2023 Poetry of Place Celebration

Group photo of winning student poets with former and current state poets Twyla Hansen and Matt Mason in the capitol rotunda
Front row (L to R): Brooklyn Green, Elizabeth Hilkemann, / Middle row (L to R): Izzy (Izabelle) Lewis, Ella Williams, Abigail Faz, Sienna Geib, Ryker Staab, Vaishvika Balamurugan, Emelia Walter, Mackenzie Steinbrook, Grover Korn, Twyla Hansen / Back row (L to R): Matt Mason, Hugh Skretta

On Friday, May 12, 2023, student poets from all over the state of Nebraska came together to read their winning poetry in an annual celebration called Poetry of Place. The event, sponsored by the Nebraska Writing Project and Humanities Nebraska, took place in the Warner Chamber in the Nebraska State Capitol Building.

Learn more about Poetry of Place

Winning Poets

Click on a poet to read their award-winning poem.

Elizabeth Hilkemann
Elizabeth Hilkemann

Elizabeth Hilkemann

Grade 4, Meadowlark Elementary School, Firth.

Teacher: Laura Hilkemann

Ella Williams
Ella Williams

Ella Williams

Grade 5, Watson Elementary School, Hastings.

Teacher: Christopher Hollister

Brooklyn Green
Brooklyn Green

Brooklyn Green

Grade 5, Lakeview Elementary School, Lincoln.

Teacher: Katie Nelson

Ryker Staab
Ryker Staab

Ryker Staab

Grade 7, Broken Bow Public Schools, Broken Bow.

Teacher: Shawna Schweitzer

Hugh Skretta
Hugh Skretta

Hugh Skretta

Grade 8, Irving Middle School, Lincoln.

Teacher: Nancy Svoboda

Sienna Geib
Sienna Geib

Sienna Geib

Grade 7, Irving Middle School, Lincoln

Teacher: Nancy Svoboda

Abigail Faz
Abigail Faz

Abigail Faz

Grade 10, Norris High School, Firth.

Teacher: Elizabeth Ogg

Izzy (Isabelle) Lewis
Izzy (Isabelle) Lewis

Izzy (Isabelle) Lewis

Grade 11, Norris High School, Firth.

Teacher: Elizabeth Ogg

Mackenzie Steinbrook
Mackenzie Steinbrook

Mackenzie Steinbrook

Grade 9, Lincoln Southwest High School, Lincoln.

Teacher: Lori Nakagawa

Emelia Walter
Emelia Walter

Emelia Walter

Grade 9, Lincoln Southwest High School, Lincoln.

Teacher: Lori Nakagawa

Vaishvika Balamurugan
Vaishvika Balamurugan

Vaishvika Balamurugan

Grade 11, Lincoln, High School, Lincoln.

Teacher: Owen Roberts-Day

Grover Korn
Grover Korn

Grade 10, Arts & Humanities LPS Focus Program, Lincoln.

Teacher: Sally Hunt

Winning Poetry

Chasing Butterflies on the Nebraska Prairie by Elizabeth Hilkemann

Eager, energized, and excited
Pat, pat, pat
Swish, swish, swish

Running through the tall brome grass, milkweed, and goldenrod,
Wild daisies like small, citrine suns,
A butterfly net like a cirrus cloud in my small hands

Bright orange and onyx patterns,
Mocking Monarchs diving in my tanned face,
Then soaring towards space like rockets

Little, blue-gray, and carefree,
Effortless to capture,
Eastern-Tailed Blues kissing the emerald clover at my feet

Black and orange with a splash of white paint,
Silver-Spotted Skippers dancing on knee-high amethyst salvia,
Soaring away when I come near, but then surprisingly coming back

Look! A butterfly!
I ambush it before it flies into the sapphire sky,
My tired legs leap like happy grasshoppers

