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Teen Poetry Contest

Teen Poetry Contest

2021 Teen Poetry Contest

Thank you to all the youth who submitted their work to MPL's 2021 Teen Poetry Contest! We had over 60 entries, so our judges had their work cut out for them. Our staff judges read and scored each poem, choosing three winners from each age category. Additionally, we had members from our Teen Advisory Board use the same scoring process to select the TAB Choice poems. Congratulations to the winners and thank you again to all the young poets who participated in this year's contest -- you're part of what makes Milwaukee beautiful.

Ages 10-12   |   Ages 13-15   |   Ages 16-18


Ages 10-12 Winning Poems

"Inside and Out" - Aida E-H
Outside, the dawning sun yawns through the window,
Inside, we languish through our morning stretches. 

Outside, the newly planted flowers dance in the wind —
Inside, we buzz through school routines. 

Outside, the trees sway as the wind plays an old, slow tune —
Inside, the scratch of pencils against paper and the click of fingers on keyboards sing in the background, our creations alive and new. 

Outside, people worry with masks glued to their faces, visages hidden under layers of fabric, Inside, we look outside — amazed at what the world has become, and wondering when the pandemic will be over... 

Outside, the aquamarine sky darkens by the minute-
Inside, the smell of rich onions and garlic fills the house, and everyone knows it’s almost dinner time. 

Outside, the stars ascend to the night sky-
Inside, we settle around the dining room table, beginning to eat. We have passionate debates on socialism, democracy, prison reform, fair wages, coronavirus and much more. 

Outside, a black canvas is now splattered with white paint —
Inside, we snuggle up to watch a special on NOVA, a riveting Masterpiece drama, a suspenseful episode of Doctor Who, or the nightly news. 

Outside, the furtive night sneaks stealthily upon us like a silent snail —
Inside, we get ready for bed and try to sneak read a few more pages of a good book. 

Outside, the austere moon rises, just barely missing the sun —
Inside my mother tucks us into our soft beds, sneaking in a few more giggles before our eyelids close. Uncertainty fills our minds.


"Resurrection" - Sami E-H
Spring’s reassurance of light.
Buds are life’s reflection.
The cold is at flight In comes a gardener’s collection
Spring blooms are met with cold’s spite,
The flowers are life’s projection. 

Despite winter’s malice, it will be alright
The fruits of life will overcome frost’s infection.
With each season, I gain insight
Winter will come, and life will fade in each direction
And spring will spring again until the end of sight. 

That is life’s resurrection.


"On My Chess Board" - Elena K
There once were mirror kingdoms who each wanted more; To increase their power, they started a war.
One ruled by Arthur, loyal and just;
The other by Ruhtra who was full of lust.
This is the story of how one of them fell
And the other rose victorious with a tale to tell. 

First, Lancelot, Arthur’s most trusted knight,
Overcame the enemy’s pawns with his might. One by one gallant Lancelot captured them all; King Ruhtra’s numbers became very small.
Enraged by the loss of so many men,
The cruel king crafted a malevolent plan. 

King Ruhtra made a brutal attack,
Lancelot went down with a blood-curdling smack. Suddenly the tides of the conflict changed;
The power of the violent attacks raged.
King Arthur could not handle the war;
His men were becoming very sore. 

Guinevere rushed onto the battlefield,
In one hand a sword, the other a shield;
The Bishop of Canterbury asked Ruhtra to reason; He took them both prisoner and charged them with treason. He commanded his men to seize the other king; To steal his throne and take his ring.

Finally, Ruhtra’s men made it to Arthur’s gates; They had the weary king in checkmate.
With one final, devastating blow, 

Evil King Ruhtra had won the show.
So here ends the story of how one kingdom fell And the other rose victorious with a tale to tell.


TAB Choice: "Books" - Nora B
Let’s go to the library,
Come on, and go with me.

If you like fantasy,
Harry Potter would be good for you.
With witches, wizards, and magic too.

