January 2018

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2017 Fresh Voices Poetry Competition Winners.

Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival, Hill-Stead Museum is pleased to once again
present the popular Fresh Voices Student Poetry Competition. Established in 1993 by the Young Writers Institute in conjunction with Hill-Stead, and maintained thereafter by the museum, this beloved component of the festival has introduced countless emerging young poets to one of the country’s most receptive audiences.

Fresh Voices is part of the museum’s ongoing commitment to promoting poetry and creative arts initiatives in schools across the state. Each year up to five high school students from throughout New England are selected to receive composition and performance mentoring from professional poets, as well as read on the main stage before a live audience on Connecticut Young Poets Day on closing night of the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival.

Congratulations to the winners of our 2017 competition, who were selected from over 100 impressive entries. I’m certain you will enjoy the Sunken Garden debut of these talented students.

Susan Ballek
Executive Director & CEO Hill-Stead Museum

Student Poets
Send your entry in for this year’s competition before the March 30, 2018, deadline! For guidelines and an entry form, see Fresh Voices Poetry Competition.

2017 Fresh Voices Poetry Competition Winners

Rachel Horowitz-Benoit, EO Smith High School
Sophia Durand, Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts
Joyce Hida, Rockville High School
Verne Lanier Mackoff, Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts
Sophie Spaner, Valley Regional High School

The 2017 Fresh Voices Chapbook is available for sale in the Museum Shop.


Rachel Horowitz-Benoit is a recent graduate of Edwin O. Smith High School, where she has been the captain of the crew team, vice president of the DECA business club and the National Language Honor Society, and a member of Mu Alpha Theta and the National Honor Society. Most recently, she started the Poetry Club at her school, which creates a space for the writing, reading, and performing of poetry both in school and at local slams and competitions. She is a passionate writer of both poetry and prose and was named the prose champion of the Connecticut Young Writers’ Awards as well as placing at the national level in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards competition. The most formative experiences for her as a writer have been the Juniper Institute for Young Writers
at the University of Massachusetts and the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio. She is heavily influenced by her favorite poets. who include Charles Bukowski and Zachary Schomburg. She is a fervent lover of language and has enjoyed learning Spanish and Hebrew. She is hoping to pick up more languages when she attends Middlebury College in the fall. Rachel lives in Willington, CT.


I recently learned that the Hebrew word for body
Is goof,
Like a joke
Like a body is something made for laughing.
But once you make the word feminine,
Goof to goofah,
It becomes a corpse.
I learned this the same day that I learned
Bruno Fernandes de Souza, Brazilian goalkeeper,
Had just been signed by Boa Esporte
After serving just 7 years of a 22-year sentence
For murdering Eliza Samudio, his girlfriend,
Who had dared to demand child support
For a child she claimed came from the goof of Souza.
So he conspired with 9 others
To torture her
Murder her
Dismember her
And feed the goofah to his dogs.

In Hebrew, kelev is a dog.
The feminine, kalbah, is a bitch.
It does not matter whether
Souza’s dogs were male or female.
They were kelvim,
Eliza the kalbah.

Eliza Samudio reminds us
That an open mouth,
The necessary unlocked jaw for an additional ah,
Can transform a woman into a bitch,
A woman into a corpse.
My God tells me to shout praise with
Open lips,
So I pray in Hebrew,
To drown out the fear of a body
In the process of losing its tongue.

Nose Bleed Seats

“Nose bleed
Fourth floor.”

We don’t have a fourth floor
So it goes.

Was he hit?
Where does all this blood
Even come from?

He bled out
On the gym floor,
Held by his underclassman girlfriend
Who wailed
As rubber dodgeballs
Ricocheted round her.

Coach was alerted by the commotion
Arrived on the scene, sweaty
Ran his hands
Down her back.
They let go:
Last man standing.

A girl died in the fourth floor bathroom
She has been lying there for weeks
Like a devout and educated man.
Moral decay,
We reasoned,
Had brought this divine retribution.