Thrilled, overjoyed, and delighted
Pat, pat, pat
Swish, swish, swish

Peace and Quiet by Ella Williams

I walk into a soft and quiet field

The uncut grass hisses like a snake i sit down next to a large oak tree

Its branches seem to dance in the wind

As the songbirds sing their beautiful song

I walk past the trees that appear to make a tunnel with their branches

The twigs below my feet snap when I walk over them

Small insects scurry away, startled

I gaze off into the setting sun and the crystal-like moon hovers above

I can hear a train in the distance

The air smells much fresher here than inside

To the side of the treeline is accompanied by a field of grass

Crashing against each other as if they were ocean waves

The grass is as soft as feathers

Butterflies flap their magnificent wings playfully in the air

Then I hear my mother calling me inside for bed

Goodbye, Peace and Quiet

Omaha Roots by Brooklyn Green

Omaha, Nebraska
Where my great grandpa lived, and boy did he ever!
On Poppleton Avenue
Then Vinton Street
Then Martha Street
Then Park Avenue
And finally, Center Street, the Westlawn-Hillcrest Memorial Park.

Bouncing from home to home, job to job:
The downtown Campbell’s Soup Factory,
Yellow Cab,
The Foxhole Bar on the corner of 25th and Leavenworth.

Like a frog in an ethical swamp because of his trouble-making ways.
A trickster was he, and it seems to me he still is!
His grave at Westlawn – Hillcrest always seems to hide.
He’s difficult to find today, just like he was when he was living.
That old Machiavellian Mr. Green.

Every Memorial Day, my parents, little sister and I
Set out on a mini-quest to locate his resting place and pay a visit.
Stones scatter the green on a steamy May morning
As we check dozens of plots.

Last names of congressmen, senators, and mayors pepper the hills.
And right when we feel like we’ve searched everywhere
We find him near a skimpy leaning pine tree.
We then rejoice and waggishly recall bits of his mischievous life.

Like me, he played the violin well.
Like my dad, he put Tabasco on all his food.
And while he didn’t fight in the Vietnam War,
He would’ve witnessed a few battles…
Golden Glove boxing battles that is,
While he lived above Buzzello’s Gym in the 60s.

As in the pictures I’ve seen of him,
He had a smooth, well-kept appearance.
Just like the lawns of his current cemetery home:
Westlawn – Hillcrest Memorial Park.

My Backpackby Ryker Staab

There is a space that can hold infinite things.
It is in a place where all students have.
It is like a black hole.


Anything you put in there will never come back
It is a bag that you put on your back
Is a huge trench that is my backpack


 Store all of my valuables
And all my trash
In the abyss that is my backpack


 It includes portals to different dimensions
And a tiny smurf village
It is home to many different organisms


It is like a home to all things living or not
If you need anything
You can just reach in


You will find many different things
Like a pencil
Or a 100,000 year old PB&J sammich


You might also find a slimy substance
That whenever you touch it, it goes Gloop
There is a animal that whenever it moves it goes Glop


Those are the wonders of my backpack
What's in yours?

Ode to a Truck, Silver Gray, Nebraska Platesby Hugh Skretta

in a dirt parking lot
there’s a truck
a Ford Ranger
Nebraska license plates
beat up
silver metallic gray
Led Zeppelin rollin’ from
my dad’s phone
‘cause the radio’s busted
pops sometimes
but never turns on

 it got me here

 handed down from my Italian Nano
when I was five
it’s got a paddle shifter
on the steering wheel
and hard plastic hand crank windows
I’ve seen most of Lincoln
through that cracked windshield
it got me here
it’s a skinny silver truck
not too big but
not too small either
rust growing on the bumper
as if it was orange lichen

 it got me here

the interior’s got
a solid cardboard headliner
with quicksilver fabric
a material torn by time
weathered like wrinkled skin by
years of dry heat
it got me here
it’s got a bell
that is only supposed to bing
when your seatbelt is unstrapped, but it’s ornery
and don’t care for this rule,
‘cause it often bings the whole ride

 it still got me here

once on a sunny day, unprovoked
it sprayed wiper fluid
for way over four minutes
window wipers were flapping
like angry grackles

 it got me here

“Kinda beat up, eh?" someone asks
and I reply,

 “It got me here.”

