2020 FRESH VOICES POETRY COMPETITION
Fresh Voices has become a beloved component of the nationally recognized Sunken Garden Poetry Festival. Established in 1993 by the Young Writers Institute alongside Hill-Stead Museum, the highly selective competition features a rigorous judging process, a focused workshop with professional poets, and special recognition. The prestigious program culminates in a live, outdoor reading at Hill-Stead when the winners present their prose to a rapt audience seated in a beautiful natural setting. Fresh Voices reflects Hill-Stead’s values and ongoing commitment to arts education, serving students across New England.
Hill-Stead is grateful to all of the 2020 Fresh Voices entrants, parents and teachers, volunteers, readers, and judges. Their love of poetry and the power of art brought healing and hope to our community during a challenging time in our nation’s history. On behalf of our beloved cultural hub, I salute these exceptional young poets for their devotion to cultivating their own unique voices and their bravery in sharing them with others. We hope you enjoy reading their works. In my estimation, their words embody the spirit of Hill-Stead’s founder and architect, Theodate Pope Riddle, best described as driven, compassionate, and visionary.
Executive Director and CEO
2020 Fresh Voices Poetry Competition Winners
Haneen Alkabasi, Avon High School
Alicia Chiu, William H. Hall High School
Jake Colangelo, Joel Barlow High School
Olatunji Osho-Williams, Westminster School
MM Odom, The Grove School
Charlotte Watts, Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts
My name is Haneen Alkabasi and I graduated from Avon High School this year. I intend to study political science under the pre-law track at Central Connecticut State University upcoming fall. There I will minor in Arabic and journalism to deepen my love for writing. In addition to poetry, I enjoy photography, volunteering, and traveling.
She asked me if I wanted to love her,
I hesitated unsure of how to respond─
Do I want my every thought to be consumed by you? Do I want to be infatuated by your every
feature? Do I want your words to hold such significance? Do I want my heart to beat
uncontrollably the moment I hear your voice? Do I want my stomach to drop the instant you
So to answer your question,
I want all your love; every last drop
I want all the butterflies imaginable
I want to be completely intimate with you
People should fall in love more often─
Fall in love with the endless blessings given to you, in love with the good morning texts you
receive, in love with the scorching water you bathe in, in love with the cool breeze on an autumn
morning, in love with the person who held the door open for you, in love with the barista who
didn’t mess up your order, in love with that one song you have on repeat, in love with the best
friend who hugs you from behind, in love with the team that resembles a family, in love with the
early morning game on the weekends, in love with the bus driver who waited a few minutes
before driving off, in love with the person who keeps you up at night.
Dear future daughter,
I hope you fall in love with your existence. I hope you look in the mirror with confidence. I hope
you sing in the shower at the utmost volume. I hope you dress whichever way pleases you and
only you. I hope you find your passion and seek to excel at it. I hope you get into the college of
your dreams. I hope you feel everything, the good and the bad. I hope you shout out the wrong
answer confidently in class. I hope you see a movie with friends and break the curfew
sometimes. I hope you sneak out for breakfast at 2:00 am. I hope you venture wherever life takes
I hope you fall in love with your existence.
I cease to believe that I feel this way
People hopelessly search for what I found
We started talking in the month of May
I illuminate when I hear your sound
I don’t think I will love another soul
Worries fade as if nothing else matters
No more is my heart captive to its tolls
Therefore without you my heart will shatter
Thoughts of you continue to cloud my mind
I never expected to fall for you
You continue to surround me in twine
It would really please me if you came through
I am lost for words by your complexion
Rain drops I dread drift in your direction
A Storm Within
Someone to hold me tight,
Someone to control the plan,
Someone to kill the bugs,
Why must it be a man?
I’m sorry that I can’t give you any grandchildren. I’m sorry that my way of life will ruin your
reputation. I’m sorry that I forget to turn on the vent once I step out the shower. I’m sorry that I
stay up late to talk to my loved ones. I’m sorry that I cry when people control me. I’m sorry that
I pace back and forth when overwhelmed. I’m sorry that I couldn’t find the drawing you made of
me. I’m sorry that I didn’t tell anyone before it was too late.
I’m not a liar.
Immense shades of grey lies
Lies that preserve dignity
Lies told out of compassion
Lies that spare pain
Everybody lies, darling.
Alicia Chiu is an Asian American poet, visual artist, and full-time student. Alicia’s writing explores her personal circumstances and relationships with others, often through fresh snapshots of her life. Her work has appeared in the Rare Byrd Review.
the Baba Yaga
it is four in the morning and my house is haunted.
the Baba Yaga appears before me, her visit announced
by the bang of a lockless door.
