Creating Connection at the Brooks Poetry Competition

Thursday, May 11—William Wordsworth famously said, “poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings; it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” 

That sentiment was on full display during the all-school assembly inside the David E. and Stacey L. Goel Theater as students from Class IV and Class V took the stage for the annual Brooks Poetry Prize competition. Students read their chosen poems with emotion and diction. Some students were gleeful and some were somber, or both, as they read poems that touched on themes like grief, love, family, friendship, nature, and apocalypse. 

“The Brooks Poetry competition is a tradition in Classes IV and V and provides a special opportunity for us to relate to and feel understood by each other through poetry,” said Elina Suri ’26 as she got the assembly started with opening remarks. “Sharing personally meaningful poetry creates a space for both vulnerability and a sense of elation…This assembly is one I look forward to every year; poetry has the power to connect us through shared emotions even though we may have had different experiences, so I always leave with a new perspective.”

The competition is a storied Winsor tradition dating back to 1909 that puts students’ public speaking skills to the test. Every Class IV and Class V student selects a poem that speaks to them in some way and recites it during class time. From each section, one student is selected to present at the assembly. Readers are judged on their expression and articulation, and on their understanding of their poem.

Continuing a tradition established last year, the Class V finalists also read reflections about why they chose their poems and how their poems are important to them, which highlighted not only how poetry has the power to summon elation and joy, but also the complexity and depth of feeling that it can stir inside us all. 

“It is amazing and a gift to be reminded by all of you that there is such beauty and meaning and that it is so accessible, so thank you for presenting to us something that we would not have presented to ourselves. We are really grateful,” said Winsor Head of School and O’Donnell Family Chair Sarah Pelmas. 

Poems ran the gamut from Mary Oliver’s “That Summer Day” read by Sienna McCabe ’27, which touches on themes like the purpose of life, beauty, and nature, to "Perhaps the World Ends Here" by Joy Harjo, who Liana Min ’26 was inspired to take on because it reminded her of her family’s penchant for traditions like sharing a meal together each night. 

“The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live. / The gifts of earth are 
brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on,” Harjo 
writes in the poem. Min said the poem reminded her that simple traditions are indeed the best 

Class V readers:
Liana Min ’26: "Perhaps the World Ends Here" by Joy Harjo
Alisa Ross ’26:  "The More Loving One" by W.H. Auden
Anna Yang  ’26:  "The Accompanist" by Dick Allen 
Gracie Zhou ’26:  "Ruin and Beauty" by Patricia Young 
Alessa Andrews ’26:  "Wild Geese" by Mary Oliver 

Class IV readers:
Rowan Calhoun ’27: "For Grief" by John O'Donohue
Sarah Rahman ’27: "On Joy and Sorrow" by Khalil Gibran
Sienna McCabe ’27: "That Summer Day" by Mary Oliver
Charlotte Wheler ’27: "On Friendship" by Kahlil Gibran

The Brooks Poetry Prize competition was established by Clara G. Brooks—a “great friend” of Miss Winsor’s. Brooks funded the reading and writing prizes in 1913. Additionally, her daughter and granddaughters later attended Winsor including Rachel Brooks Jackson ’02, Madeline Jackson Emery ’35, and Clara Jackson Murfey ’39. The winners, one from Class IV and one from Class V, will be announced at Prize Day in June.