2020 Walt Whitman Association High School Poetry Contest Winners

In responding to this year’s theme “TRUTH”, we invited students to consider their personal truths and the state of truth in their communities, their nation, and the world. In the spirit of Walt Whitman and his continuing legacy of inspiring a new generation of poets, we present the winners of this year’s poetry contest in time to celebrate his 201st birthday:



Josephina Pedretti

Grade 12, Haddonfield Memorial High School

Teacher: Julia Smart


The Lamp Shade Is White

The lamp shade

Is yellow.

The book cover

Is blue.

The portraits

Sit on the piano.

They are skewed, slightly.


The apple

Is red

The cabinet

Is stained brown.

My mother sleeps

On the burgundy coach.

She is waiting.

The window

Is clear.

The door knob

Does not turn.

The clock ticks, unending.

That’s true.

I think.

Her socks

Are yellow.

Her blanket is pulled

above her face.

She sleeps, I stare.

She’s waiting.

I know.

The blanket

Is purple.

The curtains

Are still.

My brother and sister

Wear orange.

They are talking.

I am trying.

I think.





Gemma Miller

Grade 12, Haddonfield Memorial High School

Teacher: Julia Smart


Palm Reading

Truth is lined in our hands

every divot,

every dent,

a manifesto.

Scarred palms shape smooth terracotta beneath them;

Gentle, sloping, strong

Metal ribs* cut our fingers but protect our hearts.

The earth loves with sun freckles,

Each bestowed on the back of our hands like little prayers,

sweet and subtle and oh so deliberate.

Green grass fingers are the nicest to grasp;

Pray the emerald rubs off on the flats of your




Every caress a stitch in clover patchwork.

I don’t trust adults with soft hands –

Pretty pinkies are only strong enough to lift themselves.

Pretty hands have never known struggle.

They do not know the difference between blood and kool aid

to them, it is all the same:

sugared words go down just as sweet as our ironed ichor when you haven’t tasted either.

Unblemished fingertips fold promises as delicate as spun glass –

But their palms are too weak; the gift slides from soft skin.

The given kindnesses – useless words –

shattered promises form a mosaic of lies.

Hands are honest;

The stain of dirt beneath fingertips or the indent of a ring

Hold more consequence than what we say, or neglect to.

Collect callouses like memories, scars like photographs.

Bear witness to

what you have loved & for

what you have bled.

*metal ribs are a shaping tool for potters; they smooth out the sides of the pottery on the wheel, but have sharp edges.




Chloe Griffault

Grade 12, Haddonfield Memorial High School

Teacher: Kimberly Campbell


Letter to my Twelve-Year-Old Self

I went down to the stream in the woods today.

The one at the end of our street where you would go,

Where the air is colder and big concrete pipes stick out of the ravine where the water cut through.

You would bring the dog there.

You probably shouldn’t have done that but you appreciated the silent company.

I went because I miss you.

I miss being you.

I wanted to see if I could bring back that feeling of adventure that comes with being 12.

That feeling of danger.

It didn’t work.

There was a clearing by the ravine that you were fascinated by.

There would be intricate stone designs on the ground

And sticks stuck up in the dirt.

You called it the Satan Circle.

You and your friends thought it was a great mystery to be solved.

You were filled with excitement any time you checked that small clearing.

I checked the clearing before I went down into the ravine.

The usual entrance was blocked by a fallen tree branch

So I went around.

All that was there was empty space and some leaves.

Whoever left the stones out wasn’t there to do it anymore.

And a part of myself felt missing.

You would walk down a steep hill,

More sliding than walking, especially with the dog pulling you down,

There were thorns but if they hit you you would keep going.

You didn’t care about the sting, or if they ripped holes in your pants.

I step over the thorns, following a path I don’t remember.

When I reach the bottom I am lost.

I frantically push my way through the trees

until I reach the clearing and the stream and the big metal pipes.

You love how the air is cooler in the ravine,

How the layer of fog settles over the narrow streams of water.

You take deep breaths

In and out.

You let the cold air sting your lungs

And the dog drinks the frigid waters from the stream.

The pipes jutting out from the dirt are old friends.