I hope I am dreaming, but dreams don’t feel this heavy.
the air, my eyelids and my body, they are all
a slight silhouette–
of disheveled hair and flowy peignoir
of malnourished arms and legs–
it moves much too fast from the doorway,
draws much too close to the foot of my bed she
knows I am awake
my bedroom is unsafe.
I sink further into the mattress, unable to hide from the moonlight as
she tears the blankets
she screams in my face, tells me I have been naughty
hisses her anger sharpens her tongue curses my disloyalty
spits her venom bares her teeth shoves my shoulders back
her claws sink into my sides so she can shake my body senseless
…she is allowed to.
I comply, limp and emptied
I go ragdoll and jellyfish.
numb and mindless.
she gave me my name. “alicia”
latinized from “alice,” anglicized from “adelais,” francized from “adalheidis”
literally, german for “noble character”
I am supposed to be poised and unselfish.
presentable and… malleable.
in exchange for following the damned dogma she wrote
she will not eat me alive,
will not grind my bones with a mortar and pestle
because I am more valuable to her with working limbs.
(you could say that I’ve struck a deal with a witch.)
there is nothing special about me, or so the Baba Yaga tells me
but I have nowhere to live except inside of her chicken-legged hut and that is
for, under the safety of her roof, she is all-powerful:
ordering the impossible of her subordinates,
pitting us against each other
against our friends
against anyone in our age range
controlling our lives inside and out
and then some.
she even controls when I get to sleep.
it is four in the morning and my house is haunted.
I tell her I am sorry for being alive &
she lets me live another day
I want to get drunk off of dandelion wine. imagine:
chilled sunburst blossoms upon lips wanting of escape
lips that give passage to the first adornment of spring,
the provider for the early pollinators
whose title of “flower” was stripped and replaced with “weed.”
unsanctioned by pedigreed lawns but
permitted by the league of social lubricants,
dandelion must taste like a bad tune you can’t quite stamp out of your head
a side step shuffle you can’t quite get out of your legs
a nuisance you can’t quite pull out of your yard.
far too often, the petaled crowns are met with annoyance and pesticides
for their vigor and resilience
but I for one will someday sip their omnipresence by the glass because maybe
just maybe, with enough golden syrup in my system
I might finally loosen up enough to sink my roots into the ground–
blithe brazenness coursing through my veins–
and say that I belong here, too.
I belong on this earth. I earned this air and water.
I deserve to thrive without getting guilted for my own self-preservation and
The people who said I didn’t were just sick of
seeing me succeed.
maybe you weren’t really there
protected from his fuming form against the frigidaire
the glass jar splaying its skin and guts ‘cross polished marble
and each sound of wood thrust upon stone
as they discovered what each other was made of
I cannot lie
I have yet to hear leather on skin–
commercial hide baring human hide–
but I assume it would not compare
to the severing of sturdy legs at your feet
do you realize that in the kitchen, there is one less seat?
it was shunt to the ground,
floored against tiles glistering in transparent shards
glistening in olive brine
the salty marinade never seeped red but
I had to wonder if maybe it would come
to bloom the same hue that colored his face,
and could’ve covered his hands
how nice it must be to forget
the sight of an ape drunk on rage
the broken leg as its splintered joint drew close
to your patchwork abdomen
feinting at your bikini cut scars–
as if he wished fresh sutures upon them–
to spite the stitches that fastened you post-childbirth
and the joins that keep you in matrimony now.
I could have sworn I saw red but
he never touched you
jabbing the air with that detached appendage
he never touched you
casting carbon curses into your unmoving silence
he never touched you
he never did.
Jake Colangelo is a rising junior at Joel Barlow High School. He’s a member of the poetry club, theater department, and improv troupe. In addition to writing and reading poetry, he enjoys short stories and screenplays. He’d like to thank his family, as well as his English teacher for supporting and supplementing his interest in creative writing.
A Pavlov Trick Awry
I courted you with Candy Canes
And Blue Banana Bubble Gum
But now you’ve fallen for the sweets
And not the heart that wants your love
I wanted you where you could hear
My Heart beat in my chest
And feel it pounding in your ear.
Together; love professed
But despite my greatest efforts,
I’m still left with all this gum
Sweet and sickly, innocently
rotting holes in heart and bone
Sugar keeps you coming back
and yet you always pass me by.
Such is the back handed nature
of a pavlov trick awry.
I buy a bag of Blue Banana Bubble Gum
-blow through it in a night.
Build dreams of you from bubbles
With no way to cease their flight.