If you would like a mystery,
The Boxcar Children would be fine.
With a team of siblings,
Cracking the case every time.

If you would like a book with animals,
Charlotte's Web would be nice,
From lonely pigs to talking mice.

Maybe you would like James and the Giant Peach,
For if you would like to teach,
That anything is possible,
And your thoughts are unstoppable.

If you would like a classic,
Alice in Wonderland would be rad,
From the Queen of Hearts,
To a hatter that is mad.

If you would like a book about history,
I would recommend Little House on the Prairie.
With a life about the past,
Our history will come to life at last.

At the library,
Let’s go and take a look,

Come on, and go with me,
Let’s go and find a book!







Ages 13-15 Winning Poems

"My Black is My Pride" - Golden B
My Black is My Pride
The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice.
The darker the flesh, the deeper the roots.
Load up the guns, lace up ya boots.
Because the more you beg for your life,
the more they shoot.
and I can't believe we
still telling these people we can't breathe.
Its not like they didn't hear, they didn't receive.
Once again they win, black folks grieve.
Whats sadder is “all lives matter”
cracker practice what you preaching.
They mean all of them, at the top of the food chain.
They killing us off at the bottom leading to this endless pain.
I know yall tired, i am too.
Its poc vs. white, white, red, and blue.
Though i will not be beat, for my skin still rich and sweet,
my roots still deep, and my heart still beats.
I plant my feet, i will not retreat,
like a statue I will stand to protect my people wearing my ancestors as my armor.
My crown still thick and nappy,
defiant of gravity, so chic, so sassy, and snappy
since I'm black, I'm always happy.
I love people of all races, yet we are so divided.
These great skin color boundaries that history has provided.
In this world, we are not all sisters and brothers.
But instead one color is greater than another?
When you see me you see slavery, but when you see white you see supremacy?!
Because of the hair on my head,
and the skin on my back, I’m black.
And apparently my people don’t know how to act.
Should I take this label that I was assigned,
and step aside and hide what’s truly inside?
NO! It’s all got to stop!
See ME, not my color.
See black excellence, not thugs and a few ignorant brothers.
Im more than just a color,
though I'm proud to be repping the richest flavor.
I love my lovely complexion,
my bold beautiful chocolate and my self affection.
When I look in the mirror,
I love the reflection,
and I see those who stood before me in my facial expressions.
I love me and I love my people, and all people.
But sadly, we will never be equal.
To all you racist and hating peasants,
who will tremble in our presence.
So bow before my kings and queens of all colors and races too.
But never forget where those colors came from, boo boo.
So I’m still standing, why don’t you take a stand too.
The real reason why people hate, is because they don’t understand you.


"The Skin I'm In" - Jaraya S
The skin I’m in is brown and smooth
Bumpy and bruised.
Blemished with scars from riding my bike too fast and too far. Ashy from the sun beating down on it even after I applied lotion for the 5th time.
The skin I’m in is either too black or too brown.
The skin I’m in causes others to stop and stare as if I don’t belong or as if they can’t stand me to be around
The skin I’m in causes a target on my back
To the point that I can’t get walk don’t the street without being gunned down and beaten by police.
Doesn’t matter if I live on that block or not.
Put your hands up! Don’t speak! Can’t even reach in my pocket to get my I.D……
The skin I’m in can put me in a casket.
Doesn’t matter my age or gender, or if I've done nothing wrong The skin I’m in makes me a threat even if I haven't even got a chance to retaliate yet.
The skin I’m in causes my mom to text and call my phone 50 times a min. “Where you at?” “Who you with?” “When you coming home?’ “Why you ain’t answer the phone?”
The skin I’m in cause my mom to worry and the pace the house She’s probably wondering if she should go looking for me or wait for me at the house.
The skin I’m in shouldn’t be looked at as a threat
The skin I’m in shouldn’t put a target on my back
The skin I’m in shouldn’t bring death to my door or put a gun to my head. The skin I’m in shouldn’t cause my mom to worry and call my phone 50 times a min.
The skin I’m in is brown and smooth
The skin I’m in is perfect and just the right shade
The skin I’m in is blemished with scars from riding my bike too fast ad too far.
The skin I’m isn’t too black or too brown
The skin I’m in is black and beautiful!
The skin I’m in is me!


