2021 FRESH VOICES POETRY COMPETITION
Hill-Stead Museum is pleased to announce the winners of the 28th annual Fresh Voices Poetry Competition. It was our greatest pleasure to host these young poets during the pandemic. The symmetry of our idyllic setting in the Farmington Valley combined with the nascent talent of our winners is truly representative of the beliefs of our founder, Theodate Pope Riddle. Prioritizing education and artistry is a legacy we are proud to model and share with our winners. Our connection to the local schools is paramount to the work we do at Hill-Stead, and each year this competition is a highlight for us all.
As you read the works of our winners below, take time to bask in hope for the future guided by this upcoming generation of poets. Hill-Stead has been dedicated to sharing poetry with the nation since the inception of the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival in 1992 and its success led to the creation of Fresh Voices. This rigorous competition culminates in the reading and publication of the winner’s poems, but also creates a bridge between the established poets highlighted in the festival. Winners will spend time in workshops furthering their craft and creating connections in the poetry world to do all they can to foster their growth. Congratulations to this year’s incredible group of winners, we eagerly look forward to watching their future creativity and growth.
Executive Director and CEO
2021 Fresh Voices Poetry Competition Winners
Eve Brouillard Rockville High School
Nora Holmes William H. Hall High School
Jamara Jean Westover High School
Valli Pendyala South Windsor High School
Cindy Truong ACES Educational Center for the Arts
Eve Brouillard is currently a senior at Rockville High School, the trumpet section leader of the marching band, and a Humanities scholar. Eve spends a lot of time reading and writing, as well as creating more stories with friends through Dungeons and Dragons and other tabletop games. They love to seek inspiration by walking through outdoor trails as well as museums, taking photos along the way. Eve won an honorable mention in the 2019 Scholastic Art and Writing Contest and had two works published in the Connecticut Student Writer 2020 magazine. This year, they received the gold key in the Scholastic Awards for poetry. In the future, Eve hopes to continue writing and publishing their original poetry.
I. the first encounter
2:04 AM, and my eyes are glued
on a figure at the corner of my bed
writhing, pulsing flesh
yet it’s calm and collected, staring at me
it says BE NOT AFRAID through closed mouths
so many luminous eyes, drilling into my soul
flattening my lungs in my chest and yet
I can’t find the courage to scream
why does the night taunt me so
with its visions of demons with wings?
II. the epiphany
I cannot hide from you, seeping, oozing
into my sanctum of dreams
more often now than ever
I must find a way out, to
cleanse myself from your abhorrent sins
this is what pastor Clark tells me
as I sit in this dark box, oil-slick confessions
dripping from my parched pale lips
dry and cracked like the skin he wears
as he too now stands at the foot of my bed
III. demonized catholicism
church bells bring no solace to my ears
as I sit and pray for your forgiveness
ceaseless watching, mute lips caressing divinity
your whispers cannot hold me anymore
knees bent, hands clasped
eyes downward towards from whence you came
a shadow you loom over me
yet I know you and I are one and the same
IV. heavenly hellscape
they tell me to close my eyes, return to my dreams for a while
but I know that they’re trying to trick me
I can see their gnarled horns and hidden smiles
through their tears and fake pleading
if they were truly themselves they wouldn’t want me to sleep
I see you everywhere now, your face blurring
with those of my friends and family
too many eyes stare into mine
red and cracked and dry
you’ve blurred my divine vision
one too many times
V. divinity returned
soft flames dance and warm my cold skin
abyssal shrieks are tinkling music to my ears
the reds and oranges glow,
comforting against the void of dusk
I can smell your flesh burn
the firemen come eventually, say
they’re here to rescue me
but I have already reinvented my salvation
a blanket wraps around me slowly
goodbye my sweet demon forevermore
Love Poem to a Disguised Faerie
when you told me you weren’t human the first time
I smiled and played along, dancing in the moonlight
I had always thought those wings were a trick of the night, just
slivers of rays dancing in my vision
you always counted the sugar packets
one, two three into both of our coffees
a little too sweet for me but I didn’t care
sure, you didn’t like using the silverware but
I never thought less of you for it
you always smelled like rain and woodsmoke
whenever I pressed up against your form
your laugh tinkled like the bells you always wore
around your petite hands and in your pointed ears
now I can truly see your wings when I look back and remember–
Dying at a Rave Isn’t Much Fun: A Golden Shovel
“We real cool. We left school. We lurk late. We strike straight. We sing sin. We thin gin. We jazz June. We die soon.” (Gewndolyn Brooks)
Walking into smoke and mirrors, we
entered the pulsating rave. Is this even real,
I heard you say. The lights turned a cool
shade of blue and purple as we
mingled with the bodies.