The head of the math department
Tried to go in
But we stopped him.
“Shhhh,” we said,
“Don’t wake her . . .
She needs this rest.”

And look how close to God she is
Look how close;
Like front row at a concert
Reaching out with
Filthy fingers, screaming,
As God turned his back
And strutted to the other side of
The stage, of course.

And in the auditorium
We staged a crucifixion
Then a sweaty resurrection.
The parents booed from the audience;
We took a bow.


And my soul comes down
Dressed all aflame.
She is not attracted to me,
But she loves my body
Like a thing.
Hands do not have to
Be digging into my scalp to tell me
that something I thought was mine
Is not my own;
It’s funny how easily
You can be mistaken.
When I dress like this
Wear my skin like this
It invites ownership.
I am a ball on the wrong court.
I exhale helium and
Come down.
The lacquered wood is
Dirty on my cheek;
I know an asthma attack when I feel one.
I take deep breaths,
Inhale this whole town.
A body is not just a body if
You make it a metaphor.


I am miriam dancing with
the women and we found
the wells the water We drank
When God gave me leprosy i
danced in my tent and
sang still My people
stayed by my side They
did not leave me in the desert
and i was cured
They knew i was
womanhood personified
My arms are like
the sky They go on forever
People can’t help but stare
They extend with the fingers
of moonlight up to my
shoulders I move like the
ocean My body is the waves
The shore laps at my chest
Everything about me screams
childbirth I am
childbirth personified
My face is rounded
like a child’s but
my jaw is wide
enough to hold battles These armies
descend from my tongue and
start wars All i do is conquer
I was around when time began and
i’ll be here when it ends to
drown and resurrect myself
God is my mother God is my father
God will bring me back and
hold me tell me i am a god too
My people parted the sea
after moses said “let my people go”
and i crawled inside pharaoh and put my
lips inside his lips and we said


Sophia Durand will be a senior at Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts in Hartford, Connecticut and thanks all the Academy’s writing teachers for their kindness and assistance. She began writing poetry in ninth grade and would like to thank Mark Tomasino and Sheryll Petrosky from Cromwell High School. Sophia particularly enjoys the poetry of Emily Dickinson and Rupi Kaur, as well as a variety of other female authors. She has studied ballet and piano,
and currently enjoys acting. In college, she plans to major in English and literature with a minor in Creative Writing that will help her explore new forms of poetry and otherwise hone her writing skills. Sophia lives in Cromwell, CT


she always stood
on the heels of a snake
with poison in her veins.

months of becoming
a needle point
at the fangs of a monster

made her numb.

numb to the hope
that the cycle
might end,

that maybe, she could
escape the darkness
she knew as her home.

she knew that
the future stood
between the man

the light

and herself,
but she did not see
the promise

in her departure,
this aging man,
and the wind behind her.

freedom was not
something good anymore.
rather, it was like

stripping a bolt,
taking its purpose,
and trying to use it again,

to piece back together
a body bitten
one too many times.

how we talk about women

we talk about her
like the ghost
of a body
already in the ground

as if her burial
is the event
that defines her

we talk about her
as if we are graverobbers
looting her body
for profit

as if the only thing
she provides
is her face value

we talk about her
like her casket
is only large enough
to hold her vanity

as if she resides
inside this box
because of her beauty

we talk about her
like the skin
that slowly decomposes
was never cherished

as if her organs
only exist
to decay into dust

we talk about her
as if her skeleton
cannot catch our words
through rotting ears

but she hears it all

and even
beneath the dirt
she breathes.

how my sister signs

she speaks in quick movements,
the plucking of a string
and the staccato of a quartet.

she speaks in grand symphonies,
the pizzicato of the string section,
the loud blows from the percussion.

she speaks in adagio,
a smooth tempo to listen to,
an exquisite sonatina to watch.

she speaks like life is a cavatina,
as if she is a part of something,
not one person performing a solo.

she speaks in roulade,
one word rolling into the next
in a swelling series of notes.

she speaks like tessitura,
a comforting symbol
in the midst of chaos

she speaks like anyone does,
with all her beliefs pressed in her fingertips,
the world just an instrument she plays.


