Winners of the 2023 Artful Poetry Contest Share Their Poems

Photo by Zach Anderson-Boland. Emily Wilder performs her poem at the 2023 Future Stages Festival.

Photo by Zach Anderson-Boland. Emily Wilder performs her poem at the 2023 Future Stages Festival.

Artful Poetry, an Open Doors Spotlight on Youth Initiative, allowed students from the Kansas City area the opportunity to perform their poetry at the Kauffman Center’s Future Stages Festival on June 11, 2023. Local youth writers submitted their original poems to a panel of local professional poets, artists and writers.  

Check out the winners of our 2023 contest and links to their winning poems below: 

10 and Under Category 

  1. Maha’era Neil Aggarwal 
  2. Laura Zhekah Downum 
  3. Loren Gillette 

11 and Up Category 

  1. Emily Wilder  
  2. Abigail DuMont  
  3. Ari Shanahan 

Learn more about Maha’era Neil Aggarwal and Emily Wilder, our 2023 1st place winners:  

Maha’era Neil Aggarwal, 10 and Under 

Maha’era Neil Aggarwal | Photo submitted by Udita Neil Bharadwaj

Maha’era Neil Aggarwal, 3rd grader at Notre Dame de Sion enjoys painting, reading and poetry. Outside of the classroom, Neil Aggarwal enjoys basketball, hula-hooping and competitive swimming as a proud member of the Kansas City Blazers Swim Team.  

Read Maha’era Neil Aggarwal’s poem, “A Key Worth a Million Galaxies,” below.

A Key Worth a Million Galaxies 

by Maha’era Neil Aggarwal


Once there was a key, dropped on the sidewalk for all to see.
So, I picked it up and leapt away.
I crept inside my house, climbing the stairway like a tiny brown mouse.
I sat in the chair, staring at the key like a luscious pear.
All of a sudden, a door appeared, unexpectedly out of faint haze. It had a keyhole, and I had a key.
With all my might I shoved the enchanted door open but no longer I was in my room!
I was in a Spaceship.
I found out the moon is made of Peanut butter! The stars are cheese puffs, The galaxy is chocolate cake!
Oh my, Oh my!! How many things can space create?
Black holes are brownies, and the Sun is a bright orange jelly. Croissant asteroids zoom around the milky way.
Can I please discover more? Because this is what you call a food galore!!!!
So, as I sat on planet earth, I wondered what this key was really worth? Was it worth gold or was it as crusty as mold?
Back In the spaceship I flew watching the planets arranged in Rainbow hew and I never told anyone what I knew!
I soared above the majestic clear blue sea. Back in my bedroom holding a cup of hot chamomile tea. As I held the key in the air, I felt richer than a million millionaires.

 Emily Wilder, 11 and Up 

Emily Wilder | Photo submitted by Emily Wilder

Emily Wilder, freshman at Olathe North High School, is passionate about advocating for equity and inclusion in her community, as seen by her involvement in the feminist club at Olathe North. An active member of theatre at her high school, Wilder believes that her generation has a unique ability to share important stories and foster change. Wilder has always had an interest in poetry, but only began writing her own this year. She hopes that her poem will encourage readers to contemplate their past, present and future. Wilder has always had an interest in poetry, but only began writing her own this year.  

Read Emily Wilder’s poem, “Name Tag,” below. 

Name Tag  

by Emily Wilder


I don’t need no lock or key, or some piece of metal to set me free.
All I need is a nametag. Cause in the end,
How can we be set free, if we don’t know who we wanna be?
I am a Woman. XY chromosomes.
But I don’t know why, why I say I
When I should say we.


We are women.
We are the wives of history.
The mothers of victory.
And the daughters of misery.


We are the chorus of one whaling infant, who’s father is no longer present,
Just wait one minute. Wait for a woman.
Cause who cares if she’s long overspent?
The father was discontent. Wait for a woman.


So many labels. Circling us, surrounding us.
Overwhelming us. Deciding us.
Instead, give me a name tag.
So they can stop playing us like a game of tag.
We don’t want to play no game. Yet the same one has been enduring,
Before, after, and during.
Throughout history, sprinting, running, then hitting.


Tag, you’re it. No tag backs.


They refuse to hear me; we. We are the voiceless, the meek. The quiet-spoken, the neat.
That’s funny. Because we’re just speaking a language that they can’t speak.
Controlling a game that they can’t see. Check.


Held down by the stickiness of our society, like bubble gum to a shoe.
Blowing a bubble where they want to keep us.
Contain us. Watch us. Admire us.
Pretty, precious, pink.
Pop. There goes your bubble. Now who’s in trouble?


Remember, don’t bite off more than you chew,
Because we always pick up our shoe.


We’ve had a voice, they just weren’t quiet enough to hear us.
Us speaking the language that they can’t speak.
Some could get down with our word.
While others never understood a word.
Nowadays, the majority is able to comprehend what we’re saying
But there’s some still out there that can’t see us swaying.
Swaying to the language that never stops singing,


We are women.

 To learn more about Artful Poetry and other Kauffman Center Open Doors programs, visit