You had left
about an hour ago. Faces indiscernible as those at school,
you had suggested that we
ditch the place for somewhere else to lurk.
After all, you had said, it’s way late,
we should head home. I said, we
just got here! No need to strike
up a fuss! You always did shoot pretty straight.
Though to you, it was always we.
My real friends and I, we’d sing
karaoke under the neon, thinking of something better than sin.
Sobbing under the influence of whiskey, we
looked at the other girls, so thin,
drinking crystal clear gin
as if it was the apocalypse. We
heard the first gunshots ring out as jazz
sounded through the early June
morning. Even though we
had the night of our lives, if I knew I was going to die,
I wouldn’t be in heaven this soon.
Colors of the Mind’s Love
When I see her, I see two pinks
I see one of brightness and neon
Swirling and blossoming colors dancing in the night
Cool air blows on my face
The skyline lit up with bright lights
The other is a soft blush of rose
Of plush sheets and early morning sunrises
Strawberries freshly washed
as we eat a sweet breakfast
When I see them I see two blues
The first of a greyish steel, rain drops
Dripping down a window, book and tea in hand
Soft smells of petrichor permeating the air
But also a brilliant sky blue
Cloudless days, the warmth of the sun
Flowers blooming as early summer rolls in
When I see us I see a multitude of colors
Rainbows and rainbows
As the days and nights seem to fly by
Greens, purples, blues, pinks, all of these
new and wonderful feelings I’ve never felt before
Like a rush of stunning butterflies
She’s the pink blush in my cheeks
They’re the blue of the sky in my eyes
But together they truly make me whole
Nora Holmes is a rising senior at Hall High School where she also runs track and cross country. She has been recognized by NCTE, The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, The New York Times, and the Connecticut Student Writers project. When she is not writing or running, you can find her laughing at her own jokes and starting debates in her history classes.
We treat the conversation of abuse
As if it were a phenomenon,
A wildfire started by lightning,
Even when we all know exactly which transformer rained down sparks,
Even when we know exactly which wire snapped,
We stand there whispering to each other afterwards that it was a long time coming.
If you’ve been so lucky as to have a daughter,
What’s the first thing that you whispered into her ears
When she was handed back to you after they washed her of your blood and sweat and power?
Were your first words to her a promise to fight for her sweet smile, to guard her twisting vine of a laugh as if it were your own?
Did you tell her that her fourth great grandmother defied norms, was called a witch and burned for it?
Did you tell her that if she has the strength in her to say No, she may be called a whore and raped for it?
Or did you vow to let her be the innocent blossom of soft skin and gentle sleep as long as possible, knowing she’d be forced to grow thorns eventually if she wanted to survive?
I was raised in Connecticut, surrounded by old money democrats and drip dried feminists,
so drunk on their idea of liberation that they forgot to teach their sons the meaning
of a vodka soaked “im not sure,”
the slow rise of a hand poised in protest
Right before I turned fifteen, I dated a boy.
Did you teach your daughters to bow to power when it came thundering towards them, to let others fight the battles that they had no hope of winning,
Or did you teach them not to look away, to smile at it like maybe this once, we, the women, would win?
