Creative Challenges

November Poetry Contest Winners: “Power and Corruption” or “Outside the Window”


Reagan Storck

half dead leaves shatter on the pavement
             while the calloused bark peels from its roots
while i pace

                          stars pierce my retinas
when i wish
and the moon laughs at me for it
             while i pace

the trees stare at me—
                          they all do, while i pace
they whisper and rattle manically
and don’t listen

why don’t they listen?
when my heart beats my
jaw shut?
                                   a muzzle for my mind, they tell
                          me as i am peeled from my sanity

the whispers get             louder and louder and
louder and—
i close the window,
and the sound stopped

Reagan Storck is a Junior at Kingwood High School in NEHS who has a special interest in poetry and research writing. The specific passion for poetry was inspired by her love of linguistics, and her love of formulating and dissecting figurative language stemmed the motivation to begin writing herself. Her favorite authors range from Aesop and his fables, to Jane Austen and her brilliant novels. Traditional writing practices never really interested her, so her work usually derives from finding a definition of a word that can be expanded on through use of intricate syntax. She hopes to self-publish a collection of her original works before she graduates in 2023 and by doing so, hopes to show that writing doesn’t have to be boring and formulaic.

Little Girls and their Insensibilites

Kayla Tankard

An oversexualized upbringing,
Fueled by men on the internet,
Sitting behind their brightly lit screens.
Convincing little girls to show off their prepubescent bodies,
Many still wearing training bras.

The lights stayed dim as the little girls preened,
Soaking up every last drop of validation.
Their nonexistent breasts pushed together,
Their inexperienced hands working to please,
Turning this way and that
Having taken photo after photo for a man triple their age,
Though choosing to believe he was not quite so old.

“You’re so mature for your age,” they’d praise,
Egging on the little nymphets.
“Give me a spin, but don’t get caught,
Your parents could never understand our connection.”
How best to please? a pressing question.
Sure it felt wrong in a way,
But who cares?
The attention was reassurance enough.

And now here she is,
The little nymphet
All grown up to a woman.
A sexually broken insecure being
Unable to see her own worth.

No, she needs the male validation that sustained her when she was young.
Sick dependency was what she had grown to know.
Her duty as an object of pleasure,
To find her worth in how she was seen,
Finding value only in her abilities to please the perverted pedophiles
Hidden in the far corners of the Internet.

That poor little nymphet glued to her screen,
If only she had been warned
To avoid the singing praises of men who begged for her attention.
Though who’s to blame for her misfortune?
The parents who failed to protect her or the society who let her down?
Isn’t it easy to fall into the trap
When no one was able to warn you of the dangers lying below the screen?

Kayla is a senior member of the Red Devil Chapter of the National English Honor Society at Hunterdon Cental Regional High School. Reading and writing have always served as her escape from reality and a way to express creative desires. Inspired by her personal experiences, Kayla has written numerous poems and short stories, with a novel currently in the works. Her books are her most prized possessions. She has an evergrowing collection of literature and soon anticipates surpassing two hundred books. There is nothing like the smell of a new book, or the feeling of pages flipping beneath her fingertips.

Outside the Window

Kara Graves

Outside the window all my peers play,
From dawn to dusk every single day,
Summer to fall to winter to spring,
I watch as they laugh and dance and sing,
Having a blast and enjoying their lives,
As I wait for relief that never arrives,
I pine to join them but know all too well,
There is absolutely no way to escape from this cell.

This window divides us,
It keeps me apart.
But I can’t change my status,
I must silence my heart.

Outside the window the school year begins,
A wave of new students board the bus with grins,
I should be with them, backpack in hand,
Learning world history or joining the band,
Why can’t I have this?
It just isn’t fair!
Why am I in this crisis?
Doesn’t anyone care?

This window taunts me,
It makes sure I see,
The people out there that get to live free,
While I’m stuck here with no guarantee.

Outside the window teens learn to drive,
They go out and party while I merely survive.
Falling in love and going to sports games,
Does anyone love me or even know my name?
I wish to be free and experience fun,
I yearn to have friends, even just one.
But that’s not realistic, I know my situation too well,
There is absolutely no way to escape from this hell.

This window preserves me,
It keeps me sane,
Knowing there’s more than I can see,
A whole world beyond this pane/pain.

