Skip to main content
Font size options
Increase or decrease the font size for this website by clicking on the 'A's.
Contrast options
Choose a color combination to give the most comfortable contrast.

Teen Poetry Contest

Participate in our 2023 Teen Poetry Contest! 

Submissions open April 1 – April 30 and may be sent to [email protected] or dropped off to the Teen Desk (or any library service desk). Participants must live in or go to school in Bartholomew County. Limit to one original poem per participant.

Submissions should include:

              Name/age/pronouns/school/email or phone number

Two age group categories: middle school and high school

One First Prize and one Honorable Mention will be selected from each age group

Cash Prizes: First Prize - $100; Honorable mention - $50

All winners will receive personalized feedback from El Williams III, Poetry Editor for Indiana Review. All winning poems will be published on BCPL’s website.

Poems will be judged anonymously by a team of teen volunteers

See last year's winners:

Introducing the 2022 Teen Poetry Contest First Prize Winner:

Mia Hess, She/They/He, Grade 10

About Mia: My name is Mia Hess and I am a junior at Columbus East High School. I am a member of the Sound and Spirit of Columbus marching band and the East speech team. Joining speech was a big push for me to write what I do the way I do and to be unapologetically myself in performance. My band and speech families have inspired me to be where I stand today, physically and in my poetry. 

Praise for "An Ode to Life Worth Living"

"This poem begins with a rollercoaster and ends in a dance — and what a beautiful up and down, whirl and twirl this poem does! Sweetly, gently, and with a deft hand, the poem maneuvers the reader through a stadium, into the stars, then deep into the body, and back into the sky, always in companionship. This poem reminds me that when we approach one another with compassion, care, and friendship, we are capable of giving and receiving vast wisdom. It’s true, “the world doesn’t end when you touch the ground” — it continues, as the speaker says, “through the clouds and among the stars”, and through each other, and our relationships with all that the universe contains. “We are never alone”, the speaker reminds us, which makes the fundamental truth that “everything changes, and so can we” more bearable. How lucky we are for this reminder, how lucky we are for this poem and poet."

-Samandar Ghaus, poet and Poetry Editor for Indiana Review.

An Ode to Life Worth Living

Life is a rollercoaster
We’ve all heard this before,
But we often overlook life like it's something as insignificant as an ant
The truth is… we’re so wrong
Learning to look for the little bits of good in everything,
A skill to build up self love, happiness, and a total disregard for every obstacle that I
don’t think I can climb,
Some of my favorite things are defined by numerics,
I like numbers so let’s start there,
Fifteen minutes on a field to perform a nine minute show,
On and off, a dance months in the making,
All 186 of us pushing through as one,
The stadium lights just as exhilarating every time,
Our feet and the music come to a close, and in that moment, moving off field,
The reiteration that we are a family,
The technical 12 hours that we call night,
Spent with others and sometimes just ourselves,
Yet we are never alone,
In this case I’m talking of the approximately 200 billion trillion stars in our universe,
Glinting and reflecting light for lightyears upon lightyears on planets and moons,
Somewhere out there there might just be some other form of light,
Some other friend or foe in endless territory,
Something we compare many things to, from time to life,
It’s another type of cycle, both of these,
Interacting with each other indefinitely,
The human body replacing almost all of its 37.2 trillion cells in between 7 and ten
Being a whole new body and the same old mind,
It’s oddly relieving,
Showing us that everything changes, and so can we,
Times we spend without a care in the world,
Letting go of struggles,
Reminding yourself that life isn’t about what others think of you,
How you are compared by your family,
Test scores and academic achievements,
Or even the way you feel in your own skin.
Cause in the end life moves on,
The roller coaster comes back up,
The world doesn’t end when you touch the ground,
It continues through the clouds and among the stars.
So when I say that I know life is worth it but still have this voice in my head saying
This is what I mean,
I have reasons but my brain doesn’t have it connected to fire properly,
Making a map without ink,
But someday I’ll have my “x marks the spot” when the pieces come together,
And instead of ending it all,
It will end the fall but instead of down it’ll be up,
Up into the sky and light,
Out of the dark,
And reaching the conclusion to this movement of my melody,
Instead of a tango with death, it will be a waltz with a windfall of possibility
No longer some limbo with life

Honorable Mention Winner:

Ananya Adur, She/her, Grade 11

About Ananya: My name is Ananya Adur, I’m 17 years old and I’m going into my senior year of high school. My hobbies include writing (of course), drawing, biking, and listening to music. I’ve been an avid reader and writer ever since I was kid, and I plan on minoring in creative writing in college!

