Inspired by the Academy of American Poets, we are offering a selection of poems for teens to close out our celebration of National Poetry Month 2022. Please enjoy the following selection of poems for teens written by James Riley, Deni Nafzigger, and Julyan Davis. We are also linking to selections of poems for teens curated on by the  Academy of American Poets, where you will also find “essays, recommended reading lists, must-have anthologies, interviews, and advice just for [teens].”

Also, watch for our Poetry for Children post to celebrate National Poetry Month 2022.


The Visit

James Riley

I am sleeping on a pallet
in the living room, the blue
pilot light from the gas furnace
flickering beneath the floor,
the metal grate hot to the touch.

My mother and grandmother
are sitting beneath the soft light
from a lamp on the kitchen table,
their voices hushed, whispering
in a strange language
the sense
of who I am in this house.


click on the title to read:

I’m Nobody! Who are you? (260)

Emily Dickinson

courtesy of the American Academy of Poets


Life’s Lessons

James Riley

There comes a time when all
fifteen-year-olds decide
lying is acceptable,
encouraged by their friends
who have learned to ignore
adults, distrust the advice
meant to make life easier.
Sadly, life doesn’t get easier.
Work doesn’t go away
no matter how hard we embrace
the potential for bad news,
the missed step leading
in the wrong direction,
down the wrong path
where the border between
that other country and truth
have joined to build a wall.

On the Slant 

James Riley

When nothing else makes sense
the Cardinals sing cheeseburger
on the hill behind the house,
a flash of red in the underbrush.

I am sitting on the patio,
drinking coffee and watching
men in gray suits haul garbage
on trucks that clank and rattle
past the house. They are burning
trash on the ridge, the smell
of smoke rising from the trees.

Chaos is on the slant this morning,
but if you listen you can hear
the relentless, full-throated
singing cheeseburger cheeseburger.


 click on the title to read:

I Have This Way of Being 

Jamal May

courtesy of the  Academy of American Poets


Poem to My Younger Self

Deni Naffziger

By the time you arrive you will know
what I know or more than I know
if you listen to Song Sparrows
singing in the orchard and Indigo Buntings
inviting you beneath a canopy of leaves
where Black-billed Cuckoos lurk
in the undergrowth.

When days grow short, heed the trill
of the Dark-eyed Junco and the nasal call
of the Sandhill Crane who insist
that you pull a coat from the closet,
your socks from the drawer.

Every season surprised me.
I only heard a voice that said you will never
be stunning like a Scarlet Tanager,
or regal like a Peacock. You will never
sing like a Wood Thrush
or think like a Wild Hooded Crow.
You’re not as clever as a Kea,
and the Red-capped Manakin
couldn’t teach you to dance
if its life depended on it.

As strange as it sounds,
that voice is a bird inside your head,
pecking at the shell to get beyond you.


click on the title to read:


Joy Harjo

courtesy of the Academy of American Poets


Gift Horses

Julyan Davis

Above all, do not lose your desire to walk: Soren Kierkergaard

(For George Minafer, who hated cars)

The Centaurs, soundly trounced and in full retreat,
paused once on their flight from sacred Pelion
and gathered where a grove allayed the heat.

Fast breathing filled the shade and quick flanks shone
as they wheeled to isolate aches beyond reach
and gasped obscenity in baritone.

“What now?” one asked at last, to hear from each
at once – a curse, a strategy, a bray,
that hushed upon a single measured speech.
“A swift descent, I fear, from tragic fray
to comic function,” this oracle decreed.
“I hear Dionysus is looking for a bay

or two to drag his wheels from a to b,
and Eros has set his heart upon a mount.”
The centaurs groaned. All knew the place to read

the blame—where their human halves grew wild, rampant
at a stamping beast. “Perhaps one final plan,”
our speaker mused, “at least to settle our account

with this morning’s favored, this upstart, Man.
For him a parting gift of our baser half
to install and mismanage as best he can?”

At these new words there came a scornful laugh.
“Such slight contact with the wild infects enough
for man to share our sordid epitaph?”

The schemer turned. “I speak not of passion, though,
but acceleration. A love of this will ruin
the world for him, will seem a chance to slough

confines until then unseen, but now akin
to slavery. A change at the plough will please,
yet harnessed to our gift, his worrying vein

will never halve his hours away from ease
but double his distance from virgin slope and vale.
Equestrian—the road will be all he sees

as he fast becomes a stranger to his scale,
hearing just hooves, scenting just beast in the blast,
and manure at home. Then speed itself might pale

to seem both dull and vital (for some at last
fatal), yet still convince with the romance
that a fate worse than death his pedestrian past.

In time we can expect our bait enhanced
to near equality, and watch mankind
lose fingers with fodder, if he gives a chance,

or gain a kicked-in head, tending from behind.
But best by far will be his own tribute—
for when has he settled? When not used his mind?

Man must tinker. That is his lot. This brute
revenge may be refined beyond our scope.”
He closed, to find approval absolute

from an audience eager to act and escape
(approaching shouts certain at this juncture).
No easy choice, with each a misanthrope

at heart, but four seemed first for such imposture.

With mythic ease, these changed their silhouette
to signal with nods they would wait for capture.

The centaurs fled, waving farewell to this vignette—
A pastoral group, yet full of Trojan threat.


click on the title to read:

Black Mythology

Jonathan Teklit

courtesy of the  Academy of American Poets