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Teen Poetry Contest

Teen Poetry Contest

2020 Teen Poetry Contest Winners

Congratulations to the winners of the Milwaukee Public Library's 2020 Teen Poetry Contest! Winners are listed below in alphabetical order in three age categories:
Ages 10-12  |  Ages 13-15  |  Ages 16-18


Ages 10-12

A Guess What Poem by Sami E. 
I live for eternity on, End by end, I am like oil to the car, And ink to the pen, Nothing can get rid of me, Not even wind, You owe your life to me, And it is your life that I always mend.
(Answer: Water)

Pirouette by Elena C.
I sense sets of eyes on me,
Watching me
I Glide
Across the floor
I prepare
Tucking my feet under,
Legs bend,
Head straight
A single thought runs through my mind, like a steady thumping heartbeat

I steady my legs, every muscle tense
I know I want to do this
Want their approval
Feel them waiting, waiting

I push off, spinning way too fast
Voices in my head
Don’t push it
Don’t force it
I don’t want to not FORCE this
I will do it

The air swirls around me,
As I spin
Three times
Faces Blur

I search the eyes, hoping
The pair I am looking for smiles at me
I fly off, on my own pair of wings

Hope is a Goddess by Elena K.

Hope is a goddess-
Draped in a cloak of unfinished dreams-
She travels in a mysterious boat-
Through the soul’s hidden streams-

Her eyes are covered with a blindfold-
To remind you to follow your heart-
When the winds of sorrow billow-
She allows the storm to part-

She carries a burning candle-
To help you light the way-
And she always whispers into your ear-
A dream for another day-

Ages 13-15

Inside this book by Eva K.


Inside this book
there are words,
and bookmarks.

Inside this book
there are chapters,
page numbers,
and post-its.

Look closer.

Inside this book
there are adventures,
and stories.

Inside this book
there is dialogue,
new vocabulary,
and themes.

Look closer.

Inside this book
there’s a tear on the corner
of a page
where their favorite character perished.

Inside this book
there’s a crumb
from a late-night snack.

Inside this book
there’s a fold on the corner
from someone marking their page.

Look closer.

Inside this book
is a single hair
from a child
who can finally read.

Inside this book
there are limp pages
caused by the love of reading.

Look closer.

Inside this book
are the fingerprints
of someone’s life
that was changed

Allow Me To Be Different Without Understanding by Adaobi N.

Thank you for asking, no I do not speak “African”. I am actually fluent in Igbo, one of the major languages spoken in Nigeria.

Thank you for mocking the Khoisan click language. My Nigerian self doesn’t use it to hunt my gazelles.

Yes, there’s water and delicious food, understand it now, you don’t want to be corrected by me.

But isn’t Africa poverty-stricken, full of corruption, and always at war? Africa is the richest continent in terms of natural resources and more.

But what would you know?

No, Africa is not one large country but it’s a huge continent made up of 54. A huge continent that I adore.

No, you will not see wild animals roaming the airport as you land, and No, I do not have a pet lion. Any more questions? 

But what would you know?  

What would you know about the discomfort I feel when I walk into a room where no one looks like me?

Yes, I’ve heard all the jokes about being dark skin, the ones that offend me because deep down, I idiotically think that having dark skin is a shortcoming. 

My dark skin has lived a past that shows the struggle throughout my face, neck, and arms.

But what would you know?

What would you know about the stares I get from humans who look at me like an exotic animal?

People petting me and my hair asking if it’s real, asking how I get my hair so curly, asking what’s my secret product.

Hint: It’s water. 

But what would you know?

So please stop with the questions, the interviews and interrogations. I cannot teach you how to be African.

Being African is not a subject that can be taught; You will never understand it or be it.

Mock me all you want.  You can mock the culture, language, food, anything. 

But you will never make me ashamed to be African, whatever derogatory labels you make stick on me. 

But still, I will be an African, even a much better one.

There’s nothing you can do or say to belittle my African pride.

African I am. 

African I live. 

Africa I breathe.

I am African.

Why is my body not my own?  by Sarah W. 

It wasn’t always like this.
I ran naked outdoors.
No one cared.
“Put on a bra” they say now.
“Too much skin” they murmur.
8 year old me, enjoy when you could
and no one would comment on
why your legs weren’t shaved.
Do my breasts excite you?
It was never my fault for having
a body.
Why does my body only matter when
your hands have touched?
Can’t wear that might think.
Don’t stay out might touch.
Don’t say those might talk.
My existence hinges on
My body doesn’t matter until you.
You made my legs
something to hide.
You took my confidence to
Does my body belong to you?
If you place a wedding band on my finger,
do you own me as much as the
man on the bus?
Licking his lips.
I am not my own.
You can buy me.
Go ahead. Put down five and see the world’s
finest pair of tits.
Your wife won’t know. Take off her panties.
My body is for sale; for you.
But not for me.
You touch yourself to me.   
I know you do.
Deny it. And some of you are honest when
you scream “no”.
But I see when you
You imagine yourself under me
on me
in me.   
I was made for your pleasure.
I was made for you.
Keys in between fingers.   
Walking down an alley
eyes down.
“I’m innocent; you don’t want me”.
Do you get off on my fear?
Is it the power you desire?
Or simply lust?
No, you like the terror you cause.
Bring a smile to those
Lips that steal.
Lips that whisper truth to me
My body is not my own.