Praise for "Run Away"

One of the most beautiful things about this poem is how it exists in the realm between joy and grief — it traverses that line in the wilderness of human desire that is often erased in favor of simple emotions. The poem reminds me that our greatest fears are often the same as our deepest desires, and reveal to us the keys to our embodiment. At the same time, this poem doesn’t feign certainty or decisiveness, allowing readers to relate to the speaker in a space of mutual vulnerability. “I have always wanted to escape,” the speaker repeats at the top of each stanza, and after each instance complicates this stated desire. I think I want this, but I’m scared and unsure, the poem seems to say, and I found myself looking at my own life and answering, Me too. What a gift to be invited back into the softness of not knowing, that tender and beautiful liminal space, by this poem. Thank you.

-Samandar Ghaus, poet and Poetry Editor for Indiana Review.

Run Away

I have always wanted to escape
Through pages of a book
To another magical place far away from here
With pirates sailing across the ocean and witches stirring their cauldrons
Where the wind is a comforting call and the grass parts to let me through
So I can feel like my existence is more than my college applications, my GPA
So I can conquer mystical lands without conquering my fears in the real world
I have always wanted to escape
To a world I have created from the ground up
Where the characters are broken reflections of me
And they say the things I have never been able to say
Because they are bolder than me, stronger than me
And somehow it was always easier to write what I was feeling
Because saying it out loud made it too real
I have always wanted to escape
Some days I wonder if I will drift so far away from the real world
That I will never come back
Like a little boat
Sitting in the middle of the calm sea
Glancing back to see if land is still in sight
And one day it isn’t...
I have always wanted to escape
But I forget that I may not be able to return
I have always left the door slightly open
But if it ever closes
It locks

Honorable Mention Winner:

Carrie Wang, She/Her, Grade 8

About Carrie: My name is Carrie, and I’m 13 years old. I will be a freshman at Columbus North High School in the fall. In my free time, I like to play soccer and talk to my friends!

Praise for "Lost-and-Found"

“Lost-and-Found” brings the best of fiction’s skills of world-making together with poetry’s power of concision and metaphor to enchant the reader, practicing what the celebrated writer Fanny Howe calls the power of “bewilderment”. What this poem does with great skill is upend reality so that we may be invited, paradoxically, deeper into the mystery of life. I love that this poem leaves me wondering — what does it mean, to “[agree] too fast at the thought of forever”? Would I do the same, do I belong with the others in this poem? One of the best things a poem can do is present an impossible question, allowing wonder to linger and grow inside the reader. This poem dares to touch the heart and return to the page with exactly what was found there, channeling a language beyond language — which is what poetry needs to be, and which is what we need in poems."

-Samandar Ghaus, poet and Poetry Editor for Indiana Review.


Number One married a ghost
in the downtown bar,
just before rush hour.
Two gets stuck much too often.
Claims the old top hat still fits, pulls
it on because the magic shop is always lonely.
I saw Three sealing bones
back together yesterday. Asked him
to do mine; he said I had to break them first.
Four got lost long ago. Five doesn't talk anymore,
I don't think. Six just found out that heartache is
the worst kind of pain to feel.
We were the lost-and-found kids,
the sing-your-feelings kids, the only
ones who agreed too fast
at the thought of forever.

Honorable Mention Winner:

Submitted by Anonymous

Praise for "Blue"

"This poem is a beautiful meditation on the color blue, with blue forming a bridge between the internal world of the body to the external world. “In waking or in dream,” the poem says, and I am reminded that we can see even with our eyes closed, even when we’re asleep. The poem itself reads like a dreamscape, crossing between internal and external until the division is muddled and we are left with a wash of color. “The blue folds in” to the speaker and the poem, and I feel myself floating in the water created by these words. Blue seems to haunt the speaker, but the haunting is welcome — a ghost that does not fit easily into categories of “good” or “bad”, but exists in its own depth. What wisdom to recognize that even something like color has agency! We need poems like these to help us see otherwise invisibilized truths: that everything has soul and spirit, and that reality exists beyond the tangible world."

-Samandar Ghaus, poet and Poetry Editor for Indiana Review.


Blue ink bleeds into my eyes
A vast ocean of deep lapis
My tears mix it lighter,
A canvas of cerulean bandits
Bright white lights,
Close my eyes once more
View the sapphire sky,
Plod out the navy door
Sleep haunts my eyelids
The blue folds in,
Dreams of azure ink
From a cobalt pen
Time and time
I see the shades
In waking or in dream
Aegean, admiral, indigo, peacock
Every blue I always see