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Lesson Plan April 1, 2023

Fighting Words: Poetry in Response to Current Events [Contest and Workshop]


Thank you to everyone who entered the 2023 Fighting Words Poetry Contest! You can explore the winning poems here. Stay tuned: the next contest will open in spring 2024.

How can poetry be an effective response to current events and underreported stories? How can journalism and poetry help us make connections between global issues and our local and personal contexts? Students are invited to explore these questions and make their voices heard in their entries to the Fighting Words Poetry Contest.

Para ver esta página en español, haga clic aquí.


Current K-12 students anywhere in the world may enter. Students may write in any language, and are welcome to submit multilingual poems. Judges will have reading fluency in English and Spanish.


  • 1st place: $300, publication on the Pulitzer Center website
  • 2nd place: $200, publication on the Pulitzer Center website
  • 3rd place: $100, publication on the Pulitzer Center website
  • Finalists: $75, publication on the Pulitzer Center website


Monday, May 15, 2023, 11:59pm EDT

Entry guidelines:

Go to the Pulitzer Center website and select a story (see the “Suggested Stories” tab above for a curated list). Write a poem of any form and length that includes lines from the story. Include an epigraph in the following format: With lines from "STORY TITLE" by JOURNALIST NAME, a Pulitzer Center reporting project.

The form will ask for some basic information, and you will upload your poem to the form as an attachment. You may also upload an audio or video file of yourself performing your poem; this file is optional, but the text file is required.

Please note: all students must list a teacher contact for their entries. This person will be included in communications with contest-winning poets.

If you have questions about the contest or entry guidelines, please email [email protected].

Judging criteria:

Poems will be judged by the following criteria:

1. Success of the poem on its own terms (craft, linguistic style, emotion, etc.)

  • Questions to ask yourself:
    • What response(s) do I want to evoke in my reader? Have I chosen the best words to evoke this response?
    • Have I used poetic devices (e.g. repetition, imagery, metaphor), or chosen not to use them, to achieve a specific effect?

2. Successful inclusion of lines quoted from a Pulitzer Center story, and responsiveness to the theme(s) of the story

  • Questions to ask yourself:
    • Have I chosen lines that add something important to the poem?
    • Are the lines integrated into the poem smoothly, so their presence feels natural?
    • Have I amplified the underreported story in my poem?

3. Thoughtful choice of perspective and respectful treatment of subject matter

  • Questions to ask yourself:
    • What is my relationship to the story I have chosen? How can I make a personal connection?
    • Why am I writing from the perspective I have chosen? What other perspectives could I choose, and how would those choices change the poem?
    • If the subjects of the story I have chosen read my poem, how might they feel?

Previous contest winners:

Read the winning poems from 2022, 20212020, 2019, and 2018.

Support for preparing students for the contest:

Please navigate to the "Resources for Teachers and Students" tab above to find slide presentations to lead students through a preparatory workshop and graphic organizers to support the workshop and guide students as they write their poems. (Students may also use this graphic organizer independently to guide themselves in writing their poems.)

The "Suggested Stories" tab contains a curated list of stories suggested for different grade levels.

You can also schedule a free, virtual workshop facilitated by a member of the Pulitzer Center education team by filling out this request form. Visit the "Schedule a Workshop" tab above for more information about workshops, including answers to frequently asked questions.

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