Hopkinton High School sophomore May Chen has a way with words — specifically, poetic ones.
For the second consecutive year, Chen was named winner of the school’s annual poetry contest. Her poem will be published in the award-winning school magazine, Marginal.
She also received an Amazon gift card for her efforts.
Chen modestly described herself as “pretty shocked” by her accomplishments.
“Freshman year, I remember telling myself it was unlikely that I would win due to the amazing writers at Hopkinton High School, and it was my first attempt at poetry,” she said.
The second year was even more surprising, Chen said, because of the talent of the other writers at the school.
“I still think most of the success of my poem is due to luck,” she noted.
HHS English teacher Benjamin Lally would disagree. Lally is the Marginal adviser, and Chen is also enrolled in his sophomore honors English class.
Lally was not involved with judging the poetry contest; that was done by students who reviewed about 50 submissions with the names removed.
“May really has skill with the turn of a phrase,” Lally said. “Her content stands out because it is relatable and rich because of what she does next with the language. That [combination] makes her poem effective.”
Chen said she “officially” began writing poetry when she heard about the contest last year.
Lally noted it is strictly voluntary to participate, and the school also has a short story contest that was in the process of being judged. “Seniorwritis,” a third competition, is open only to 12th graders.
Chen said she gets all her ideas from what is happening around her, including what she reads and from other writers.
“I believe the best writing builds from other pieces,” she said, citing Ocean Vuong as a particular inspiration.
“[Vuong] was my first introduction to poetry. I think the way he writes and the mainstream media attention he has garnered has inspired so many other writers,” Chen noted.
Similarly, Lally feels Chen draws the attention of her peers.
“She’s really sharp. During the poetry unit, you can tell she has insights into what we are talking about,” he said. “And her classmates really tune in more when she speaks.”
Chen said she spends most of her free time playing tennis, video games and oboe in the band, as well as crocheting.
Although she has considered writing as a possible career, Chen noted she does not think she will pursue that path.
“I don’t think I’ll follow through due to fear of losing joy in it,” she said. “I’d rather have writing as something I can escape to in the future.”
Currently, she hopes to pursue a future involving computer science because of her interest in game design.
Chen expects to continue writing poetry for fun.
“It’s one of the things I am constantly thinking about when I am going about my day-to-day business,” she noted. “I am constantly asking myself ‘How can I put this experience into words?’ ”
Chen added, “Sometimes it works, and other times it doesn’t. I have learned to write poetry for myself instead of worrying about what other people will think. In a way, it has become therapeutic for me.”
Because of the large number of submissions to the contest, additional students received recognition. They are 2023 runner-up Ishita Urs for “Do You Know How to Live?,” and honorable mentions Piyusha Majgaonkar, “Like Mother, Like Daughter,” and Vaagmi Shukla, “Precede.”
Following are May Chen’s winning poems from 2023 (“Diorama of Woman”) and 2022 (“Blue Hour”).
Diorama of Woman
i learn through the colors of the body.
ink spill bruised, blood born galaxies
i think back to a time before
tree vines wrap within my wrists
and i sail down their winding rivers
a time when i was happy
blushed knees, bent to the will of man
Godless：i whisper prayers under my breath
like a far off fairytale.
pulled tight against the soul,
sand down my lips to fit your own &
leave the shavings to dust
a time in which i cannot remember
holy water, holy spirit, anything for holy skin.
Goddess: i purify myself, putrefied.
in my mothers womb
i obeyed my country and on this land
i wish for a home.
My underbelly aches with hunger
a lust for flesh.
i remember being the hunted:
hands around my neck,
i find myself pressed
preserved with bloated breaths
a new feeling, a new face
for the pages meant for flowers.
i think to my mothers mask
blooming against my own
in this way i am tied,
against her bed: her body.
reduced to a bag of blood,
i let teeth sink in.
I let them hurt me
stray bullets that find a home
in my head
where bottomless thoughts
always seem to lead to…
pitless what ifs
graze my outline
in a familiar pain, I find
the whispers that float in the air
my touch to feel cold, I voyage into
the simplicity of solitude.
and you learn it is your duty
to save yourself.
蓝小时 (Blue Hour)
Ma told me i was living the american dream
football games every weekend
dances every month
what more could
someone ask for?
The american dream
hungry but never starving
take me back to when
we would sit by your bed
other kids had books
we had your experiences
you called my name
but i wasn’t there
i was in the fields of 湖南 China
running through the rocky roads
Yiruma kiss the rain played in the back
as i slept.
my anxiety lives
among my fingers
flesh and bones
a beast lives within
my anxiety eats me.
the blue hour
a period of twilight
where the sky is overcome with an indigo hue
indigo means devotion
I am devoted to this life
The sound dips
a pause in the music
a flaw of the musician
a whisper of hope in the silence
i’ll be okay.