Mine loved me fiercely, read to me from the New York Times before I could speak, kept every single scribble I’ve ever made,
but she taught me to bow.
His family welcomed me with so much love I didn’t know what to do with it all,
Hailing me as the spitfire feminist I was trying find in the laces of my doc martens and biting lines of my essays
His mother slipped quotes about the impossible under stones from the beach and
Tucked books about resistance under tag sale seashells and wooden Buddhas.
She was a therapist and whenever I was with her, she’d make soft eye contact, nod wistfully as I deflected her questions, laughed with me when I made bad jokes.
She and I loved to tease her son together,
About his lack of coordination,
his terrible sense of time,
his crappy haircuts.
She loved the way I fought for myself,
Until it was against her son.
Until when he told me about The Addiction,
one that he wouldn’t give up for me,
even as it felt like a sliver of flint was lodged
in that soft space
between my ribs and the
line of my collarbone.
He made promises he knew he wouldn’t keep, saying
he wouldn’t let it hurt me,
And when he hit me, in some fit of passion lit aflame by this addiction, it somehow wasn’t a big deal.
She knew the direction where he was headed and she let it happen, this complete breakdown of everything I had worked to build with him, but also with her.
This woman, a daughter and a mother, forgot the promises she made to me, and she turned off the lights she pretended to shed on us with all her blind enlightenment.
The pink hat in the back of her closet meant nothing compared to her son, her family, her pride.
You cannot break the promises you make to other women’s daughters simply because you feel silence is owed to your sons.
You cannot just attach your receipts to the refrigerator with RBG magnets and vote blue, pretending that your son will do the same and in this, the world is fixed.
What is expected is respect.
For the girl your son brings home, even if she shows more skin than you did at her age, even if she says no instead of yes to things that make her wince
Even if she’s not the American sweetheart you wish she were, quietly saying no and praying he won’t ask for an explanation.
Even if she screams into the phone and eventually saves herself by locking the door on his way out.
What is owed is recognition, what is owed is a sharp eye, looking for the breathtaking weight of silence His mother refused to see in me.
What is owed is reverence.
What is owed is the purest tempest of your fury
Once a single
Is laid on
Because even though she is not yours,
She is still us.
She is still ours.
Dear future daughter –
I’m writing in case we never meet – in case this virus reaches me before you do. The more the cases rise, the more I think about you and try to reach out for another person i cannot touch.
I picture your hands gripped around one of those Ticonderoga pencils as you’re filling out an assignment for your elementary school history class. It will be the assignment where you have to interview an older generation on something Important that happened in their lifetime. And i imagine your hair will be tawny brown like mine is and maybe you’ll have one of those grippies around your pencil, the one you begged me to buy for you in the checkout line at Staples. And you’ll ask me what it was like in 2020, and what it felt like to be alive when the world was dying.
i will tell you about the silence. How the air was still, the streets were empty and the parking lots had been reclaimed by the crows.
i will tell you it was hidden in the little things, all this dying. i saw it in the papers thrown at the end of our driveway by the masked driver of weathered Toyota,
but i also saw it as i watched ensnared masks flutter in the bushes against the April wind. i saw it in the eyes of the people i passed, the way they looked down and held their breaths when they saw me.
i will tell you how much fear there was.
How we were all choking on our own resistance to death. Some of us craved life enough to hide from it behind locked doors and windows and cloths tied behind our ears.
And if you ask again later, when you are older, i will tell you more.
The week of the riots, the demands for life to be sacred again. The hope chanted through all of us into the megaphone of the young, Black, Womxn activist, and how she too met tear gas and rubber bullets.
i will remind you that the government left us to die. How they promised things and money and hope that never came. And i will tell you about all the times Politics with a capital P came up, and how many times i heard it said that No One Is Coming To Save Us.
A hurricane came and took out our light. The branches fell and locked us into our block, isolating us three times over. Even though they charged us more for the power than they ever had before, they still left us in the dark. It took them days to give the light back and clear away the bodies of the trees that used to shelter us.
