The High School Contest was judged by John S. Nelson, PhD, English Professor Emeritus, Dakota State University. He observed: It’s been a delight to see the poems from high-schoolers across South Dakota and see that there are young people who see the value in using language to create a worthwhile experience for their readers. I especially appreciate those teachers who make room for poetry and guide students through a shared writing experience and then sending those poems out into the world.
Good poems share something with good jokes—they build expectations and then they surprise. My favorite poems build a familiar scene and then change it, surprising me with something unexpected and beautiful. It’s no easy task to surprise convincingly; too often beginning poets work familiar ground and keep steady on. We see what they see, but experienced readers begin to see what’s coming and lose interest.
The most successful poems in this contest offer surprises. They change gears in the poem, they offer unforeseen details, and they use language in unique ways.
At SDSPS, we encourage young writers to look for opportunities and outlets for their work, including our own publication—Pasque Petals. We welcome you into the community of writers in South Dakota.
My Mother By Abigail K. Flanegan, 10th grade In the bathroom after my mother's shower, The steam fogs the mirror. My mouth tastes like her shampoo, And I breathe her into my lungs. She surrounds me. We are all born, we all grow, we all hurt, we all sorrow, we all die, we are all born— What is it to be born? A woman births a child. To be born is not clean: It is raw and it is holy and it is painful. To be born a daughter Is to be a lake-reflection of the mother: Hope for mud. In some future I will say to my mother: I am you I will never be you You never got to be me. On a cold evening we sip The same kind of tea. Sometimes we cannot disentwine ourselves. My mother's old aches Are tender indentations On my body. Humans desire connection. Humans desire singularity. Some dichotomies do not lie. To be born a daughter is To walk the sand line between Unity and personhood. I am my own Also, you need me to be you. I am you and I am me and I am your mother and her mother. I close the closet door and Sit on dirty laundry. Sometimes even me is too much. If you asked me what it is to be born; To be human; I would tell you all these things. I would tell you, too, that when it rains, My mind tastes lilac. That asphalt is sharp on bare feet. I would tell you that being broken Sits hot-and-cold inside your stomach, That dirt can calm anxiety. I would tell you That there are places in this world That are alive and electric and magic, If you keep looking for them. I would tell you that being alive Feels sometimes like a dull ache In the marrow of your bones And sometimes like waking up. My mother told me That a heart can lie when it is hurting. I think— My heart has forgotten how to tell the truth. I am still wrestling with being. I drive out into the grasslands Where the sky weighs heavy And I hope that the meadowlarks have found their place. My mother taught me to drive, To sing, To love when things go wrong. My feet do not fit in my mother's shoes. I drive out into the grasslands Where the sky weighs heavy And I hope that the meadowlarks have found their place.
Dual Identity By Ana Negstad, 10th grade I come from family movie nights. The dogs frolicking among the lounge. Cats purring upon our laps as we stroke their silky fur. The texture of the supple blanket engulfing my family. Our homestead looming above a pond, the water glistening from the rays of sun beaming down upon the land we call Home. The spiked pine trees sheltering us from harsh winds, snowy winters, and the scorching heat of summer. The occasional effervescent drink quenching our thirst in the pool, enjoying one another’s company. The family bonding time in hospitals as my parents’ eloquent words comforted me, as I slowly recovered from an unforeseen medical emergency. I come from the poverty-stricken Guatemala. The compact tin houses mere inches from one another. Cold stray animals roaming streets living undomesticated lives. Girls married by adult men and forced to bear his children and take care of them, barely able to provide food. I reign from the remote countryside where neighbors live a mile away. No sounds of vehicles awaken slumber. The delicate rabbit in the yard eating long grass due for a trim. The elegant deer trotting through the cornfields to find its meal, and the sounds of the yellow finch in the mellow afternoon. The uniting community sharing food with one another to keep each other fed. The ceaseless working in the fields to earn the small amounts of money. May be all they get that week. I come from a school where almost everyone is white, making me the minority. Where the crickets migrate after hot summers to be crushed by the students. I am from a small town with one-thousand residents, where a person’s peer is likely in the local grocery story. I am from Antiqua, Guatemala, a colorful town engulfed with festivities, where the townsfolk make the best of what they have, though they have little. South Dakota – where freedom of speech and religion are expressed, though views are often debated. Guatemala – where a fine line is drawn between rich and poor. Exported coffee and Mayan structures. I am both. Straddling a dual identity with colors of red and sky-blue dancing together. My Home.