Outside the window young adults move out,
Packing for college and living about,
Going into the world and seeing it through,
Something I’ll probably never get to do.
I’m happy for them, I really am.
I’ve watched them grow up within their fam.
As they drive away I slump to the floor,
Is there anything I’m really still living for?

This window’s my life,
It’s all that I’ve got,
It used to cause me strife,
Now it matters a lot.

Outside the window the silence is broke,
I see flashing lights as I am awoke,
Yelling and fighting are all that I hear,
As through the door people appear,
What’s going on? This isn’t the norm,
I stand confused as more people swarm.
They speak with concern as they take me away,
They bombard me with questions and I don’t know what to say.

This window was my whole world,
It was all I’d ever known,
As new people and sights are unfurled,
I can’t help but feel alone.

Beyond the window, I sit beneath a tree.
I should be happy after all I am free,
I can do as I please in this a new day,
But I feel as though I’m going astray,
What comes next, I haven’t a clue.
This window, without it, what do I do?

Kara Graves is a senior in the Brusnwick High School, Maryland NEHS chapter. She enjoys writing when she has inspiration which might come from something as random as a soup can. Some of her favorite writers include Timothy Zahn, Karen McManus, Claudia Gray, and Cavan Scott. Kara’s poem was inspired by a rabbit hole train of thought stemming from the theme of ‘Outside the Window.” She is a fan of mystery and crime stories, often finding herself wondering what victims do after experiencing such trauma; those interests and thoughts strongly inspired the story of her poem. She loves rhyming and rhythmic word-flow and tried to incorporate those into her poem as well. She is excited to share what she’s crafted!

Contagion of the Dane

Mia DiGiovanni

Something stinks, it’s rotten, in this fair state
I look up and see my uncle smile
It spreads like a viral infectious hate

His devious crime sealed my father’s fate
And my frail mother he was quick to defile
Something stinks, it’s rotten, in this fair state

My own hands bloodied by a fool’s dead weight
That old man, to my uncle he was always servile
It spreads like a viral infectious hate

Friends bearing a note, my life to terminate
When to England I was sent in exile
Something stinks, it’s rotten, in this fair state

Poor, sweet Ophelia, her madness I did create
I lie at fault, all to make my cover worthwhile
It spreads like a viral infectious hate

Dear uncle, your poison killed far too late
But we were corrupted by your deed most vile
The murder stunk, it rotted, in this fair state
And it spread to us all, that infectious hate

Mia DiGiovanni has been a member of NEHS for two years. She is a Senior at St. Mary’s Dominican High School in New Orleans. She is an avid reader, writer, and poet, even being honored with Superior Writer for the National Council of Teachers of English Achievement Award in Writing in 2021. Being a fan of theater and having dreams of performing professionally, Mia is fond of plays, even having written a one-act titled “The Worst Enemy.” She writes prose fiction about various ideas that come to her in dreams and daydreams, but her poetry is often inspired by or about stories from other pieces of media she enjoys. She also loves analyzing creative works, even outside the classroom.

Outside the Classroom Window

Shania Raimer

Torn loose leaf and unsolved equations litter my desk.
I am barely halfway through the test.
The tip of my pencil is worn down and exhausted,
The poor thing all bruised and busted.
My eraser is certifiably dead,
Nothing more than a small pool of soft rubber shreds.

My left knee bounces up and down
While my mind wanders all around.
The clock ticks down rhythmically,
Reminding me to start thinking more critically.
But how can I possibly concentrate and follow
When there is an entire world just outside the classroom window?

Beyond the room’s austere white walls,
A ruby cardinal sings aloud its romantic calls.
Two agile squirrels race the other up a tall tree,
Their soft brown tails the color of syrup and hickory.
A monarch butterfly flutters gracefully through the air,
Its rich honey wings adding a breathtaking flair.

The young sky is a cornflower blue,
And the freshly cut grass is coated in mid-morning dew.
From behind a cluster of thin clouds,
The glowing sun blares bright and proud.
Crisp scarlet leaves fall to the ground,
As its majestic autumn beauty abounds.

A young mother pushes a stroller along the sidewalk
As a small child paints the cement with an array of colored chalk.
A middle-aged man jogs forward at a steady pace,
His energetic dog believing his owner has challenged him to a race.
An elderly woman sits on her porch silent and motionless,
Observing the world in all of its lavishness.