Farm Schoolby Sienna Geib

I remember
The Prairie Grass
swaying with arms the color of honey warmed by the sunlight
Almost as tall as me, falling just short of my face
Our laughter drowning out in the tall grass
Huge hay bales scratching us with their claws as we climbed to the very top
The few pine trees casting shade on us as we lay in the hot afternoon sun
Sweat sticking to our shirts, plastering them to our backs

I remember
The Gate
Shiny like a beautiful ruby, freshly painted
The Bar digging into our shins as we tried to keep our balance
Before we would climb down waiting patiently till the gate was unlocked
The gate swinging slightly on a chain tied to that old wooden fence
Weathered by wind and rain

I remember
The Forest
Dark and foreboding, yet peaceful
In it we would spend hours building palaces, cities, and towers
Made of sticks, leaves, and hay
I’d climb through the tire like it was a grand oak door leading to a castle
Hanging from a cottonwood was a rope swing
And there was a pine tree shaped for climbing, its sap sticking to your hands like glue
I was too afraid to climb to the top,
Instead I would stand and watch as the tree towered above me rocking in the afternoon wind

I remember
The Garden and
The Wheelbarrow we’d push each other in,
Letting the small, rickety wheelbarrow go out of control till the other person
the rusty red paint chipping off piece by piece
We would weed the garden in our little rain boots
Squeaking as we walked in the rain, till dirt covered us from head to toe
And the plants... Dill, Okra, Spinach and Kale, my favorite
We would pick the kale, cook it and season it
The first bite exploding in my mouth
Leaving a salty feeling on the tip of my tongue

I remember
The Willow Tree
With her long arms weeping through beautiful leaves shaped like perfect teardrops
Only letting light in through slivers

I remember
The Chickens
Picking up the eggs
To me, they were jewels, Shiny and beautiful
The chickens would always scare us, their huge beaks shaped like razor blades
The big metal food tins that would clash like cymbals when their lids hit the ground
sending the
discarded seeds flying

There's no more Prairie Grass till next season
There's no more climbing on the Red Gate for the paint is chipping off
The path we used to race down is overgrown
the palaces, castles, and towers are gone
The tire is now lying in the bushes, forgotten, the grand oak door fallen down
The swing is in the shed forgotten
There’s no more Garden
No more crunchy kale chips or weeding under the sun
No more Weeping Willow, she was cut down, left only a stump
There's no more Wheelbarrow Rides or picking eggs up in the morning
The Chickens are all gone, big metal bins abandoned

Still, there are memories of those days
The first bite of fresh kale from the market
Bringing me right back to the green grassy hills of the morning
The sunny days
Smell of dirt in the Garden and the scratch of hay
Sun on my face and sound of rain
It's all still there
The Prairie and Gate
The Woods and Garden
The Willow Tree and Chickens

Still in my memories

The Way Things Goby Abigail Faz

i miss the way things used to be
when the thanksgiving plates
were plastic
because between my cousins and i
we’d surely break any fine china
when on the way home
i’d pretend to be sleeping in the backseat
so dad would carry me inside

i miss the way the wind chimes sounded
in our suburban utopia
the way grandma used to giggle
as she pushed me on the swing
i miss sweet tea and snap peas
and the way she pretended to be worse
at card games
than she really was.

it feels like everyone grew up
at exponential rates
our lives overlapping on graphs
not meant for looking back
and i’m still trying to live my younger years
while my brothers deflect questions
of marriage and children

there must have been a starter pistol
that i didn’t hear
some sort of green light
that i blinked and missed
because i’m not moving on
and everyone else is.

now the boys bring their lovers
we don’t fight anymore
the coat rack gets emptier each year
and there is no children’s table
because if there was
i would be sitting alone.