Joyce Hida is a recent graduate of Rockville High School. She is a recipient of a Scholastic Art and Writing National Gold Medal for her poetry as well as a gold key for her writing portfolio. Joyce has also been both the winner and the runner-up in the UConn ECE Wallace Stevens Poetry contest in the past few years and was a winner of the National Council of Teachers of English Essay Contest. Moreover, Joyce worked with James Lecesne (playwright,
actor, and co-founder of the Trevor Project) as part of Hartford Stage’s “Project Transform” to create a collaborative performance piece with other writers. She is very grateful to her Creative Writing teacher, Victoria Nordlund, for all of her endless support and care. Joyce’s other passions include drama club (as part of which she recently co-wrote the annual “Murder Mystery”), Model United Nations, community service, and Girl Scouts. During her senior
year, she was Student Council President at Rockville High School. Joyce will be attending the University of Pennsylvania in order to pursue her interests in English and International Relations. She lives in Vernon, CT.


Grandpa says in America they don’t drink coffee
the way they should.
He likes it black,
with a certain twang
to it,
the rhythm of the saucer hitting
the linoleum counter
where he sits with his
Their cups clink
and it sounds like the way he pronounces
and thick
and loud
and unafraid.

Grandpa and company are regulars.
Bodies of wisdom and grandeur,
smoke and strife,
leaning on their syllables like crutches
while ordering
Coff-ee, yes. Coff-ee.”
He rifles through his wallet,
pays with crinkled dollars earned from taking out the trash
at the house of God,
as his company hunches over tag sale dominoes,
new men molded from time beating mercilessly
upon foreign shores,
raving about
the coffee,
the money,
their reincarnation in America –
in Am-er-ika
where they are broken
and thick
and loud
and unafraid.

Daughter’s Decade in Thirds

Licorice tar-paved streets
Curl into melting hearth.
Feet hammer into soft earth,
I chase glowing ember moments,
Catch them in jars,
Set free.
Mother watches me dance at noon.
And the sun trails her lips
Across fleshy cheekbones
And through the gap in my teeth.

I’m never leaving Mother.


Mother is sinner,
Says she sins to turn me saint.
I show her tongue, and cheek.
I am spark,
Stretch my tendrils to heavens,
Yearn to be fire.
I think Mother is water,
I think Mother knows nothing,
I turn Mother to tinder.

I wish to leave Mother.


Licorice tar-paved streets
Curl into melting hearth.
I cannot wander their endings.
Feet hammer into concrete
and I open jars
Carrying faded embers.
Mother watches me sleep at dawn.
Worn as the linen she folds,
She smiles,
Presses lips against angled cheekbone
And misses the gap between my teeth.

I don’t want to do the leaving, Mother.


The women with the
nation in their wombs
grab at our collars.

“Have you seen my son?
The wild one,
the handsome one,
the jailed one,
the freed one.”

On and on and still no one.

Gunshots echo in their ribcages,
Shrapnel where their sons
once pressed against.

“There is no why,” we tell the mourners,
the mothers,
the ones we ask to build the hearth,
stoke the coals,
and pray the spark won’t catch.

“There is no why,” we say
and still it continues.

Excerpts of Asylum

Excerpts from my father’s Political Asylum Statement, July 1997

I was born in Tirana, Albania, in 1973
and since then I
have been oppressed.
Father’s plea
echoes from the faded
paper in my hands.
The typewriter caught a few times
on the same letter,
encumbered by shaking hands
and a devastatingly raw will to live.
Civil war raged on
but I wrote to crack
the walls of communism.”
Father was used to pen and paper,
ink bleeding through newspapers
staining coffee tables with
his cry –
“No More Injustice.”
“No More Corruption.”
“No More.”

and beaten
and detained,
I understood the madness of the system.”
He is on his knees before the immigration officer,
tracing over his bruises.
Body like wire,
he unravels.