The window’s curtain falls abruptly.
“Eyes on your test,” snaps my teacher pointedly.
Blood rushes to my cheeks,
And I refocus my attention on number nineteen.
I have five minutes left on the clock,
But I take another pause and stop.

How can I possibly concentrate and follow
When there is an entire world just outside the classroom window?
Anxiety and isolation grip my chest,
For I am missing out on life and all the rest.
It is an overwhelmingly beautiful day,
Yet monotony continues to steal all of its beauty away.

Shania Raimer is a junior at St. Mary’s Dominican High School and a member of the Veritas Chapter. For the past few years, writing has become a form of therapy, allowing her to accurately express both herself and her personal struggles. Writing has also become a way to organize and process Shania’s inner thoughts and feelings that don’t quite make sense. She learned how to write through reading works by authors like Victoria Aveyard and Stephen King. When it comes to writing her own works, she tends to think of the relatable obstacles that average people face on a daily basis.

raucous results

Zoë Breininger

The TV screen illuminates the room
Crimson’s the impression
A darkness fills hearts and souls
Prepare for the oppression

People fall to their knees
Cries are heard—begs, and pleas
Re-cast, revote, to impeach?
The question rings through towns and streets

My mother calls me to the room
Apprehensions calls, impending doom
A quick remark, but far too soon
Hopelessness is all consumed

But when the tears come to my eyes
A faint whisper, a compromise
I know not now, but give it time
I have hope it’ll all be fine

Zoë Breininger is a senior at Parkland High School and a member of their chapter of NEHS. She teaches dance and French to elementary school students and is currently writing a play. She has always used writing as an outlet for expression and writes songs and poetry in her free time. Growing up with a musician/artist as a father, she has always been pushed to be vulnerable, and she has learned to express that through dance, writing, and music. Writing has always provided solace in times of distress, and she feels she is “lucky to grow up in an area where learning to read and write is accessible and encouraged.”

The Laughing Ones

Emma Alexander

Oh, to be a laughing one
Eyes alight with lust.
The adoring fans and plastic crowns
Will soon dissolve to dust.

And yet to be the one on top
A predator, not prey.
And yet it is those down below
Who live another day.

Thus I say to you, my friend
Who wishes there you’ll be.
Your eyes not clouded with disdain, disgust, discontent
Or perhaps all three.

You hide with shadows around your neck
Like a cool lover’s hate.
And yet you never seem to check
Those laughing ones left to their fate.

Emma Alexander is a senior at Wantagh High School and a board member of The Alchemists, her NEHS chapter. She is inspired by writers such as Oscar Wilde, Maya Angelou, and Emily Dickinson, and loves reading classic works of literature. Her writing style is a mix of descriptive imagery with an old-school twist. Emma writes her poetry based on the world around her, and will write about anything from blinking lights to coffee pots. Her favorite writing spot is a little dock on a lake near her hometown. Emma doesn’t have a particular writing process, she just lets the words flow from her brain onto the paper. She loves writing about everyday experiences and what goes on in her life from day to day.

My dear parasite

Ella Wu

Where is my parasite?
Has anyone seen my parasite?

Let me speak to you
My dear parasite—
Who lives in me, on me, between me
Breathes me
Eats me.

I was infected, infested
Invested in.

But you—
You infect, infest
Invest in.

I just breathed and blinked my milky days away
Until you sucked me dry
And struck me dead.

Wasn’t I a good host?
My dear parasite
Wasn’t I a good host?
My arteries, carrying blood
Your thirst always satiated.

And I never let you go hungry, did I?
A good host never lets her guests go hungry.
And I let you have anything you wanted, didn’t I?
My red blood cells
Blue veins
Pink heart
Purple spleen
Brown liver
White bones
You can have the whole rainbow—
My whole rainbow.

But don’t stop at the insides
My dear parasite.

Follow me
Past the trachea
Yes, when you see the esophagus, head right up
Past the nose, you’ll see the eyes on the left and right.

Have the chocolates of my eyes
The toffee of my skin
Stay for dessert
You always stay for dessert.