And the people who used to shelter us, we lost them too. There was a beautiful girl with copper colored hair i saw every day on the way to my first period class. i missed her in the spring, i missed the feeling of other people pushing me along through the hallway, knowing i could not fall if they were there holding me up. i longed for the way it felt as someone’s hand brushed against my skin.
i will start crying in front of you, weeping, sobbing for everything that was lost that year. The silence and the flames and the wind and the touch, all of it will come cascading down my skin in front of you.
i went to an aviary once in June and i saw beautiful feathers stuck in the wires of the fences and talons that could have sliced the pale skin of my hands if i tried to get too close. It was haunting, all this feral beauty. i’ve spent more time than i used to watching the birds in the yard as they preen in puddles and raise chicks under my window. And i think that when you come,
when i reach you,
i will call you Wren.
My Little Bird.
And your feathers will not be electric and your song will not pierce the morning, but it will still make me weep when i hear it.
You will not be displayed for the world to see and touch and adore.
JaMara “Mara” Jean
JaMara “Mara” Jean is a rising senior who currently attends The Westover School. Mara has been writing poetry since she was in the 5th grade. During some time in the 7th grade, Mara was handpicked by a teacher to write, memorize, and perform at a Slam Poetry Show. When she began high school, she took part in her first production ever, Much Ado About Nothing. Since then, she’s acted in seven productions at her school and is currently the First Drama Head. She can thank her theatrical knowledge and ability to the many productions she has been in thus far and her poetic ability to both her teacher in 7th grade who encouraged her to write slam poetry and Thomas Juvan, who taught her everything she has learned about poetry at Westover.
On Sunday afternoon when our famished bellies ached
after the 11 a.m. service and my mother went into the
kitchen to cook our long-awaited breakfast, reggae felt
like gospel and “Three Little Birds” was the sermon you
never grew tired of hearing. This time, other than
out-of-tune sing-alongs, she remarks, “I remember
hearing this when I was on the island.” It played on
distant radios when my mother “ran boat” and cooked
up plantain and ackee and whatever else she could
find for the children in her neighborhood.
At beaches in Montego Bay and Kingston, the ones
they visited as a treat during the summer. In backyards
during Christmas time when mama and her seven kids
gathered around to watch “The Sound Of Music”
in black-and-white on the tv. The Christmas dinner
that was chock-full of fruit cake, cured ham, rice and peas,
mac and cheese, and sorrel following soon after.
Even in celebrations at the end of New Year’s Eve
service at church, when the clock struck 12 and everyone
exclaimed “Alleluias!” thanking the good Lord for another year.
The song fades out now and Spotify leaves no space for
silence, so “Is This Love” follows and once more, I’m
invited into the endless scenes of her past.
A charm of hummers in polychromatic hues tweet
and chirp their inconsiderate tunes. Boastful, like Icings, they devour
gatherings of beetles and ants, crunching and splitting their bodies
into chunks between their beaks, consuming such an abundance that
their feathered bellies protrude and swell.
The orchestra continues, a cacophony
of notes, neither melodious nor in tune, but persistent.
Even when their throats sore and saliva dribbles from their beaks,
they don’t stop. Their voices remain thunderous.
A black hatchling, neglected, falls to impale herself on the prickly twigs below.
Still, they do not stop. She begins to decompose, the maggots and flies
swarm, the smell of her carcass wafts towards their perched spot in the
tree, pungent on the tips of their tongues. Still, the ruckus remains.
So when you ask why black hummingbirds don’t sing, we ask why don’t you listen?