Water By Stephanie Rutten, 10th grade Softly it falls and softly it breaks, softly it flows and refreshing it tastes. Swimming in lakes and parading in pools, running through caves beside dazzling jewels. Blue as a sapphire or blue as some’s eyes, blue like the ocean or blue like the sky. Present in summer, we swim through it all. Present in winter, we slip on it and fall. It’s loved and it’s hated, we need it to live. Different ways, different seasons but always it gives.
Rooted By John Geary, 11th grade Branches reaching for the sun Anchor leaves to the wooded behemoth Looming above a sea of blades Fruit falls to start anew A thicket sea Lush and green A grotto of memories Littered with seeds of the past Nagging pests disturb the peace Scarred are the caricatures Their oaken hearts untouched Leafen beasts Repaired by the clock Brisk wind swirls through the canopy Summer fading from the sky The autumnal blanket Chokes the woodland giants Biting chill cuts their skin Memories of summer buried in white Icy fangs worn on the limbs Shatter the gentle blanket Pools glisten on the floor Reflecting a new beginning Blooms cheer the muddied copse Standing tall another year Held in place through seasons Strengthened by generations Counted by rings Rooted in place For an eternity
Shaping a South Dakotan By Brynlee Patterson Snowed in, for my first birthday. Having “I hate winter days” turning up the heat and then blasting the Beach Boys. Pulling your younger siblings in the snow, later to shove them off the sled. Grating the yard so you can ride your bike once it dries. Getting stuck in mud puddles and losing your boots halfway to the other side. The making of a South Dakota farm kid is more complicated than one may think. Farm cats, farm kitties, mice removal, rodent control, known by many names these were my first real responsibility. These animals taught me a simple lesson, one of life and death. Falling in love with a kitten in the spring, grieving after it disappears in the late fall. Because of these kitties I sport many scars, but also my love of animals. Patience. Something you have to teach to any child in the world. I learned patience sitting in a combine. My dad told me “Wait five minutes and then you can play with your toys.” Those were the longest five minutes of my life. Counting cows, watching the corn fall, waiting for the hopper to fill, and drooling on the window kept me busy. Now I can run the combine and ask others to wait five minutes, even if it will be the longest five minutes of their life. Have you ever learned firsthand the consequences of not cleaning up after yourself? When your sled is crushed by a snowplow because you didn’t pick it up, the lesson begins to become implanted in your brain. The weather in South Dakota is ever changing. Making sure you are always prepared is a good motto. Ensuring your doll bed is inside the house, instead of sitting on the lawn in a downpour. Rushing to make sure tarps are on before a storm. Doing the job right the first time is essential, unless you have time to do it over again. As I’ve grown my sight has changed. Things that once were huge and daunting, now aren’t as impressive. The walk to my grandparents house, once was a long impossible journey. Now it’s a 5 minute bike ride, a nice 7 minute run if you’re up to it. My mom often took us on walks along the road to Grandma’s house. On one of these occasions I tripped on a rock, and scraped my knee. To my toddler self, this was a huge bolder that brutally attacked me. Looking back now, it was only a pebble that had the misfortune of getting in my way. In my yard there is a large open area. In my first years of running around the farm I would attempt to cross the yard, locate my Dad’s truck coming home, and then rush across the yard to get back to the house before Dad got home. I would then wait on the steps for him to exit his truck and bring me inside. Now I watch out of the window of my bedroom and wait to hear the door of his truck slam shut. Then I make my way to the stairs and meet him at the door, sometimes opening it right before he does to scare him. South Dakota has shaped who I am. Our roots will grow where ever we are planted, but mine thrive here. I’ve watched crops grow and change year after year, while those in my community have watched me. In the future I plan to stay intertwined with my roots at home, while expanding to new places. Living in South Dakota has shaped a love of wide open spaces, a sense of responsibility, and a love of community. Where you grow up is forever part of you, and I’m so glad that South Dakota will forever be a part of me.