Ages 16-18

In Limbo by Kat H.
Nature's call bids the waterfall rise
Ignites the quotidian ache within
Tussocks of lichened hair stir in reply
Jagged bones of stone shift 'neath my skin

Not yet tempered by time and sand
They leave abrasions in their wake
As Gaea's lament breeds their demand
To forsake me for a natural place

Perhaps I was in many moons' past
Flora's bed and Fauna's hearth
But to find identity in a world so vast
Bade me flee from Gaea's heart

I chipped the boulders of my frame
Liquidized salt from my weary river flows
My wings reduced to starving blades
And from my soil only belladonna grows

Behind the swath of artifice, veiled,
I don the mantle of synthesis
And shroud my crags 'till weatheredness paled
But Gaea's summon rings pitiless

The facade cannot mistake the shape
Vituperative barbs hide roses naught
Yet are found remnants of gorges erased
And nature's force ethereally wrought

Beyond the reference to Deucalion's deed
Beneath the mask of a shattering girl
Exist ashes of effigies of cratered trees
And the eternal beckon of nature’s world

Notes:  Gaea is the Greek goddess of the earth.
Deucalion and his wife were tasked by the gods with throwing stones behind them as they fled. When the stones struck the earth, they became people.

You're my girl by Kyla H.

A poem by a non-binary artist about 2 different ways that a person’s partner may react to them being transgender.

I don’t want to be a she,
To a certain degree.
Stop expecting me to feel
How you feel about me.
I’m tired of trying,
Trying to be-
Trying to be everything

You want to see.
“You’re not a boy,
You’re my girl.
You’re the loveliest thing
that I've seen in this world.
I don’t understand why
You want to change my mind.
You’re going through a phase,
It’s gonna be okay.”

You don’t see me,
How I want to be seen.

I don’t want to be a he.
I don’t feel complete.
I think I should run,
Yeah, I think I should leave.
You’ll stop loving me,
At least that’s what I believe.
I just don’t want you to
Feel like you have been deceived.

“You’re not a boy,
You’re my girl.
You’re the loveliest thing
that I've seen in this world.
I don’t understand why
You think I’d change my mind.
You’re going through a change,
It’s gonna be okay.”

I’m glad you see me,
How I want to be seen.

The Feeling of Home by Lizbeth L.

The date is August 15, 2018 It's a beautiful morning with a stunning sunrise. I was filling up my water bottle when I saw my dad sitting on the kitchen chair. He was picking out his shirt for work. We talked for a little while. Then we said goodbye. I went to my bus stop and he headed for work. While walking I realized: I forgot my water bottle. And I went back. And I saw it. 3 cars surrounding my dad's 4 men yelling at him “get out the car” Demanding his name. “You’re not allowed in this country!” It didn't take me long to realize; it was ICE. In the spur of the moment I ran out and made a wall in front of him; one like our president asked for. I stopped them. I didn't let them take you. I fought and I fought, and I made sure we stayed together. But, then I woke up. And I realized it was August 20 2018. And I remembered; on August 15 2018 I didn't go back for my water bottle. I didn't see it. I wasn't there. I didn't run nor did I make a wall. I couldn't fight. I couldn't stop them. We didn't stay together. 8 hours later I got home from school. Everything felt wrong. I saw his car, it was 2 hours early. I didn't see his shoes next to his favorite chair. He wasn't taunting my mom. He wasn't watching soccer in his bedroom. He wasn't thanking our baby Jesus for another good day. It wasn't one. It was merely 3:45 and the beautiful day was over. I saw my mom. Sitting in the kitchen chair, not picking out a shirt. As she explained I realized. This was all a nightmare. But this time I wouldn't wake up. Most nights I didn’t even sleep thinking about what was and what could've been. Days where my hope died where I felt more agony that I had ever before. Mornings we thought about how different life was now. Nights reminisced what once was missing everything about it. I thought my home died, that it was irreparable. Everything we had built. Everything we had created. Our motives our values our love, our home; everything was gone. But then I thought to myself, What is a home? It’s not a four-walled box. It’s not a garden or front yard. It’s not a driveway or garage. Nor is it a house. Yet, it is a feeling. A feeling of comfort. A feeling of full fitness. Inside of it lives our memories, our smiles, our laughs, our cries, our irritation, at times there's even confusion. So when people whose hearts are as cold as their name interfere, when everything changes, when the roles reverse and people with golden hearts are charged as if they had stolen it and kids are held as circus animals When inhumane actions become normal, so normal we are told what to do in those scenarios; told what to do when they’re at our doorstep told to find a new way when they are by our route told to stay home when they intrude our workspace, We will do as told To guarantee another morning together. If United is in our name, Why do we work so hard to separate? But, what divides us? Looks? Languages? Culture? Skin color? Race? Status? A border? or fear? When did we start being so inhumane, And when did this become an accomplishment? But they will not stop. They try to tear us down. The wolves will blow and blow. but we won’t let what we built fall. Our eyes might be filled with tears and terror. We might even be collapsing; but we won’t break. We will endure months of agony. We will limit our meals. We will end in debt. We will miss birthdays and anniversaries, if it all means we’ll meet again. Because I have hope. Hope our home will be in unison soon. And so even when we are apart we will be together, because our home will forever live in my heart and you’ve become part of me. I have sleepless nights filled with tears and thoughts of you to prove. The four-walled box at 35th and Grant is not important, the 45 minute car ride, the hour and a half wait, the 90 second security check, it’s all insignificant. Because the only thing that matters is us.