Sweet toothed and sugar high
I retire to my room.
And roll over in a bed
two times too big
For a lonely
And gum that never
seems to stick.
It’s Really Nothing Personal
God has forgotten
that he made
It’s a simple, honest mistake, really.
Just the same as leaving the
Oven on at home, or forgetting that you brought your six year old to Walmart.
But it’s true, unfortunately,
God has forgotten all of our names.
yours too. Don’t be disheartened,
It’s really nothing
This is speculation,
But I’m pretty sure he just got bored
I mean sure, we expect a lot from him,
But omnipotence only goes so far
God has forgotten all of his hard work.
A billion names, a billion faces, and at least a few scared 6 year olds at the Walmart help desk.
I’m sure he’s in a better place now
That’s what they always say, isn’t it?
A better place?
He’s off somewhere in this void or another
Throwing imaginary darts
At invisible dart boards
And forgetting who it was he used to be.
He’s off somewhere in this void or another
a match in his left hand,
cigarette in the right
forgetting who it was he used to be.
A Catholic Reformation
As scratched into the wall of the confessional at noon
Use the bible
As a checklist
Of all the bad things
You forgot to do so far
Smash glass bottles
And curse at god
Silhouette your own body
Against the pale embrace of the moon
Like a monster of england
Hiding from Hunters with
Holy water and
Drink orange juice out of a wine glass
Because your mom told you not to
Don’t drink the actual wine. She’ll kill you
The glass is just enough to
Make her feel as disappointed as
You want her to be
Play with finger guns and
Play with hand grenades
Play your music on blast
Spray paint your name onto the one bridge in your town
Where nobody will ever see it
A harmless impact.
Your own little secret.
Something special in the same way you are
I’ve fallen in love.
I know it.
One day ages ago, at my great grandparents house,
when I was maybe 10 years old,
my great grandfather called me over to the lazy boy he seldom left.
He was 90.
He told me,
find someone you love,
let them go.
He looked over at his wife, sitting in a
similar chair not too far away.
A few years later, when she died, he followed her soon after.
And then there was this time maybe a few weeks ago.
We were in your room,
and your road lost power,
so we couldn’t watch a movie,
so we just sat there,
and you let me hold you.
You let your head lull in the crick of my arm,
rest just next to my heart beat and you
fell asleep to its tune.
You slept for 11 endless minutes.
The clammer of the world paused for you
I was scared to breathe,
scared to move,
I would’ve sworn you could’ve shattered at any moment,
but you didn’t.
Instead, Heavy like blankets, your head stayed on my heart,
our legs tangled,
our hands clasped.
When those 11 minutes came to an end,
sound once again ambiently filled the room.
You looked up at me, sleepy
and you said “this is the happiest I’ve ever been”.
Thats exactly where it happened.
Thats exactly when I fell in love with you.
Sitting on your bed, by way of 11 fragile minutes.
Olatunji Osho-Williams is a rising senior at Westminster School in Simsbury, Connecticut. He started writing his freshman year at Westminster and has produced numerous pieces of poetry, short fiction, and personal essays since then. His work is heavily influenced by his love for all things fantasy, sci-fi, and horror. In his free time, he enjoys playing Dungeons and Dragons, reading, playing soccer, watching Netflix comedy specials, and listening to music.
Heat clouds these spectacles and today
a cyclone crashes against our panes.
Gusts smack the glass. Air rips at our foundation
while this typhoon’s parental downpour
blurs the aperture and drowns
our vision in torrents of rain.
But the storm can’t pass through these panes.
Our warmth is a still boil, a dull roar,
wafting and writhing between the spaces left for Jesus.
Heat rises from the fleeting forms of youth
and our windows crack under the strain.
Here we bubble and steam,
lukewarm personalities churn
and boil away to the rhythm
of our homemade hurricane.
The thermostat climbs to the beat of a Top 40 song
while exasperation dances across the brows of chaperones.
When it is all said and done, we open our windows.
Gale-forced strands of adolescence spiral into the tempest,
sticky bodies evanesce and condense
into the ever-oscillating clouds that waver along the edges of your vision.
He Who Transplanted Still Sustains
The America I see
is the clinically white
tile of Costco’s floor.
The America I hear
with Liberty and Justice for all.
The America I feel
is a lone Mustang
tearing down the freeway.
The America I know
is the unswept aisles
of the clearance section.
The America I know
is lost in the anthem
but found in the singer.
The America I know
is the flattened black asphalt
that holds cities together.
The America I know
glass spangled in the sandbox.
My America lies
in the kicked seeds of the dandelion,
and rifts through the blacktop.
