January 18, 2016

Princeton University High School Poetry Contest Winners Announced

Princeton University’s Program in Creative Writing is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 High School Poetry Contest.

All contest entrants are currently juniors in high school. The winning poems were selected by a jury consisting of Program in Creative Writing facultyRead the winning poems below.

First Place:
Hillel Rosenshine, “I Know New York”
New York, NY

Second Place:
Emily Ling, “on the way to area 51”
Greenville, SC

Third Place:
Katherine Liu, “Immortality”
Lincolnshire, IL


Honorable Mentions:

Annabelle Crowe, “Christ of the Abyss”
Asheville, NC

Kathryn Hargett, “A man pushes my classmate in front of an eighteen-wheeler then takes communion”
Birmingham, AL

Allison Huang, “In the Wake”
Princeton, NJ

Karissa Kang, “In Mother’s Absence”
Andover, MA

Suzan Kim, “Dear H.S. Expatriate,
Cresskill, NJ

Irene Vazquez, “The Three Things She Was Most Afraid Of—Until She Wasn’t”
Houston, TX



First Place

Hillel Rosenshine
New York, NY

I Know New York

I once heard that if you eat a fish from the Hudson River, you’ll get dysentery.
If you eat one from the East River, you’ll get pneumonia.
You can go to Sheepshead Bay,
but that’s too far.

Gracie Axelrod tried to kiss the moving c­train,
maybe in a hundred years it’ll be old
and slow enough
for her to smooch.

“None of y’all are honest.”
The bearded blind man with a hole in his collar turns,
sits for a moment.
He stretches his legs out to trip me,
and for a moment he stares and he isn’t blind.
His eyes are darts. Liar.
He trips me to see me, sees me to reach me.
And I can’t bear him.

The Hasidic man asked where I live.
I said Harlem.
Beyond Flatbush, he confirmed.
Yes, beyond Flatbush.

Lena moved from Poland in 1972.
She married a New Yorker.
She didn’t understand him.
And who could blame her?

Teenaged Tommy sits on a fire escape.
The kids are inside.
The kids feel warm.
The kids are together.
The kids feel alone.

I can’t really explain the winter.
I can only say it’s hard to breathe, but it’s worth the smell.

Gracie became a ballet dancer at Lincoln Center.
All she wanted to do was dance on the platform.
She didn’t care for the eyes,
she believed in traversing the parallel tracks,
ricocheting between giants.
Forget grace.

I can’t really explain the winter.
I can only say it’s an unrequited love.

When I was 4, I decided the suburbs would be a fitting place for a child to grow.
Like a tree on TV.
When I was 8, I sat on the Hudson banks of the Cloisters.
I thought, if I could stare past the grime then I could see Battery Park City. It looked pleasant.
When I was 12, I travelled to Venice.
It wasn’t New York, so I felt ill.

Lena didn’t marry a man,
She married a city.
He saw too much to be a man.
She said “I do”.

“None of ya’ll are honest.”
“You ain’t a good person.”
I fall to reach him, I become blind to see him.

Gracie loved ABCD.
There was a point where she could stand between the two tracks,
and feel the miracle of two trains arriving simultaneously.
The thrill of infinite impossibilities compels infinite attractions.
Gracie was truly a dancer.

Lena had a child.
One child.
She loved him, she really did.
When he became a skyscraper, when his eyes became windows, when he didn’t sleep at night,
she asked her husband what she had done, what she had done to her boy.
You’ve given him everything, he said.

Tommy heard about a girl in the paper who was struck by a train.
It was not a suicide.
She was only a few years older than he was.
She could have been one of the kids inside.
She could have been lonely, she could have been warm.
He could have been on the fire escape and looked back and seen that there was a lack
of presence, a lack of a girl, a lack of New York.



Second Place

Emily Ling
Greenville, SC

on the way to area 51

my friend’s father, the sound of an exhaust pipe,
won’t reveal why he was
dishonorably discharged. instead he tells
us about letting chickens
loose at a school assembly. feathers falling
like my body after
i wouldn’t sit down in the back of a truck.
even darwin can’t explain
why we spend a decade with our hoodies pulled up
smoking behind tombstones,
waiting for blackholes to flip inside out and
carry us somewhere new.
i want to understand. like the scientists
who said light
travels faster than anything, only at harvard,
a beam of light once sped
at 38mph. a speed i once thought was
fast. an on-­your-­toes
kind of calling to jump out the car.
the abandoned bus
on highway twenty-­five, hollow vines and paint chips,
will probably move eventually.



Third Place

Katherine Liu
Lincolnshire, IL


The fox spirit knocks. Evening settles
in the white fog canyon, under the arms

of spruce and pine. She lifts her nose
to air, nine tails brushing between her legs,

skirt falling to the floor like a secret.
The door swings: ferried light.

Also, hypnosis. Later, she teases soul
from body, hears the brass rolling

atop collected hearts. Because, she says,
she was hungry and wanted to live.

Seasons of green expand. The hills
also unfold. Snow comes before

warmth. She is matchstick and unblue.
She feels and is unfulfilled. The last

house fills. She whispers in his ear
where waves lead fastest to the heart.

He coughs out a piece that rattles
in her palm. Not a soul, but a coin.

Sinking, an eclipsing copper gleam,
the cold kiss of it.


Note: this poem reimagines the myth of the Chinese huli jing (fox spirit). Commonly depicted as women, huli jing are shapeshifters that attain immortality by seducing men for their masculine energy.

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