And when it gets late
Burrow deep into my skin
Find a nook behind my intestines
A soft spot in my spleen
Warm, gooey, sticky, and soft.
Or nestle in the atriums of my heart
So that you feel the caress of its every

My dear parasite
You enjoyed your stay so much
So much
So much so that you asked your friends to join
So many
So many friends
My dear parasite, you have so many friends.
They all look like you,
Spineless, limbless, colorless, eyeless
Squirming, squeaming, seething little maggots

You were all so formless
And there I was
Standing on my own
Like an unoccupied house—
Bones, joints, muscles, and flesh.
So I took you in
And you filled me out.

The cruelty of it all is that
You are my parasite
Shouldn’t I own you?
Where’s my power?
I am your host, your master—
Shouldn’t you serve me?
Not corrupt me?
Why is it that when all is dead and rotting,
You are the one that thrives
And I am the one that dies?
Flesh half-gnawed
Blood pooling out
And my eyes glossing over
My chocolate eyes
The ones you had for dessert.

Ella Wu is a senior at Parkland High School in Pennsylvania. This year, she is president of the NEHS chapter at her school. She enjoys short walks, long reads, and medium-length movies. Her favorite novel is Gone Girl. Her favorite poets are the radiant Maya Angelou and the gloomy Edgar Allan Poe, whom she shares a birthday with. 


Still Life

Claire Fagan

There’s a window
Fashioned from scraps of glass
On the other side of it, I placed by dearest possessions
My photographs
Kept safe
I sealed the window shut with my tears, my anger
It’s a glass prison
Nothing will enter and nothing will ever leave
I keep my photographs here
So that someday, someone will understand

That window is my barricade
Protecting the stories hidden
Outside the window, people dance for a moment
Then move on with their lives
With a boring job in a bland cubicle
Sometimes they forget they ever danced at all
Ignoring joy just to keep working
But inside the window, people dance for eternity
Within the frozen 5″ by 7″ frames, they are endlessly free
People ignore my pictures now, but maybe in a thousand years
The glass will disintegrate, the seals will break
And the dancers will be found by a new generation

Maybe the people in the future will be happier
Brighter and smarter and freer and stronger
Maybe someone will have learned
that love, not money, is the key to unlocking likfe
People will have opened windows to escape their cages
No one will need photographs to remember happiness
But until that day
My window remains locked
And outside the window
People are still blind to the happiness within.

Claire Fagan is a member of River Hill’s National English Honor Society. As a junior, this is her second year in NEHS. She’s loved writing and reading for as long as she can remember. Typically, she gets her ideas for writing when she’s half-asleep, somewhere in the gray space between awake and dreaming. Her creativity unlocks when it’s dark outside and the rest of the world should be asleep. She loves editing writing because a few edits can completely transform a nonsensical piece into a masterpiece. Sometimes, Claire struggles with writer’s block, but she knows that a few imperfect sentences on a page are better than a blank page.

A Thin Portal

Gabrielle Kalayjian

A familiar wind starts to pick up.
The sky graying, wind screaming,
And monstrous branches start scratching at the house.
But all is safe behind the plexiglass portal.

Creeping thoughts enter my mind,
As I rush towards the door,
Yearning to be a part of her beauty and destructiveness.
Terrifying, but enticing, I cross the border.

Thunder crashes.
Mother nature is angry with me.
In an attempt to plead I rush back inside,
Unsatisfied, I watch out the window.

Admiring her power from afar,
The window protects me,
From her wretchedness.
A glass barrier between dimensions.

Gabrielle Kalayjian is a current senior at Council Rock High School North, and vice president of the NEHS chapter at her school. She first was inspired to write through crafting songs to attempt expressing her emotions when she was little, and that love of expression morphed into a love of creative writing as she entered high school. She takes inspiration through reading pieces from her favorite authors such as V.E. Schwab.

Crimson Painting

Pearl Chia

When all you have ever known is seen through tinted glass,
you come to expect the world to look a certain way

For your glass is untinted
clear, clean, unscathed;
While mine lies blackened
scratched, dented, stained

I spend hours scrubbing the dark glass to match yours
my fingers paint it red.

Day by day, red flows from my hands
and layer by layer builds,
thickening the pane of glass
from the world you so readily embrace,
from the world I so readily shy from.