Little Boy 1945
When the wind blows across
Satan’s diamond-backed scales,
He will not slither to touch
the tree’s nearest bough.
His shadowed winds will drift
back down to the Valley,
and the rattlesnakes won’t shake.
They will shiver.
When we shoot
Newton’s fruit from the nearest bough,
the bush will cease to flame
and Satan will dive down
to our shadowed Valley,
where the rattlesnakes won’t shake.
They will shiver.
I walked among the ones who came before us
and they watched me,
overseeing with gnarled hands,
veiled with white hairs,
overbearing columns of mass
whose roots unmake the colorless blanket of time
that covers all.
They perceive time through the silence of a snowfall,
The first breath of a doe,
The flight of a mayfly,
The fall of an apple,
living through a cycle of moments
that are aged yet ageless.
And so, I wandered along the achromatic blanket of time,
and I spied the rumples in the fabric,
and I wondered,
is it so wrong to wish to be like them?
Stories from My Garden
Under the rosebush
the dandelion sings–
II. Close Encounters of a Cul-de-Sac Kind
Neon Nikes pound
cement to silence as I stare.
Ahead, lies a deer.
III. The Fall of a Colony
Above, boots threaten.
Below, blades whizz as we try
to run for our lives.
IV. Watering Plants at Night
Silver streaks stream from
cold hands while moonlight shimmies
with the flower’s leaves.
MM Odom is a 17-year-old who enjoys poetry and playwriting. She currently attends boarding school in Connecticut while living with her family in Garmisch, Germany. When she’s not scribbling in her journal, you can find her acting or doing yoga.
instruction manual for writing the unwritable
this is your life.
your one wild and desperate life.
this life will spill
between your stubby fingers
like you are holding the ocean.
it will drip like cinnamon honey
leaving sticky sweet raindrops
everywhere you go.
collapse on the dewy grass
and gaze into the starry sky of your life,
the memory of everything
your heart has ever felt
twinkling above you.
be amazed by the vastness of it all,
the millions and millions of moments
that have pushed their strong willed
thumbs into the clay that is you.
let the joy and the heartbreak
wash over you.
be overwhelmed by
the infinity that has occurred
since the day you came,
kicking and screaming,
into this world.
while you must be brave enough
to drown in all that has ever been,
you must also be soft.
holding the fragile pieces of your story
is a great responsibility.
you must pick up your pen
like it is made of butterfly wings.
let it softly kiss the wrinkled
pages of your journal
into the deep end
that has ever happened to you.
you will write for forever
but it will never be enough.
some days, you may catch a firefly
of a feeling
but soon you will learn
that you cannot fit
the sun in a mason jar.
the magic and mystery
that is your life
refuses to be tamed.
that you will never
capture it all.
to write a life,
is to write the universe.
are constantly expanding
and both have
barely been explored.
you must never give up.
chase the words
like you are chasing the sun
across the horizon.
drain every pen.
fill a thousand journals.
spend the rest of your life
trying to do the impossible
this wild and desperate
is too beautiful not to.
generic love song in the key of existence
the first time i met him
was on some street corner
next to a crosswalk sign counting down from infinity.
there are things that i will never reach,
that i will never have the poems to understand.
when i die, i want to be burned up
in flames, scattered around this earth,
fall like rain
everywhere that i ran out of time to go while i was
but the priest
says, if i do that
God won’t be able to find all my broken pieces
when he comes to get me.
i said, isn’t that
the whole point of God?
that he’s supposed to collect all the shattered glass
of your soul,
super glue it into a vase that catches
the sunlight streaming
in through the cracks in your dirty windows?
i used to think i wanted to fall in love
with someone who would put me back together
but now i don’t think i want to fall
because once you go down
it’s a long way back
with your skinned up knees and heavy
a tin can on the bottom of the ocean.
if i waste my whole life looking for another half
will i never be whole?
i’ve spent so long
crying for my six year old self
because i’m not who i thought i would be.
i am nothing but God
trying to clutch the ashes of myself
in these tiny
i thought i would always have the wingspan
and the words to carry this
weight of existence
but instead i am already burning.
(how could you not fall in love with that?)
my God i am
but even in the shallow end
not enough infinity left.
i wanted nothing
more than to tell him i loved him
that night we drove circles on a one way street
but instead all i could say was:
we are too small for this world.
how will i ever begin to apologize to myself for all of the things i will never become?
a collection of texts you sent me at ten o’clock on a wednesday night
If I send you a meme,
will you fall in love with me?
If we put down our phones,
will you gaze into me like
I am blue light?