"What to Write?" - Elliot T-b
I do not know, about what I shall write
I have thought about it for many, many nights But. I still am not quite certain
What is to be my assertion?

Perhaps I could write about a disease
That has kept many away from the outdoor breeze But. how do I describe this affliction
To keep my writing in cohesion? 

Perhaps I could write about the seasons
That bring great changes upon all the regions But. what could I say, about these varying times And how can I write it, so that it rhymes? 

Perhaps I could write about minorities
And the oppression brought upon them by the authorities But. how do I give this topic my critique
While still staying unique? 

In contrast, Maybe I should try to let the words flow


TAB Choice: "Pandemic Island" - Mabel C
I am my own island, open to explore!
“Don’t visit” they always say.
I really don’t get it? Why don’t they visit?
I’m sandy, undiscovered, desolate, and flat like they wanted I am the true tropical dream! 

Sand is balmy and soft
A Heaven from home
I tried my best to be that soft
Yet my sand
   dry and trodden
      arid and thick
         treacherously empty ….. Is what I am. 

I am my own island open to explore!
Are you sure you don’t want to talk to me?
Undiscovered is interesting right? You can come visit if you’d like? Yet my undiscovered is
   obscure and unknown
      terrifying and untraveled
         unheard of….. Is my greatest fear. 

I thought if I was wild and uninhabited they would like me I am my own island open to explore!
I now beg….
But me being desolate is different -
   Barren and bleak
      Inhospitable and grim
         A waste…….Is how I feel 

I thought islands were fun
The flat beach, the sand, everyone smiling
Yet no one smiles around me,
   Because my beach is flat….society hates it that way
      Unrealistic expectations of curves is what I now face
      My flat just means featureless
         Boring and dull
         Uninteresting… what I’ve become 

Even if my island has hills
Or it remains flat as it can be.
The expectations of society leaves satisfaction impossible. 

Now the expectations of society rain on my island.
Please don’t ever visit here.
It’s lonely and depressing, constantly silent
Waves crashing
   -- the only melody here -- 

I am alone now, for better or for worse
Covered in anxiety’s sand
I say it again, but this time it’s changed…..
I am no longer open to explore.







Ages 16-18 Winning Poems

"Poisoned Soul" - Samawia A
 - Watch a performance of this poem


"Inflow" - Harmonie B
The tide moves without anyone making an effort to stop it.
The water edges closer and closer, crawling its way up to dampen once perfectly dry sand. This is imminent doom but everything has its time.
As quietly as it edged forward, it recedes
It still reaches but it can’t be quite what it was.
The wet sand that the high but now low waters left behind sits and waits. It dries.
The tide leaves behind something every time.
Sticks? Stones? Shells? Souls?
No, it leaves a promise.
One that reads “ New heights will be reached, the return of the great is gathering” So the approach is again set in motion, and we all watch it coming.
The tide moves without anyone making an effort to stop it.
Because after all, how can you make something so natural and so strong halt its actions.


"The Blood Below" - Autumn G
When a person looks at me,
I can be whatever it is they want to see --
I can be the token Black girl in the room,
Because my hair rises above the crowd,
My curls defy gravity --
They can only pass the old school 'pencil test
On occasion --
And the melanin in my skin is just an ounce too much.
But I can also be the pretty little White girl,
With the fantastic tan --
Am I Italian?
I am not,
Thank you for asking --
And the permed curls that white girls kill for.
But why must I be reduced to a single race
If two tidal waves of blood are what flow through my veins? 

There is a battle below my flesh,
It surges through my veins,
My arteries,
And it begins in my heart. 