- the way things go

Flowers frame my childhood memories by Izzy (Isabelle) Lewis

Flowers frame my childhood memories
Behind my childhood house
Past the perfectly manicured
Green of the backyard

A field sprawls out
Milkweed and grasses
Dappled in shimmering
Oranges and yellows

Childhood imagination created
Palaces of goldenrod
Parties of aster
Pirate ships of sage

The turning of seasons
Sounds like home
Blossoms, humidity,
Leaves, snowflakes

The Nebraskan night sky
Stretched above me
The stars whisper
How infinitesimal I am

A sanctuary of childhood memories
Threatened by the swirl
Of a serpent — a rumor
Slithering from lip to lip of each adult

“Why back there?”
“Urban development, I suppose.”
“A road, really?”
“Yes, right in our backyards.”

I stand at the border between
Perfect picket-fence happiness
And whatever magic was contained
In those wild, teeming weeds

I think a part of my soul
Is paved over with a black tar road
Forever trapped in the
Beauty of my field

Home by Mackenzie Steinbrook

Home is not a house.
It is a state locked in by land, farms littered with green and yellow husks for miles,
flat ground like still water, undisturbed by the slightest ripple, as far as the eye can see.
Little children with hearts full of joy and lungs of laughter
stay outside until the sun hides behind the horizon and their mothers call them home.
They have not a care in the world, not a worry for tomorrow.

Home is friends and family surrounding a fire on a warm summer night,
feeding the hungry flames with sticks,
roasting the perfect marshmallow-- warm wet goo engulfed in a golden crunch.
A warm breeze dances around you, gently blowing  your hair behind you.

Home is splashing around in fresh glistening puddles
dancing as the rain washes you so clean you shimmer.
Roaring with laughter as your clothes turn transparent,  water dripping from your hair and sticking to your skin.
Opening your mouth and letting your tongue fall onto your chin to catch the sweet drops-

Home is the only place where all four seasons change.
Where the strong branches of the trees are so full of bright healthy leaves until they eventually turn crisp and yellow and cloud the ground like snow,
and finally leave the limbs naked and cold,
only for them to sprout with new life and color again.
Each one of these seasons can be identified by their own special scent
Summer is sticky and warm like lemonade
Autumn is pumpkin spice
Winter is frosty with hints of peppermint
Spring is new life with honey and flowers.
Only in one place can you experience all four of these sensations.

So, home is not a house
It is a place
A place where the seasons change
A place where food is warm, familiar.
A place where families are close, but friends are closer
A place full of laughter and joy, kindness and friendship
Barbecues and football games
Fishing and hunting

Home is Nebraska

Nebraska's Night Sky by Emelia Walter

The sky that hangs over Nebraska
can seem never-ending
especially with cornfields for miles.
it simply seems overwhelming

and in the night
few stars dot the sky
but if you turn off the light
you’ll see;

thousands of stars
miles away
singing in the sky
glistening a white and yellow rainbow

nebulas dancing
a gradient blue
in the dark sky
like clouds of the night

constellations twirling around
telling stories of what they were
the crickets that chirp to their dance
are echos of the past found in the stars

then suddenly
the moon doesn’t seem so alone in the sky
the moon has thousands of glimmering friends
shining down on our prairie land

and if you just turned the lights off
and look up very high
you might see what I see
in the Nebraska sky.