Will your flying
fingers flutter across my surface
like I am your touchscreen?
Will you cling to me like I am
your last five percent battery?
Will you kiss every pixel of me
like the internet doesn’t exist
and it is only us?
Let’s buy an apartment with windows for walls,
turn off all the lights and look out
at the city,
watching the WiFi
bounce off the buildings,
gazing out at the web of souls
tied together by satellite signals.
The only you that is here
is a grey bubble whispering a risky “I love you”
yet my heart still quivers with all this awakening.
Charlotte Watts is 17 and a rising senior at Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts. Besides poetry, she enjoys acting, history, and painting. Over the last two years, she has received two Silver Keys from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, and was a finalist for the Smith College High School Poetry Award.
my grandfather (or life in italics)
my grandfather still lingers
in his photographs i’ve saved
a bird frozen in lilac sky
& the shadow of a mountain grazing a field
he lived surrounded by guarded visions of
peace, slowly forgetting
war and its horrors
he scaled a car to save my mother’s balloon
he saved every photo of his son
he raced an eagle
and beat him
to the edge of the horizon
still, he lived
out of an apartment that grew
worn down by age and experience
he kept photos of eagles and me in the same manilla envelope
and while my grandmother wanted to
preserve his beauty
it is useless to
forget death and
deny his attempts
it would be a betrayal
to take his life
and define it in any way but
among forest and sky.
maybe i will when i get out of college
i’ve never driven somewhere
and not known where i was going
just driven until the clouds change
until my hair gets longer
and face gets freckled
and i’ve listened to every podcast
every album by every band
until i’ve drained the world dry
finally had time to absorb it
and broken the speed limit in every u.s. state
i’ve never trusted that someone won’t get bored of me
never known someone so much
that i’m not afraid of knowing them
i’ve never stopped anticipating happiness
before i’ve felt it
praying that it lives up to my expectations
i’d like to fall asleep in the daytime
to swim in the pacific ocean
and watch the sunset from the back of a pickup truck
i’d like to always be warm and always be pretty
and never run out of gas in my car
up here there are radio towers, he tells me,
his voice floating up and over to the backseat,
mouth hidden beneath a wiry beard,
neck swimming in a wide-collared shirt three sizes too big
(the prison, understaffed, has lost his clothes.)
his eyes, dancing, scan the treetops for metal,
and i feel hatred surge in me, bitter and sudden-
i pray there are no radio towers. i want his eyes to keep
searching, to never find those old familiarities, to try
and fail to find an easy home where he once slept.
up here there are radio towers, where he read the news like an honest man,
the apartment where he met and loved my mother,
the offices where he printed reports important people read-
the pool where he swam his laps, always safe in the shallow end.
i want to destroy every last bit of those places, ripping apart plaster,
tearing up floorboards, grinding metal against metal
until the radio towers are meaningless twisted ruins.
try to exist in a world, i want to tell him, without a past
you can sink back into like a familiar chair.
how does it feel to be thrown into the deep end with no bearings?
to choke on chlorine, red ringing your eyes, the sting of the cold,
how does it feel to be eight years old with no father,
with no blinking red light to find?
why should the world have waited for you?
the radio towers appear, flickering through the naked branches-
his feet scrape the bottom of the pool, his fingers grasp the ladder,
and i am still treading water.
she only calls me when she’s already crying
i hold her in a hushed whisper on sunday nights*
and tell her she deserves love** with no footnotes
* after he’s gone home, of course
through forest backroads in his toyota camry
eighteen-year-old thumbs that know her stomach, neck, hair, tapping the steering wheel
eighteen-year-old brain full of college debt statistics and half-
severed ties with home;
i wonder what he listens to as he drives,
i wonder why i always imagine him speeding.
**and we laugh
at two in the morning,
spraying whipped cream into our mouths,
her face lit up by refrigerator light and
when she lies her body across mine, my hair tangled in her fingertips,
pushing away a new wave of fear,
when we daydream about running away together
across europe, midnight summer humidity and idiotic freedom:
i love her violently, enough to sometimes fool myself into romantic notion,
but we are bound in blood sisterhood
spiked with late night emotions passed around like cheap wine,
that spills through the folds of my imagined future,
my futile dream of growing old with hera
picture of us somewhere in the nevada desert,
exhausting the world with our presence.
my dream is her second or third or fourth-choice backup;
what she wants is tucked between the grooves of his fingerprints:
i watch her savoring him, trying to make a home out of him,
as i bathe in her tears like holy water
(maybe after a hundred heartbreaks she’ll be wrecked enough to settle for me)
and we look at each other
and we laugh