2019 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): Chandler Carlson, Addison Holz, Giselle Zepeda, Catherine Carpenter, Ka’leis Winston, and Grover Korn / Back row (L to R): Twyla Hansen, William Anderson, Jayden Leonard, Maggie Harris, Kailey Waszak, Matt Mason, and Taygon Shaw

On Friday, May 3, 2019, 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 at the Nebraska State Capitol Building.

Learn more about Poetry of Place

Winning Poets

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

Chandler Carlson

Chandler Carlson

Grade 5, Watson Elementary School, Hastings.

Teacher: Stephanie Strong

Katherine Carpenter

Katherine Carpenter

Grade 5, Prescott Elementary School, Lincoln.

Teacher: Nancy Svoboda

Addison Holz

Addison Holz

Grade 6, Lefler Middle School, Lincoln.

Teacher: Amy Sauer

Giselle Zepeda

Giselle Zepeda

Grade 6, Johnson Crossing Academic Center, Fremont.

Teacher: Michelle Whitman

Grover Korn

Gover Korn

Grade 6, Irving Middle School, Lincoln.

Teacher: Nancy Svoboda

Kailey Waszak

Kailey Waszak

Grade 7, LaVista Middle School, LaVista.

Teacher: Peg Alexander

Ka'leis Winston

Ka’leis Winston

Grade 8, Park Middle School, Lincoln.

Teacher: Kati Stauffer

Taygon Shaw

Taygon Shaw

Grade 10, Waverly High School, Waverly.

Teacher: Kelly Bielenberg

Jayden Leonard

Jayden Leonard

Grade 11, Thayer Central Community Schools, Hebron.

Teacher: Ann Roesner Heitmann

William Anderson

William Anderson

Grade 11, Alma Public School, Alma.

Teacher: Krista Cox

Maggie Harris

Maggie Harris

Grade 12, Thayer Central Community Schools, Hebron.

Teacher: Ann Roesner Heitmann

Emalie Wightman

Emalie Wightman

Grade 11, Brownell Talbot School, Omaha.

Teacher: Matt Low

Winning Poetry

river in his veins by Emalie Wightman

my tires crunched the gravel
the music hummed in the background
as the fields streaked past my window
I usually enjoyed this peaceful ride out to my grandparents'
but this was a trip I didn't plan on taking for a long time

at the funeral the following afternoon
the small church was crowded
with state senator colleagues and farmers alike
floral arrangements overflowed by the pastor's feet
amazing grace was tapped out on the piano
while the sunlight reflected through the stain glass windows

the man, now still, surrounded by the flowers
had the Platte river in his veins

Sparkle by Kailey Waszak

In the stillness of a Nebraska winter, nature sparkles
The sun peeks out from its post meridian
Causing the blanketed hills to be caressed with a warm gentle glow

In the bleakness of a Nebraska winter, beauty prevails
Majestic oaks stand tall, like proud friends reaching out to greet you
Remnants from a previous storm remain strewn about the banks

In the drabness of a Nebraska winter, the hard earth is a blank canvas
Ready to be filled with oranges and browns
And then draped with greens

In the silence of a Nebraska winter, ecosystems bloom
A bird's song breaks the mute lifestyle, each note bringing with it the hope of spring
Tiny footprints reveal themselves; a flash of crimson catches the eye

In the bitterness of a Nebraska winter, the cold winds rub your lips raw
It howls in anguish at the bare limbs
An eerie silence, then perfect peace

During a Nebraska winter, everything seems to sparkle

Chimney Rock by Addison Holz

Your finger reaches towards the sky.
Eroded down, so much gone away.
One day, this chimney might not be so high.

The ones who name you are not shy.
As they ride in wagons night and day,
Your finger reaches towards the sky.

I'm tired now, so much I fly.
I rest on a rock -- my feathers turning grey.
One day this chimney might not be so high.

I'm shooting an arrow as I ride.
I see you in the distance. As I stalk my prey,
Your finger reaches towards the sky.

You were taller earlier -- that's no lie.
But time will wear you down -- just to say,
One day this chimney might not be so high.

At night things growl and prowl and glide.
But you stand tall, that is your way.
Your finger reaches towards the sky;
One day this chimney might not be so high.