He tells his story to America
and prays it is enough.
Looking for a chance of life
for me and my wife.


Verne Lanier Mackoff is a recent graduate of the Creative Writing  department of the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts. Verne’s body of work grapples with identity, searching for joy, pride, and meaning in the relationship between themself and a larger community. Verne would like to express gratitude for the encouragement of several mentors through the years, including Megan Collins Hatfield, Rafael Osés, and Andrew Reardon. They hope to make these people proud. Verne has been honored by the Connecticut Student Writers competition, in addition to winning the CREC Writes! Competition and their film “Civility” was featured in the New Haven Documentary Film Festival in June of 2017. Verne edited and contributed to the Academy school newspaper during 2013 and 2014, and has written multiple works of long and short fiction in the National Novel Writing Month program. Outside of the written word, Verne enjoys absorbing new knowledge and flavors, among which are textile arts and costuming, guitar, and languages (such as ASL, Russian, and Italian). Verne will continue to explore synthesis and unexpected language in their writing, refining their craft as they work towards eventually pursuing an MFA.

The Portland Wilds

She married a space man in the orchard at night
under as clear a sky as you see in suburbia.
Anyone would have been wooed by his earnest, lacquered
business card
with the pictures of the animals inside our hollow earth.
Her daughter swayed, stoned, in her boyfriend’s arms,
breaking and closing the circle of standing guests as she
rocked into and out of it.
My feet were swollen and tender, and I tripped in the dirt.
We attributed this to clumsiness, but actually,
I had been reeling on pink wine in my cousin’s van,
on the verge of vomiting as she whined, look normal in five
minutes, or
I’m in so much trouble, and raked through her hair.
But the bride was glowing, unearthly starshine mirrored in
her beaded shawls.
Duck feathers fluttered in her hair as she spun in circles,
When I speak of her, I may fondly recall her dissociated zeal,
but when I think of her, may I see her at the center
of concentric crop circles of love. May I see her giddy and


april in connecticut is me on the porch with pink lemonade on ice,
shorts and socks, and a lightweight blanket around my shoulders.
me in the wake of incense smoke – alone! gleeful.
the glide of the wicker rocking chair. the sun, the crows, the bees.
on the first day of april, rolling the bin to the curb, i shook off
my shoes
and stood there in the grass, suffused with the urge to give a
spring yell
like a bird, like the crack of ice melt, in the wake of this awakening,
connecticut casting off the cold, yet still caressed by goosebumps.
april in georgia is the red clay I was promised, is twenty-seven
waffle houses
between atlanta and savannah, bare feet in the white rental car.
we drive by a truck on fire. welcome to macon, indeed.
i am singled out as a tourist because i am in shorts and sweating
while the locals are bundled up. i think of southern lit. is this the
traumatized landscape
i’ve read about? i eat – full of shame – at a chik-fil-a. the chicken
is so good
i almost forget that they hate homosexuals. the lemonade, too
sweet for yankee tastebuds,
isn’t pink.

In the Context of Entropy, Perfect Internal Disorder
Is Synonymous with Equilibrium

how to talk about the irrational fear of gas
how to talk about encountering the word     jewfag     online
how to talk about the irrational fear
of gassing yourself accidentally running     a car     or     a generator
in the wrong place     within this frigid
east coast snow globe
how to talk this petty thought that she stole gas from you
along with the shoah     how to be shit
at dancing,     how to stay in bed,     not shower enough
how to talk about the jealousy in suicide     compounded by your
furious grief
how to be anne to her sylvia
how to know someone     by her future death     know her as well as
twins in the womb and then
how to get distant, and see her alive in the hall,     and     feel like
she is dead
how to talk about the irrational fear
of cute boys
how to talk about     the american jew     whatever that means
how to talk this intrusive thought no fats no femmes
how to live only for spite and
how to gas yourself, how to get truly gassed at new year’s playing
vodka pong
how to dissociate out to neptune to butterfly kiss with that gas giant
how to space out so far you touch a solar flare all quick-like,
like passing your finger
through candleflame and how to be so very deep in yourself,
to the quick,     to the cell wall
and kiss the sleep-gummy eyelids of every repressed thing
and carry in your face     the affliction of your father
as testosterone reshapes you
and how to realize you walk funny     and how to know that
whatever you even are you probably even aren’t

