2020 Student Poetry Contest Due March 27th

Walt Whitman Birthplace Association


 (Download PDF Here)

UPDATE: WWBA intends to sustain our Student Poetry Contest and select winners for the year.

Many teachers and students have worked hard on this project and we want to recognize your endeavors.

We are extending the deadline by one week to March 27th, 2020. If teachers or parents have other personal requests, please contact Dr. Kelly Ronayne at educator@waltwhitman.org. She will make every effort to accommodate you. Emailed submissions to this email address will be accepted.

We will keep your posted on the Awards Ceremony, still scheduled for May 31, 2020.
Watch our website for updates.

Thank you for your participation and congratulations on inspiring young students to write poetry!

Theme:         “The ship is clear at last, she leaps!”   WW

Contest:       Write a poem about “Leaping” into a “Leap Day”

The year 2020 is a Leap Year, so the month of February has one extra day! What activity would YOU “Leap” into if you had one extra day to do whatever you wanted?  Or use your imagination and describe in a poem the day a person, place, or thing would leap into!

Leap days are needed to keep our calendar in alignment with the Earth’s revolutions around the Sun.  Without an extra day on February 29, nearly every four years we would lose almost six hours every year. After only 100 years, a calendar without leap years would be off by approximately 24 days.  So, we must Seize the Day!

The theme above comes from Whitman’s poem, “JOY, SHIPMATE, JOY.”


Joy, shipmate, joy!

…our life begins,

The long, long anchorage we leave,

The ship is clear at last, she leaps!

She swiftly courses from the shore,

Joy, shipmate, joy.

Walt Whitman, “Leaves of Grass” (1881-1882)

Whitman’s excitement of the joy of “leaping” is personified with the ship, who has pulled up her anchor, and when she “is clear at last, she leaps!”  She courses swiftly from the shore into her joyous freedom. We can imagine the ship’s freedom – what is YOUR image of a joyous freedom for your Leap Day?

Write a poem about the Leap Day you envision – for yourself, for another, or for an inanimate object like the ship. Don’t “tell” us about your image, but “show” us with vivid pictures and action words.  You don’t need sentences for every line – try using repetition of words, phrases or sounds for alliteration or assonance which make it poetry and not a story.  Notice Whitman’s repetition of “Joy” above. Use musical “beats” with your lines to create a rhythm and find uncommon words that will “leap” off the page.  Listen to Whitman’s rhythm.   Like Whitman, use ‘free verse” and do not rhyme. Use your five senses to describe the leap day – what do you see, hear, touch, taste, or smell? For instance, the ship might leap from the shore into the sea, and taste the salt, feel the wind on her face, hear seagulls overhead or the whale song beneath her, or befriend a lifeboat.  If the ship could speak, what would she say, dream or imagine about her leap day?  Perhaps you have an interesting inanimate object – a violin, a favorite piece of clothing, a treasured object – personify this object and have it “leap” into its joy, whatever that would be.  In 30 lines or less, let your poem leap off the page!

Good Luck!




Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historic Site is the home of America’s great poet, Walt Whitman.  Walt Whitman Birthplace Association operates the site for New York State.  Our Mission is to preserve and promote the legacy of Walt Whitman.  All poetry lovers and contestants are encouraged to visit the Birthplace and walk in Walt’s footsteps.  School groups may participate in a variety of unique educational programs. Contact Dr. Kelly Ronayne, Education Director, at  631.427.5240 x113 or educator@waltwhitman.org for reservations or contest information.


THEME:  “Leap Day”                                                                                            ELIGIBILITY: Students in grades 3-12


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

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

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

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

Category E – Individual poem, grades 11-12                                       Category  K – Class anthology, grades 11-12

Category F – Individual anthology                                                       Category  L  – Multi-media


  1. Print or type a poem of up to 30 lines or less. Longer poems will be disqualified.
  2. Multi-lingual poems welcome, with English translation.
  3. 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 anthology poems should be in binder or book form
  • for multiple entries by a teacher: anthologies must be noted by title, grade AND class period



Entries must be postmarked by March 27, 2020



All poems and anthologies are judged by a panel of published poets selected by the Birthplace Trustees.

  • Winners Notified by mail in late-April.
  • Winners’ names published in WWBA Award Program distributed at Award Ceremony.
  • Awards Distributed on Sunday, May 31, 2020, from 12:00 noon – 2:00 PM, at the annual Walt Whitman Birthday Celebration held at the Walt Whitman Birthplace. This is Walt’s 201th
  • Nationally known Poet in Residence officiates at award ceremony.
  • Grand Champion and multiple prize winners awarded in each category.
  • Grand Champions: poems will be posted on the WWBA website with permission.
  • Individual entries will NOT be retained or returned.
  • Awards held for pickup at the Walt Whitman Birthplace May 31, 2020. They will not be mailed.
  • Winning and non-winning anthologies will be held until May 31, 2020. They will not be mailed.

All submissions become the property of WWBA.  

Walt Whitman Birthplace Association
246 Old Walt Whitman Road,
Huntington Station, NY  11746-4148

EMAIL SUBMISSION: educator@waltwhitman.org