Winners 2021

Aotearoa’s poets of the future feature in National Schools Poetry Awards


Caitlin Jenkins, a Year 13 student from Papatoetoe High School (Auckland), has won the 2021 International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML) National Schools Poetry Award with a poem that celebrates the rich cultural histories of South Auckland.

Portrait of Caitlin Jenkins

Caitlin Jenkins, 2021 Award winner

Of the winning poem, titled ‘South’, judge Tayi Tibble says that it ‘cleverly explores the relationship between people and place, tangata and whenua.’ She adds, ‘The poem reminded me of a chant, or a prayer. It hit a perfect chord of being both staunch and critical but also forgiving and hopeful.’

Caitlin Jenkins, who is of Tongan (Village Fatai), Niuean (Village Toi) and NZ European descent, receives a prize of $500 and her school library receives a book grant of $500. She also receives a package of literary prizes provided by Read NZ Te Pou Muramura, Victoria University Press, Sport, Landfall and the New Zealand Society of Authors. As part of the prize, Ms Jenkins and the other nine shortlisted poets will attend a poetry masterclass with Tayi Tibble.

Caitlin says, “I’m feeling very honoured and grateful to receive this award. ‘South’ is a poem dedicated to my Pasifika and Māori communities of South Auckland. We have forever been taught to accept the mould the rest of New Zealand has put us in, but this poem is proof that only we can shape us, that we can reverse the damage and grow from it something beautiful. Please take this poem and welcome it into you, and when you enter our streets, remember us by it.”

The other nine finalists are: Ruby Buffett-Bray (St Dominic’s College, Auckland), Grace Fakahau (Amanaki STEM Academy and Palmerston North Girls’ High School), Janet Guo (Hillcrest High School, Hamilton), Jackson McCarthy (St Peter’s College, Auckland), Darcy Monteath (Logan Park High School, Dunedin), Ella Paterson (Tauranga Girls’ College), Penelope Scarborough (Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu), Holly Willis (Wellington Girls’ College), and Angelina Zhou Narayan (Burnside High School, Christchurch). Each will receive prizes from Read NZ Te Pou Muramura and Sport, as well as $100 cash.

There were more than 200 entries this year from senior high school students. ‘I am blown away and completely inspired by how freaking cool teenagers are these days,’ says Ms Tibble. ’They’re whip smart and passionate. They’re generous, thoughtful, keen and respectful. They are funny and warm. What always impresses me the most, like, literally makes my jaw hit the floor, is their socio-political awareness and responsibility. They care about the world around them and the people that society affects, targets, isolates and disenfranchises.’

Chris Price, Senior Lecturer at the IIML at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington, says ‘The winning and shortlisted poems make it clear that the future of poetry, and of Aotearoa New Zealand itself, is in very good hands.’

The 2021 National Schools Poetry Award is organised by the IIML with the support of Creative New Zealand with sponsorship and promotional support from Wonderlab.

Chris Price
International Institute of Modern Letters
Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington

2021 Award winner : Caitlin Jenkins – ‘South’

Finalist : Ruby Buffet-Bray ‘Westside Stories’

Finalist : Grace Fakahau ‘4 tha kulture’

Finalist : Janet Guo – Bus Stop Morning

Finalist : Jackson McCarthy – ‘Dirge’

Finalist : Darcy Monteath Who’s a Dog’s Best Friend?

Finalist : Angelina Zhou Narayan ‘Cultural Tripartite’

Finalist : Ella Paterson ‘Some of all the parts’

Finalist : Penelope Scarborough – ‘Today My Sister’

Finalist : Holly Willis – ‘Laughing’