My Nebraksa by Vaishvika Balamurugan

i used to call Nebraska a flyover state,

but when i think about leaving, i feel a different kind of weight-
in my heart, in my bones, one that breaks through the hate,
and reminds me that i’m here, so maybe it’s fate.

this is still my hometown, where my soul can relax,
where i’ve never once stepped on a sidewalk crack,
and i’ve run miles around my high school’s scuffed up track,
and i know every old street like my hands and their backs.

this is where i grew up, where i first scraped my knees,
where i ate popsicles in the summer and biked with the breeze,
and went slipping and sliding when the lakes would first freeze,
and ran through the parks just to dance with the trees.

this is my state, rich in history and memory,
she is a force to be reckoned with, far more than i’ll ever be.
this is where i discovered the strength within me,
and i learned the true beauty of being wild and free.

this is the center of my life, where my peace was first found,
where i first got my license and drove my friends all around.
i’ve memorized every crack, every crevice, every sound,
and i’ve planted my roots way down deep in this ground.

this is the place i love best for all its glorious parts,
so while i’m excited for college, i fear the fresh start,
but even if Nebraska and i soon grow apart,
she will always hold on to a piece of my heart.

for this is where i belong, where the corn grows gold,
where the prairie grass gleams and the sun shines bold.
it’s the heart of every memory made and every story told,
this is where i grew up and where i want to grow old.

A Hardworking Man by Grover Korn

I found my great-uncle a hardworking man -
With a dependency on depressant -
But a hardworking man.

Yeast, ramblings, and echoes of The Clash
Filled the kitchen during my uncle’s shifts
He worked the tight corridor
Where his belly hovered the fryer
And his back hit the steel counter
Standing on black-and-white checkerboard floor tile
Like the tile you picture when you think of a kitchen
But with the inglorious wear of forty years

Thirty of which my uncle had been away
Building himself a life in the north
Where he found love and success,
A career that would last him,
But pessimism and a flask
Threw that away in an instant
And a series of losses led him back
Right where he started.

I was happy to have my uncle around,
Though I barely knew him, I respected him
I found him funny and sarcastic,
The same way I was,
And we related to each other
He burned me Bowie and Beatles
And told me stories of seeing these bygone bands
I had loved so much, but never experienced
He taught me the value of work
And the importance of effort
And how to fold a pizza box in a second and a half

I found my great-uncle a hardworking man -
With a dependency on depressant -
But a hardworking man.


“He-hey, buddy! Yur’ smart, come n’ help me out!”
My uncle stuttered and stumbled
Out of the kitchen one afternoon
Sizzling steel and greasy fumes behind him
Blocked by a barrier of sorrow and booze

I sighed and replied “Whaddya need?”
As he bumbled back, then forward

“I can’t figure out this damn CO2 thing,”

He slurred as he rolled to me a tank
And I picked up the nozzle.

“Thing won’ screw on. Yur’ gifted,
you can prolly’ figure stuff like this out.”

He slinked back to his kitchen as I fumbled with the parts.
He was right, it wouldn’t screw.
So I took the nozzle apart,
But I couldn't figure what was wrong.
My uncle returned minutes later.

“Enny’ luck?”

“Not yet.”

“Lemme see.”

He took the nozzle from my hand
And continued to try the same things
That had never worked before,
As he always had and always would.

“Aaah, fuck it -” he shoved it aside,
“I gotta keep cookin’.
You keep tryin’, buddy.
You can get it.
Yur’ young n’ unburdened.”

My uncle began to walk away,
But stopped to turn

And place his hand on the counter
“Hey, bud - y’know somethin’?”

I looked up at his figure,
Hovering above me
As if I was inferior,
Until he knelt to my level.

“Sometimes life hurts.”

It was not his eyes,
But the reflections of his sorrows
That stared into me with an intent
I had not seen from him before.

“Sometimes she leaves you,
And it hurts real bad,
But you-”

My uncle paused,
As if questioning his point.

“But you keep going.”

I filled his drunk void with my voice
As my face warmed, not from the heat
But from the sight of what he had become
Or rather what he always was,
Yet I had never seen.

“Yuh’ just keep going.”
He repeated back to me and nodded
As he got up and away.

I glanced once again at the parts
Strewn before me on the ground
The grooves were chipped.
The nozzle could not screw.
The tank was broken.


I found my great-uncle a hardworking man.