When I am finished I wash the pigment from my skin
as an artist to their brush,
I rinse off the color
Scouring, Scratching, Still Sanguine despite my efforts;
The color will not wash off:


I panic—
hands clutching hair, pulling at the strands
streams of color washing down my face
painting me pretty,
I am artwork even in my terror;
broken skin, pulsing flesh, vibrant strokes of my own creation.
I am colorful. I am a vision.
I am ripping at my clothes
too much, too confining
I need

Crimson stained,
my naked
streaking the ground in red
I am Castiglia on a canvas of my own.

Inch by inch,
I drag my torn figure to the window.

I break it.

Elbow in glass, thorns of pain
a spiderweb of red down my arm;
The glass decorates me in glistening reflections of light
sparkling in the sunlight, casting pockets of brightness:
It is beautiful.

The heat melts off the scarlet liquid
pouring liquid drips off my beaten form
and the ground seeps it up
parched, begging, desperate
As I was.

I give it my liquid of life
The steady stream that allows for my existence
The color that paints me pretty
I surrender it.

Pearl Chia is a sophomore attending Danbury High School in Connecticut. She is a newly inducted 2021-22 member of the National English Honor Society. Pearl’s passion for literature stems from her childhood that she spent surrounded by books. With classics such as Harry Potter and Percy Jackson to thank for beginning her interest in reading, a few of her current favorite authors include John Green, Leigh Bardugo, and Shelby Mahurin.

Winter Waltz

Audrey Nagel-Schoonmaker

Winter’s icy masquerade:
a domino of diamond snow
blown wispily over the face of the land.
Black tree fingers gloved
in perfect, pristine white,
reaching across ballroom boulevards
toward pine partners
in sugar-dusted gowns of green.

The wind howls wolf whispers
in three-quarter time in this
desiccated stretch before the Spring,
all the water swirled solid, falling
in tiny, twinkling glitter to the earth.
Icicle garlands garnish the grounds,
glowing golden-blue
in the late afternoon light.

The Sun bows low
to his partner, the Moon,
as she crests the horizon,
showing the world her pale face
framed by an ethereal, shimmering halo,
a cold beauty: the belle of this frosty ball.

Audrey Nagel-Schoonmaker is the Lead Advisor of the Cardinal Letter Society, Antioch Community High School’s (ACHS) chapter of NEHS. She has been teaching for 27 years, 23 at ACHS, and is National Board certified. She is proudest of creating both the curriculum for her school’s Creative Writing course, and initiating/creating the Creative Writing Advanced course after seeing a desire in her students for a place to further their love of writing—and to receive credit for it. Audrey loves dark, lyrical poetry such as Edgar Allen Poe’s, and her favorite thing about writing poetry is the language play: finding just the right word, just the right rhythm, to express her ideas. She wants to foster a writers’ community for all who enjoy the art form.

Outside the Aperture, Casement, Rose Window

Maria Fischer

My adult ESL students are looking out
The open window in the overcrowded classroom.

Ana is looking out the abrir ventana.
She sees her daughter crying in the Cultural Diversity Club
Meeting at her school. “No one says my name right.
They scream at my mom in the WalMart when she’s shopping,
‘Speak English!'” Ana was a pharmacist in Mexico.
Here she cleans houses. Her daughter is embarrassed.
She calls herself Lily now.

Karolina is looking out the otev?ené okno.
She is tiny and feminine, just like the translation of her name.
Her warehouse coworker calls her bohemian and Karolina
Would like to slap her, slap her huge and masculine,
Because her country has history outside of an adjective
Meant to signify the avant-garde and hippie America.
But she nods quietly, instead.

The German priest looks out the fenster öffnen.
He speaks Spanish and English and Ecclesiastical Latin,
But because the parish secretary misunderstood a few short phrases,
He’s banished to the junior college class after years at university,
Seminary, and study. He smiles. Swears. Participates often.
Offers comfort to the migrants and refugees reading
Scholastic Magazine written for fourth graders in American schools.

My adult ESL students are looking out
The open window in the overcrowded classroom.
Outside the window is a cruel, cruel world for the newcomer.
I try to be kind, but I’m just one teacher.

MFischer-headDr. Maria Fischer is the Faculty Advisor of the Joliet Catholic Academy chapter of the National English Honor Society. She has entered almost every poetry contest NEHS has sponsored and last year saw her student Emma Jay win one of the writers of the year awards. She is currently reading Louise Erdrich’s The Sentence and preparing to celebrate her Huck Finn “ten years teaching the book” anniversary.