Valli Pendyala is a sophomore at South Windsor High School. She is a member of her school’s mock trial and Model United Nations teams, and she is the president of the Sexuality and Gender Alliance. Valli is also a member of South Windsor Future Leaders in Politics. Over the summer, Valli plans to attend the National Student Leadership Conference Political Action & Public Policy program. Valli is passionate about participating in the political process and advocating for issues she is passionate about, both locally and nationally. In her spare time, Valli enjoys reading, spending time with her sister, and learning about history. She is currently working for her Gold Award, the highest award in Girl Scouts, and has previously earned her Silver Award. Valli plans to major in political science and economics.
ode to diving into the wreck
if my face is a
mask i wear to hide my
night is when i take
off the too tight
skin and breathe
skeleton stark against a
a marble colossus tiny
in the face of infinite
stars and infinite doubts
a profound connection
to the universe and
i crave the kiss of the
depths of the
sea, but i do not
know if that is because i am in love
with her or if i wish to flee
the vast constraints
of this uniform world
a plain sameness as mask-like and
false as the labels i give myself to
breathe and fit in because
lesbian fits better than he
i lower myself into the
ocean and taste the salt
water and copper
blood wetting my lips and whetting
my hunger for the fight between the
sea and the soul and the sky and the stars and the sun a
fight between the me and the you and the they and the she and the xe
the oxygen of the surface and the drowning
of the water red and roaring the ocean
for freedom the endless
depths of the sea
depths you are both
drowning in and swimming through
an insect crawling
up the side of a
cruise ship a
aircraft carrier a
the ladder is safety and freedom and a
prison at the same time
in reach of the rungs i
fight between cowardice or courage between
floating to the surface and
sinking into the ocean
a choice between a
home and horrors although i do
not know which choice is which
a guided tour of a racial minefield by Valli Pendyala
classroom discussions of race are grenades. shrapnel of
thought slicing my thick skin belonging
and not in flux
melanin in the room choosing
too dark to be light,
too brown to be right
an indian caught
a net of two extremes
balancing appropriate topics
codeswitching shouldn’t apply in
“this is a safe space” to
talk about racism (i have never been attacked by police)
what about me? (i should feel bad)
my thoughts = as bad as them
my own experiences (never as bad as theirs)
hate, graded on sliding scale
bad <—————-|—————–> worse
me is a box in a box a niche in the wall
of words slamming against my
head whenever i open my eyes
“reporting live from atlanta
a spree of shootings by a
poor man having a bad day”
march 16 2021
“a day that will live in infamy”
a spree of shootings
tip the scale to worse
hate crimes against
“asian-american pacific islanders”
20.502 million square miles = 4 small words
me ≠ asian the way you think
the first though of Asian follows
India was first reached on sea anyway
a subcategory of who i
should be is who i am
Asian: definition crazy rich asians & k-pop
ramen not papu & koora
lo mein not pani puri
forcedtogether by c|a|t|e|g|o|r|i|e|s
boxes built by foreigners
boiled down to chicken tikka masala
(a british dish)
(i prefer coffee)
still, grin and bear it because at least
at least my people are not being murdred
at least the system lets me be
at least slavery does not scar my ancestors
at least is what got us here
at least is all we hear
settle for racism better
than the worst
settle for whipping words better
settle for microaggressions better than
paint the sinking ship
don’t fix it
let the band play on the deck of the titanic
don’t bother evacuating
do everything to avoid
upsetting the Establishment because first
you are brown then you are
you can never escape the ghost of a bloodstained
handprint smeared across my face blood
dripping into my eyes ears mouth nose the only
thing i can feel sometimes because this (his)story yoked
my shoulders breaking from the pain i was never taught to carry
an invisible burden carried as long as i have known but
why is the question unanswered
My People have lived the centuries that we study
yet the story of the centuries is not theirs
an existence so long that Indian means
the nation-states that made up Bharat because
we were greece before greece was yet greece
is the cradle of modern civilisation and we are
savages living in dirt-hovels
i do not yet know the history of my people
but i know the history of them
the only record i have
existence: the ancestors traced back to 1790
yet the important thing, they claim is
“true history, the history that matters”
a history of cishet white men
ignore everything else, what have they done?