The Limping Tree Taygon Shaw

I first opened the back door latch of the prison of which people thought was my home,
Crawled over the lanky wire fence that held me captive, fell onto the dirt patch of lost footprints from past sentences.
I sprinted through a field of free wavey dry grasses to the limping tree.
The limping tree with a pale round hole for an eye, with a great red x inside, and a shiny hook bare from bark.
The limping tree with sideway sails wave hello while holding in the wind.
The tree with a balcony of a turning stair-way.
The tree with a deck hovered horizontally above the basement hull.
The deck with mizzens that shot above toward the sky off the angular branch.
The mizzens with shrouds of leaves and buds.
The limping tree with the thin anchors that held the tree afloat.
The tree that forever settled on the ocean of little rocks where old souls of springs, roundabouts, and swings rested in rusty ancient peace.
The limping tree that once held all of my maps of worries, treasured laughs and giggles, and golden books of care.
The old tree stood as strong as it could for me.
The limping tree that crutched on my existence alone.
Every time I was forced to leave, I said I would come back to the tree, and I usually did, he was my home after all. I left, back through the free grassy field, over the lanky fence, and back to the prison.
But one day I left forever with the prisoners.
And we found another home. A normal home that didn't limp.
The limping tree had no other crutches to lean on and sank into the seventh sea before I could come back years later to re-fulfill my promise.
All that is left of my tree is a pale round scramble of a stump, with not a great red x inside, but sorrow and grief.

The Village by William Anderson

Driving on Highway 136, one will find a fallow little village.
A shell of its former self, it moves closer to death every year.
The town was a bustling agricultural hub of one thousand,
Before John Deere or Gleaner.

The combine, able to do the job of ten, withered away the town.
Farmers did not see the point in holding on to farm hands.
This place I once called home gets smaller by the day,
The Burger Barn shut its doors,
And the grocery store let go.

I have walked the streets of this town more than once.
The steeples of a few churches are visible,
Paddington Station still sells gas.
The community reaches into the pockets of the bank,
And Hotel Orleans awaits visitors on the Trail of Treasures.

Its only monument is a welded metal statue holding an O.
The “O” in hOpe, I ask myself,
And open my hand only to find orange rust in its palm.

The Crane Song by Chandler Carlson

Flap, caw, dance, peck.
I search for cranes on this trek.
If I cannot find these,
Among forests or trees,
I think of the fields filled with seeds.
Off I drive into the hills,
With plenty of cranes it gives me the chills.
How may I see,
They stare back at me.

So I think: like a ballet they dance so effortlessly,
The cranes, the hills, and me.

To Nebraska they come each year,
They don't stay like the white tail deer.
They sing, they dance,
They crow, they prance.
With a flap they go up and soar high,
Like clouds passing by.
That is why, every year,
I don't seek to find deer.
Instead I try to find them fly,
the cranes that fly so high.

So I think: like the end of a song they leave so effortlessly,
No cranes, the hills, and me.

Home by Giselle Zepeda

Home to you may be the mounties
But for me thats Mexico
Is a place of light a place of hope a place of... love
When I was small I loved to climb a tree with my Home.
Home is not a place of fear.
Home, is not a place it is people.
The ones we love, family is a place of love.
Family is a place of hope
when I was 5 years old I moved to fremont
It wasn't Home it was partly Home
My Family
Wasn't there, part was, part wasn't
Home is not a place it is the
People we LOVE
I learned that at age 5, when will you learn?
Home is not a place it is the ones we love
It is family
I am Home.

Butterfly by Ka’leis Winston

I am Ka'leis, but this place I was hiding in was my mind
Leisurely beginning to forget who I am was like drinking soda with no sugar
Making myself believe what I wanted other people to see me as

Hiding in a cocoon was the remedy, not wanting to come out, not wanting to show people what I was capable of, not wanting people to see my weaknesses and after living that life for so long

You start to forget who you truly are.
Unlike butterflies, we don't have a restart button
They have the chance to leave their past behind, learning they can't take the old version of you into the new chapter

Now all we can do is grow, spiral into a beautiful lepidoptero
Start by increasing your color
Realizing we never received a restart button because we never actually needed one.
I need to grow

To learn that you had no control over what has happened
Only control what's going to happen
Now flutter those huge, colorful, but very sensitive wings, reach beyond the limits

I'm scared, are butterflies scared?
After so long of living a life with multiple legs and only being able to climb compared to me. Always feeling the need to hide who I am
Transforming into something that can fly, soar the sky freely


That's all I want to be, free.
To be me, just to sense no one is judging me, to smell the sweet aroma of victory
To spread these wings without a worry in the world just like a butterfly.

Not Just a City by Grover Korn

A city bustling
A city hustling
People laughing
Cheaters gaffing
Business flying
Bowling center on the corner dying
Impatient students pencil tapping
Audiences' happy clapping
Sleepy baby wakes

All this is the city you see?
But I'm afraid that's not the whole story of old Lincoln, N E

Right in the heart, dead center of town
A zoo holds three giraffes, all amber and brown
By the wall is Joey with teeth strong as steel
Munching and crunching on his tree branch meal
He stares at the wall as his adam's apple drops
Waiting, contemplating, as the others merely yawp
By the bars stands Phoebe in an excited mood
Gold neck extending, reaching for food
She just can't quite reach it, no need to brood
For her long slimy tongue can roll out (how crude)

Allie, the youngest, looks up into the night
Chocolate spots glistening in the moonlight
Yearning for the day that all will be right In her natural home, seeing beauty and might
For the day when the water will reflect the sunlight
And her face is lit up, her smile so bright
As dusk falls on the city, her day's final sight

Dear Lincoln Giraffes ... Goodnight.