To be mixed is to survive a civil war each day of your life --
Two parts of one body,
Constantly at odds,
A lack of security in your own skin,
And an agitation for those who cannot accept
That you are,
In fact,
An amalgamation of two cultures. 

There is this sense of pride that I get
When I think of my Black culture.
I hail from a people so strong
That we can break
And the fragile hearts of bigots,
Just by being ourselves.
We are a people who --
Much to our dismay --
Have become accustomed to adversity,
Have become stronger with each battle we are faced with.
We wake up,
We go to school,

We work day jobs,
Night jobs,
Any job we can get our hands on,
Because the system has never been on our side --
No one has ever been on our side --
Only us.
In everything we do,
We are forced to battle demons
That have been imposed upon us by
The world around us,
By everyone who views us as a threat --
And by this,
I mean everyone --
Everyone fears the strength of our people
Because we are never willing to settle
For the handouts we are given,
Or for the meager 'advancements'
Towards equality. 

We have done all we can --
An oppressed people should not be
Responsible for remedying our own oppression --
Why not leave this to the oppressors themselves?

Do better,
White people.
The white people who screamed Black Lives Matter
In the summer of 2020 --
Where are you?
Show your bigoted counterparts
That you are nothing like them.
Each day,
I wonder where I stand --
I am Black,
Sick and tired of being sick and tired,
Livid that I have to keep fighting to undo the mistakes
Of oppressors --
But then,
I am half oppressor,
Which sends my head reeling,
As I have been oppressed far more than I have
Experienced privileges based on the oppressive blood
That lingers in my veins,
Clashing with my oppressed blood,
Which runs hotter than Florida in July,
More passionate than any pair of lovers.
The blood below my flesh is at war --
It has been this way since the day I was born --
There is always something brewing inside of me --
An anger,
A passion,
A perplexity.
Where do I stand
If no one can see that I
Am so proud of my Black heritage,
That I am not able to trace my lineage
Back to a specific nation on a map of Africa,
That my great uncles marched
For fair housing in the city of Milwaukee,
That my great grandmother was born in the South,
Burdened by racism that spread across the region
Like wildfire? 

While this internal battle is a struggle,
An exhausting test of my mental endurance,
I can proudly exclaim that I am Black
And I'm proud!
I would change nothing about my Black heritage.
It is this inherited strength that has helped me
To become the strong,
Independent woman I am today.
I am a peace advocate,
A civil rights advocate,
A human rights advocate,
Who is determined to carry on
The legacy of her people,
To finish where they left off,
Even if it takes my entire life.


TAB Choice: "Shades of Existence" - Jonalie Z
You’re a beautiful shade of existent. Do I know what you look like?
Do I know your name?
Do I know you?
I know you exist.
You’re out there somewhere.
You’re reading this poem. 

I don’t know you,
But I know you exist
And that’s beautiful.
It’s beautiful to exist.
After all, what are we
but dead stars that chose life once more? We were stars.
We are all made of stars. 

Sometimes I feel like I’m falling apart. I glue the cracks shut
But the glue expires.
I swallow bandages
To heal inner wounds
From my own painful thoughts.
I tape the porcelain together
To fix my facade. 

Many people spend their lives
Trying to fix themselves.
Most fail.
Not because
They were broken
Beyond repair.
They were never broken
In the first place. 

Stars became dust
Before stars became us. 

I’m glad you still exist. 

Someday you will meet yourself. Someday you will become yourself. We will unbecome and become again. 

The history of the world
Courses through our veins. Stars died for us.
Our ancestors lived for us. 

With every touch,
Every word,
Every emotion,
We make history too.
Even if no one knows it
We are leaving traces of ourselves Everywhere we go. 

We will be history.
Our stars will die.
New stars will be born.
But promise me something, O’ stranger I’ve never met, O’ fellow star.
We are the history of future stars. Let us shine bright
While we are still here
And let us work together
So that their shades of existence May shine much, much brighter.