Visual Poetry Art Show, a non-juried exhibit of art works by artists aged 18 and up.