Sunset Waltz Maggie Harris

It starts with a road more dirt than gravel
veers off to another, more dust than dirt.
Through the trees, over the stream
a scene Willa Cather herself could not
romanticize further if she tried. Waves:
the tall kind of grass that brushes ankles
but never itches. Prairie thistles
struggling to break the surface of an ocean
only seen when a breeze sifts through
its gentle foam. Above, a sky so low
you cannot see the line where leaves end
and air begins. And the sky itself:
orange bleeds into pink into purple into blue.
A single red-winged blackbird bravely flies overhead
the rest too scared to disturb the splendor
of the open field.

I turn to you
take your hand.
You kiss me like
you're kissing
the sky.
We dance as if
the grass
is a private ballroom
the sinking sun
a crystal chandelier.

The Snow Land by Katherine Carpenter

Dream of green.
Spring green.
Green sprouts in sun-warmed soil
Green buds making fuzzy haze on branches overhead
Green shoots poking timid noses above rich, thawing ground
Green earth welcoming warm breeze, shooing away last lingering cold
In spring, the world is awakened
In spring, the world is reborn
Spring is green.
Dream of gold.
Summer gold.
Golden insects zipping to and fro
Golden prairie grasses swaying in the wind
Golden cornstalk rows marching off to the horizon, perfect squadrons of soldiers
Golden sun beating down on scorched fields,
Streaming through the window, pouring like syrup
In summer, the world is warmed
In summer, the world is crowned
Summer is gold.
Dream of red.
Autumn red.
Red throats from first seasonal colds
Red cheeks flushed from cooling air
Red fire burning in the hearth, fed by crackling logs
Red leaves detaching from the trees and fluttering to the awaiting earth
In autumn, the world is vibrant
In autumn, the world is painted bold colours
Autumn is red.
Spring is green
Summer is gold
Autumn is red
The earth has beautiful dresses
Of bursting, boiling hues
And gold
And crimson and ruby and scarlet
But we often forget
That other world
That world of white
That world of silvery snow and ice
That world that comes in the midst of that bleak gray desolation
Where there is no emerald
No gold
No crimson
There is nothing but Gray
Bleak, bleak Gray.
Until one morning arrives
On silent tip-toe
With your head buried under the pillows
Wishing that you could sleep in
Wishing you were back in that dream
With those green buds making fuzzy haze in the branches overhead
With that golden sunlight streaming through the window like syrup
With those vibrant colours
Splattered over the leaves
Like a child's painting
Your reluctant eyes open
You slowly pull yourself out of sleep's clutches
You look around
There is no emerald
There is no gold
There is no crimson
Maybe there never was
Maybe you imagined it
Maybe it was all
And then you open the door.
You are struck by the brilliant sunlight
Reflecting off the snow
Covering the frosted grass
In glistening, blazing powder
The calm white blanket
Falling between the wilted corn stalks
Settling gently on the trees
Jagged crystal daggers
The world is transformed
From emerald
From gold
From crimson
To white
To silvery snow and ice
Highlighted by early morning sun
Piercing purple sky
You are frozen in place
Mouth hanging open like a black hole
A perfect, round O
It will melt
It will thaw
The frozen world will dissipate.
The green will push its way back to the surface
The gold will blaze once again
And the crimson and ruby and scarlet
Will be splattered over the leaves
Like a child's painting
But now
There is nothing but White
Beautiful, beautiful White.
This is the Snow Land
Where time pauses, suspended in mid-air
Where that sense of wellness drifts to rest over your heart
All from that white, white blanket
That came silently, silently during the night
Extinguishing the bleak gray of despair
That threatened to take over your mind

My Nebraska Primer by Jayden Leonard

“Were it not for the way you taught me to look
at the world, to see the life at play in everything,
I would have to be lonely forever.”

― Ted Kooser

An old gravel road
climbs to the top of a hill
where a small farm is
nestled in a hollow
bordered by a winding creek

And on that farm
three little girls
from one hay bale
to the next
like lily pads--
blonde ponytails
in the wind

They take turns
on a solo swing,
muddy sneakers silhouetted
against a brilliant blue sky,
and on the
big green tractor
riding from the safety of
a blue overalled lap

They savor sliced
ham and butter drenched
mashed potatoes
feeding the cattle
tufts of grass
clutched between dirty fingernails

They furtively follow
an older cousin
secretly hoping
he misses
the crow
in the sights of his BB gun

Running against the stream
they search for nature's hideouts
in the crevices of its bank
chase kittens around the yard
naming them after favorite desserts
even though
they'll forget

Years later
drive a paved road
to a nursing home
flanked on both sides
by banks and businesses
but still
laugh and
cry and
thank God
for the lessons of
Grandma and Grandpa's farm