a microscope on the
colonisers, the imperialisers, the oppressors
a sheet over the dead bodies of those they
colonised, they imperialised, they oppressed
am i lazy for not learning about my culture
am i lazy for falling asleep to a different history every night
am i lazy for clutching at any thread of community
how many histories must i read into the
night because they have been+++++++++++++++++++tossed
by the department of education?
america as melting pot is true
america melts the culture off your bones and
down when you refuse to leave it
point of this poem?
there is no point in defining me
by my race because i am not an
Indian in the way that you think. then again a
“Good Poet” should leave the
message up to the Reader, so i guess
i can’t even do that right
Cindy Truong is a senior at Platt High School in Meriden and the Educational Center for the Arts, where she studies creative writing. She will be attending New York University this upcoming fall and plans to major in English. Cindy finds inspiration in her Vietnamese heritage and culture along with her Vietnamese-American experience. She’d like to give her biggest gratitude to her teachers and workshop at ECA, for being the place that nurtured her and allowed her to find her voice.
It must’ve been middle of April
when they painted over the wall. Now I stare
at what was the Hello Madrid! sign,
the three old women in headscarves
now toothless, smiles blacked out.
The tapas bar owner who hungers dogfights
droops on the phone, ¿Aló? Is this Mateo—no?
and rolls tobacco in a crumpled receipt.
The street painter who only talks to faces he draws
presses a palm to the wall as if to remember
contours of skin and muscle.
The homeless girl who holds a sign reading
WILL MARRY FOR FOOD
tugs my wrist, ¡Perdóneme!
Would you like to do a good deed today?
Even stray cats who found asylum
too aware of territory rebranded.
They stop and stare
all who pass by the wall.
No, they do not look at the new painting.
Instead they squint, as if willing shed
to reveal the eyes of three old women
in headscarves peeking through.
Ba ơi, when you called me post-spinal fusion, rigid
and frail, I envisioned your death. I hovered over you
and your eyes, seared through me. Taunted
me. Fear defeats my body and my will
to obey. I bowed to you, con xin lỗi ba, con xin lỗi,
tha thứ cho con. Your loss is nothing short of a tyrant’s
and I feel relieved more than pain, more than reason. I tell you
of your nameless guilt. This time, I ink your bruise. You must
let me. But I cannot blame you. I know
of your trauma, your rattling exile. Decades ago
when you were thirteen, you rode your bicycle home
past the auntie’s sticky rice stand.
Your father held you by your scruff
like a dog and stamped his cigar. You’ll pass it off
as a vaccine scar, but I know
your right shoulder betrays you, blistering.
You bowed to him, con xin lỗi ba. Con xin lỗi, tha thứ
cho con and Ba, I am afraid. You’ve taught me to fear
you and even now, I am afraid
of being you. Even now,
as you arch towards the ceiling,
I bend my face to yours and outlive you.
I croon in your ear and you push me away,
say it’s as if a thousand geese
You say it turns you off when I speak Vietnamese
+++++++++++++++ăn cơm nè++++++(let’s eat)
+++++++++++++++tôi đi tắm+++++++(I’m taking a shower)
+++++++++++++++thằng khốn nạn++(bastard)
Don’t you know?++++++Tiếng Việt
language of kings and noblemen,
of poets and prostitutes,
of blooming corpses and balladeers
aunties and uncles drunk singing karaoke
belt into Heineken microphones.
I try to kiss you like this,
mouthful of whiny syllables for you
It’s not my fault you only see the ugly.
++++++My mother Dung, named after a cotton rose
++++++reborn as a pile of feces.
++++++My father Tuấn, spoken like a twang of an arrow
aimed towards the throat.
Don’t you know? Cindy is not my real name
but an alias.
Call me Ngọc Bích
the name I almost had
a daughter like a precious pearl,
instead an oyster robbed of its treasure.
I know my parents were afraid of people like you
calling me a bitch.
So call me what you want,
Cindy, daughter of Sandy and David
American nuclear family in disguise—
Press your tongue into my neighing neck