2021 Student Poetry Contest Due March 19th

Walt Whitman Birthplace Association
DUE MARCH 19th, 2021




Contest Theme:
Lessons Learned

Contest: Write a free verse poem about a lesson you have learned


Have you learn’d lessons only of those who admired you, and were tender with you, and stood aside for you?

Have you not learn’d the great lessons of those who reject you, and brace themselves against you? or who treat you with contempt, or dispute the passage with you?
Walt Whitman, “Leaves of Grass” (1881-1882)

Theme derives from Walt’s poem above. Please also read the poem, “History Lesson,” written by award-winning poet Natasha Tretheway.

Whitman discusses how we can learn from criticism, perhaps more so, than from praise. Can you think of a time when you learned something valuable from adversity or difficulty? How did it enable you to grow? Have you applied this lesson to other life experiences? Did your lesson involve a person, place or thing – a grandparent or a school or a game? Was learning this lesson difficult or easy? Did you learn a lesson in 2020 or 2010? How can you apply it to the future?

For your poem, 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 and action verbs. Listen to Whitman’s rhythm. Like Whitman, use ‘free verse” and do not rhyme. Use your five senses as background color – what do you see, hear, touch, taste, or smell? Did it taste sour or did it feel like a trophy? Did it sound sad (describe a sad sound) or joyful (describe a joyful sound). Let your creativity teach you a lesson!!

Good Luck!


ELIGIBILITY: Students in grades 3-12 from anywhere around the world. Poems submitted in languages other than English must be accompanied by an English translation.

Category A – Individual poem, grades 3-4
Category B – Individual poem, grades 5-6
Category C – Individual poem, grades 7-8
Category D – Individual poem, grades 9-10
Category E – Individual poem, grades 11-12
Category F – Individual anthology
Category G – Class anthology, grades 3-4
Category H – Class anthology, grades 5-6
Category I – Class anthology, grades 7-8
Category J – Class anthology, grades 9-10
Category K – Class anthology, grades 11-12
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, email (please use an email the student readily accesses; it does not have to be a school email), age, and grade level
➢ school name, complete address, school phone number, and teacher’s name and email
➢ for multiple entries by a teacher: poems must be noted by grade AND class period

4. Class anthology MUST have the following information or anthologies will be disqualified:
➢ anthology title
➢ title sheet with the entrance category, teacher’s name, email, grade, school name, school phone number and complete address
➢ the student’s name and email (please use an email the student readily accesses; it does not have to be a school email)on each poem; student may enter a poem in an anthology and as an individual poem
➢ all anthology poems should be in one document and submitted via a word document or PDF.
➢ for multiple entries by a teacher: anthologies must be noted by title, grade, teacher name, email, AND class period DEADLINE: Entries must be EMAILED by March 19, 2021 AWARDS: All poems and anthologies are judged by a panel of published poets selected by the Birthplace Trustees.

All poems and anthologies are judged by a panel of published poets selected by the Birthplace Trustees.
➢ Winners Notified by email in late-April.
➢Winners’ names published in WWBA Award Program distributed at Award Ceremony.
➢Awards Ceremony on Sunday, June 13, 2021, from 12:00 noon – 2:00 PM, to be held via a virtual ceremony. Information will be sent.
➢Forrest Gander, 2021 Poet in Residence officiates via zoom award ceremony.
➢Grand Champion and multiple prize winners awarded in each category.
➢Grand Champion winners’ poetry and names will be published on the WWBA website and in Press Releases. Student may opt out of publications with email notification to WWBA. Individual entries will NOT be retained or returned.

SUBMISSION INSTRUCTIONS: email: educator@waltwhitman.org


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 educator@waltwhitman.org for reservations or contest information.