You take the dog and climb up to sit on the concrete

And you look out over the misty streams tracing their paths through the silt and you feel like you own the world.

The first thing I see are the pipes.

They’ve collapsed into a pool of water and the ones that haven’t are hanging out of the dirt waiting to fall.


There’s no fog and the air is strangely warm.

I try to feel the wonder and peace that you felt but all I can see are

Empty beers and broken glass.

I walk over to the collapsed pipe where you used to sit and jump back.

I see a headless, rotting fish on the ground covered in flies,

My hands start shaking and my head is spinning.

I have to leave. I start walking back up towards the hill.

I take one last look back,

Maybe now it will be the same as it was for you.

It isn’t and I keep going.

You used to tell people you were immune to poison ivy.

Now I don’t know if you were lying to me or not.

I’m about to go away and I don’t know who I’ll be when I come back and I’m scared.

I want so desperately to feel you again

Somewhere deep in my soul

But I look and you’re not there anymore.

You would come back from these walks thinking about all the potential your life has left.

I come back and all I can think of is another cup of coffee to keep me alive,

To stop my hands from shaking,

To get the image of the headless rotting fish out

I take it with less and less milk and more and more sugar.

You’re not what you think you are but don’t worry about that now.

There will be a time for growing up very soon.

I want you to own your little slice of fantasy.

Raise hell, make bad decisions, fight the monsters lurking in the tall grass

And if you need to run away that’s okay too.

Your friends are good.

They’re so good.

Appreciate them while they still appreciate you.

Dad won’t be there for you as much as you need him to

And mom is trying her best and you need to love her, okay?

You are so brave,

so much braver than I am.

I am a coward who is looking for protection from a child that doesn’t exist anymore.

You can do great things but right now all I want you to do is be 12 for just a little longer.

Because after 12 comes 13 and all the growing pains that follow it.

There is so much light and magic in your world.

If I could steal it and take it to mine I would and I am sorry for that but I can’t so it is yours.




Sarah Meldrum

Grade 12, Kingsway Regional High School

Teacher: Laura Fiorentino


dry skin

There’s something about the barren valleys

unfurled ‘neath and round your knuckles;

those crackles of white that adorn each tri


the billions upon billions of

cells that encompass every crevice,

every curvature

that extend from pointing to cracking–

exfoliated with each of your

movements, and how we will peel it



by summer’s rapture.




Payton Weiner

Grade 11, Haddonfield Memorial High School

Teacher: Sean Thomas


Even Flowers Can Be Poisonous

You say that I ignore the truth because I never admitted that New York always glared at me

With its arms folded and Mona Lisa’s eyes

I couldn’t accept that the light was a fire

That the mid-summer rain drowned everything it touched

And maybe that’s why I kept dragging you out to watch the sunset

I liked the way the colors looked, so I barely noticed that they caused my fingertips to burn

You say that I can’t always believe what is pretty

Because painting daisies on my skin won’t cover the aftertaste of your kiss

Wearing the necklace you gave me doesn’t cause us to exist in more than just deleted photos

Doesn’t rescue vanilla milkshakes and 11 p.m. laughter

Even flowers can be poisonous

And those who smile the widest are trying to hide the way their eyes plea for help

You say that the truth isn’t beautiful

That the pain isn’t poetry

There was no dash of light to be wished upon when we burnt out like meteoroids

There was no rainbow left behind when the broken promises poured incessantly

The truth is you just stopped loving me

And there is no beauty in “goodbye” when you never glance back




Lindsay Vecchiolli

Grade 12, Haddonfield Memorial High School

Teacher: Julia Smart


The Jester

There’s a fairy in my room

She’s here to take my teeth

Beneath the bed there is a monster

Better watch my feet

Now a man is on my roof

One I’ve never seen

But still a ghost is in my closet

It watches as I sleep

There are things that creep and lurk at night

And find comfort in the dark

You like to think these tales are light

But the terror is quite stark

And the truth is that I’m bored

I’m sick of being brave

I want to run from something more

Than chores and crumby grades

The truth is that the lies

Are the things that make me smile

Because when the others go unwind

I like to make them riled

So the next time you feel scared

And hear the old floors creak

The truth is not decrepit wood

The truth is, it was me.