On Wanting an Extension of Yourself
and Getting a Son

I keep getting new freckles,
though I never go outside.
I have this hunch that in the dark,
fireflies get confused.
They land on me in my sleep,
chartreuse and fervent,
and when the sun comes up, they stick.

I came out wrong.
I should have been a concept
instead of a child,
so you could mull me over.
So you could come and go at will.

Did you leave because you knew
that I only had a girlhood
so you would keep on calling me Pumpkin,
that I pitched my voice up on the phone
so you would think
I stayed eleven and harmless?
Should I play the tapes of my life in reverse?
Should I see myself un-develop,
shrink firefly-small so I don’t threaten you?

Fireflies in a smattering across the night
are violently colored freckles.
They shout silently, wanting someone
to hear their colors.
I have been every color you wanted.
Now, it’s time to be chartreuse.

Fireflies in the day are unassuming.
I have a thousand brown firefly freckles
squashed onto my arms,
thrust against my skin by the sun.
At night, if it’s dark enough,
you can see me glow in constellations;
every atom of me wants to be acknowledged.

You were unprepared for the reality of me
as a surly teenager –
sterile, growing taller, growing freckles,
unwilling to parrot your dogma.
You wanted a firefly in a jar,
which, upon shaking,
would smack in agitation against the glass
and blink like flicking a lighter.
You wanted applause for basic parenting.
You wanted parenting
without bugs.
I’m forgetting your voice.

I am forgetting the jar.
I am forgetting the girl.
My arms are covered
in freckles you have never seen,
freckles you will never see.
There is an octave of my voice
which you will never hear,
since I will never call you again.

I took the scalpel to your expectations,
and to the girl that never lived.
She blew away like a dandelion,
once I peeled her off my freckling skin.
I took the scalpel to my shroud,
hoping to expose myself beneath it.
I cut and cut the rot away.
What was left were my wounds,
which I will fill with fireflies,
so I will glow where you left me empty


Sophie Spaner is a freshman at Valley Regional High School. She is equally passionate about writing, art and music. She has won the Connecticut Student Writers Contest in both poetry and fiction, was awarded the Edward R. Murrow award for journalism and was editor of her school newspaper. She is a singer, a ukulele player, a guitarist, a pianist, a songwriter, and has been active in school musicals as well as the school mock trial and debate team. Outside of writing, she enjoys eating eggs and painting on cardboard. She likes playing with her dog, who is a mix of who-knows-what and wrestling him when he eats rocks. She is also sort of good at the classic board game Othello, but still loses every time. She also likes politics and swimming. Sophie lives in Deep River, CT. She would like to thank her family and Bobbi Nidz for all of their support.


i used to be really good at origami
i could fold the truth,
they told me i was a spider
because i could spin one hell of a web of lies
in discussion,
never scared me
because by the next morning
i’d have a new name.
not… not my name
i can’t remember that one now
my identities were plentiful,
i could release them
like paper cranes into the wind
just to be littered onto the streets

i folded the photographs from my childhood.
my sixth birthday party soon became a butterfly,
my first day of kindergarten, a fox.
the images had no sentiment attached
they never really felt like they belonged to me.
they didn’t.
i claimed someone else’s childhood memories as my own,
i wanted to be that little girl with the
frosting-stained dress and the pigtails
running around her backyard with a party hat

crushed underfoot, they lay
crumpled next to cigarette butts and loose change
softened by rain
people noticed, but
no one ever did anything to help
no one ever did anything to help me, or the past me
the me that was you, or could’ve been
the me that took victims
all of the me’s that weren’t who they should’ve been
i wasn’t who i should’ve been.

crushed underfoot, i lay
with soil beneath my hair to support the weight of my skull
hardened by experience
no one has noticed that i
released the cranes.

