Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historic Site & Interpretive Center

246 Old Walt Whitman Road, Huntington Station, NY 11746

phone: 631-427-5240 || fax: 631-427-5247


Theme Announcement & Contest Guidelines


Theme:          voice of the elements

Contest: Become the poetic voice of Earth, Wind, Water or Fire



Walt Whitman often celebrated the elements of nature in their many shapes and forms.  In his poem, The Voice of the Rain, Whitman translates the words of the rain:


And who art thou?  said I to the soft-falling shower,

Which, strange to tell, gave me an answer, as here translated:

I am the Poem of Earth, said the voice of the rain,

Eternal I rise impalpable out of the land and the bottomless sea,

Upward to heaven, whence, vaguely form’d, altogether changed, and yet the same,

I descend to lave the drouths, atomies, dust-layers of the globe,

And all that in them without me were seeds only, latent, unborn;

And forever, by day and night, I give back life to my own origin, and make pure and beautify it;

(For song, issuing from its birth-place, after fulfilment, wandering,

Reck’d or unreck’d, duly with love returns.)

Walt Whitman                         (1885, 1888-89)



For this year’s contest, you should become the voice, or speak the words, of one of the four elements of nature: Earth, Wind, Water or Fire.  The elements take many forms.  For instance, the Wind may exist as a breeze, a waft, a gale, a tempest, an ill-wind, a tornado, etc.  The Earth could be a continent, an island, a mountain, an acre of arid soil, the bottom of the sea, etc.  Try to capture the spirit of one form and speak for it.  Become the element, and experience its personality, its wishes and desires.  What are its dreams, secrets, and/or fears?  What does it know and do best?  Why is it speaking?


In the poem above, Whitman follows the rain in its travels from the land and sea to heaven and back.  Read his poem aloud.  Talk about it in class.  What is the rain saying?  What is meant by the last two lines?  Why does Whitman use parentheses?  What is this poem about?  Notice Whitman’s vocabulary and unusual words.  Try and speak poetically in the tone of your element and use descriptive words to reflect its essence; rely on verbs and nouns, in addition to adjectives, to convey emotion and description.


Read other Whitman poems, such as: Earth, My Likeness; Proud Music of the Storm; and Roots and Leaves Themselves Alone.  Notice Whitman’s use of alliteration, assonance, simile and metaphor to enlarge the image and theme.  Find the rhythm in your element and reproduce it in your poem.  And now, let the elements speak!


Good luck!


In order to write this poem, you will need to think of the things of this world that make you joyful.  Look and listen to those around you. Like Whitman, consider the many people, places, activities, etc. in your everyday life.

Use Whitman’s technique of detailed descriptions and use of the senses to compose your poem.  Include some or all of your senses: see, smell, taste, touch, hear.  Remember to use images, similes and metaphors to show us your ideas.  Your poem should employ a longer line, like those of Whitman.  Search for unusual words and craft them into poetics of sounds, repeating letters for alliteration and vowels for assonance.  Try to avoid end rhymes, although slant or internal rhymes may be used.

With this swirl of involvement and observation, your writing will capture a world in itself.

Good luck!

Individual poems, individual and class anthologies, multi-media


Contest rules mailed to you in early January 2015

Reservations & information:

Carolyn, Education Coordinator, 631-427-5240, ext. 113





The Walt Whitman Birthplace Association maintains and operates the Walt Whitman Birthplace, home of America’s greatest poet.  All contestants and poetry lovers are encouraged to visit the Birthplace.  School groups may participate in a variety of unique educational programs.



THEME: Voice of the elements ELIGIBILITY:Students in grades 3-12



Category A – Individual poem, grades 3-4                                            Category G – Class anthology, grades 5-6

Category B – Individual poem, grades 5-6                                            Category H – Class anthology, grades 7-8

Category C – Individual poem, grades 7-8                                            Category   I – Class anthology, grades 9-10

Category D – Individual poem, grades 9-10                                          Category   J – Class anthology, grades 11-12

Category E – Individual poem, grades 11-12                                        Category  K – Multi-media

Category F – Class anthology, grades 3-4                                             Category  L – Individual anthology



  1. Print or type a poem of up to 2 pages, double spaced.


  1. Individual poems MUST have the following information on EACH page or poems will be disqualified:
  • poem title and entrance category
  • entrant’s name, complete address, home phone number, age and grade level
  • school name, complete address, school phone number, and teacher’s name
  • for multiple entries by a teacher: poems must be noted by grade AND class period


  1. Class anthology MUST have the following information or anthologies will be disqualified:
  • anthology title
  • title sheet with the entrance category, teacher’s name, grade, school name, school phone number and complete address
  • the student’s name on each poem; student may enter a poem in an anthology and as an individual poem
  • all poems should be in binder or book form
  • for multiple entries by a teacher: anthologies must be noted by grade AND class period


Entries must be postmarked by MARCH 13, 2015


  • Winners notified by mail in mid-May.
  • Awards ceremony: Sunday, May 31, 2015.
  • Awards distributed at the annual Walt Whitman Birthday Celebration held at the Walt Whitman Birthplace.  This is Walt’s 196TH birthday.
  • Grand Champion and multiple prize winners awarded in each category.
  • Grand Champion poems will be posted on the WWBA website and their names will be made available to the media.
  • Individual entries will NOT be returned.
  • To obtain a list of winners send self-addressed business envelope with two first class stamps.
  • Awards held for pickup at the Walt Whitman Birthplace until July 8, 2015.  They will not be mailed.
  • Winning and non-winning anthologies will be held for pickup until July 8, 2015.  They will not be mailed.


All submissions become the property of the Walt Whitman Birthplace and may be published online or in print.

The poems are judged by a panel of published poets selected by the Birthplace Trustees.


MAILING INSTRUCTIONS: POETRY CONTEST  –  Carolyn Diglio, Education Coordinator

Walt Whitman Birthplace Association

246 Old Walt Whitman Road

Huntington Station, NY  11746-4148

Information contact: Carolyn (631) 427-5240, ext. 113 or educator@waltwhitman.org




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