The Parental Boogie

my parents were silly
they would put in a CD, let it run all night, and nobody
knew the words,
but it would keep going throughout prolonged sitting
and it would run and run and

my parents would stay silent throughout,
just soak and bask in this latin whirlwind
of baila baila baila, but when i got in bed,
blanket up to my ears, i would think and imagine
how they danced
when i was asleep

there were so many problems with the way that my parents
awkward and broken,
like rusty scissors cutting through white
my father’s hand balled into a fist, crumpled
he shook them off beat,
swaying his whole body with them
he smiled too big and
tried to pull people onto the dance floor,
even if they showed no interest, my father danced like he was
attending an eternal bar mitzvah,
suit and tie, yarmulke glued to his
sweaty bald head, the horah
his signature move, even when it was just him

and when it got slow, they would hold hands
middle school dance, quiet and not really knowing what step
came next

my mother danced like a flower in the wind,
fluttering and drifting, or maybe like a clock’s hand, tick tick

my parents danced liked everybody was watching and
they hadn’t a care in the world

she would grab my father’s hands and
messily press her lips against his
as they both laughed an intoxicated laugh, drunk with love
reverberating through the negative space,
it was just them, the CD had stopped hours ago
but they kept dancing
to the sound of the radiator
and their footsteps

Why Yellow Is the Best Color

yellow is the best color,
the happiest, i would say,
there’s a reason why
the smiley face on your plastic bag is yellow, stamped
“thank you for shopping” or “have a nice day”
people rarely comply with this sage wisdom,
printed and packaged from China

yellow is the best color.
it is so underestimated;
nobody really likes yellow,
kind of reminds them of
the fading of their teeth, their
worn skin, their
ragged fingernails, all
tinted from peeling too many oranges or
wearing too much nail polish,
people don’t like yellow because
it reflects what is ugly in themselves
surgery takes the yellow away, but when i start to fall apart, when
my skin hangs loose, my yellow is gonna stay

yellow is the best color
it merges the cold part of the morning and the
sun in the east, yellow
is a color synonymous with the word “basking”
it is glory, it is pride, it is the color that my best friend wears when
she has a good day
says she feels sunnier, but
she hasn’t worn yellow in a while
yellow is the best color because when it is yellow she is happy
and when her teeth fade away and her nails turn raw,
when her skin stops trying, i hope
she wears her yellow with her head held high enough that she can
see the sky melting into itself,
with her crumpled and crinkling plastic bag in her hand, it says
“thank you for shopping”
and is stamped with a smiley face

yellow is the best color
because of the way that it stains
so that happy days last a little longer


so, late the other night
after sniffling and sneezing
tossing and turning
for about four hours,
i realised why baby angels don’t wear diapers.

it’s not because they choose not to,
or that their mums choose against decency,
but rather
the diapers they would’ve used are instead
sent down to earth
into a huge corporation
and used to make
Kleenex’s Plus Lotion Soft tissues.

i’m not a religious person,
but i’d get down on my knees
faster than any christian would for god
for those tissues.

see, our school
apparently doesn’t have a high percentage of the budget
that goes into tissues
so instead they reuse sandpaper from Woodshop,
abrasion plagues the populus
but these tissues
sent straight from heaven,
are like rubbing sleeping kittens across your face.
like being kissed by a thousand butterflies –
like running naked through a field of baby lambs
a religion.

so Kleenex –
if you are ever to sneeze back at me –
i swear to god
i will be the very first to say
“bless you.”