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Laguna Beach

21st Annual John Gardiner Poetry Contest winners read their poems at LB Library


The poet Thomas Gray said, “Poetry is thoughts that breathe, and words that burn.” Poetry was never more alive than on June 1 at the Laguna Beach Library during readings of the winning poems from the 21st Annual John Gardiner Community Poetry Contest. From preschoolers to adults, winners wowed the capacity audience. The theme this year was “Freeestyle,” and the poems aptly reflected that motif, covering such diverse topics as the Holocaust, goddesses, bees, haircuts, and even unicorns.

Introducing the program, Niloo Shiraz of OC Libraries said, “With this, we feel we did something right for the community. There were four times more submissions than last year – with 300 submissions and 43 winners in 13 categories. I would like to thank our sponsors the Friends of the Laguna Beach Library and Glenda & Patrick Curran.

21 Group Photo

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Photo by Niloo Shiraz

2019 Poetry Contest winners

Thirty-nine of the winners presented their works at the reading.

All ages were welcome to enter, and winners in all categories received prizes of $25 - $100 gift certificates. Applicants could submit up to three original poems. 

Mike Sprague of Laguna Poetry Workshop, who was a fellow poet and close friend of John Gardiner, served as master of ceremonies. Gardiner was the much-beloved leader of the Laguna Poets Workshop for the last 15 years and emceed the library’s annual Community Poetry Contest for many years. 

21st Annual Daniel Barriga

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Courtesy of LBL

Mike Sprague and Daniel Barriga, third place winner, first grade

Clarissa Ngo of Imaginateink said, “I’m really grateful to the Laguna Beach Library and their volunteers for holding the annual John Gardiner Community Poetry Contest. We had nine winners this year, many of them new to writing, so being recognized for it will fuel them for a long time to come. Writing is a solitary activity, but when kids obtain the chance to scoop their words out of the black holes of their computers and into the light by sharing their hearts and thoughts spilled on the page with others, what they write becomes a shared gift. 

“I have taught for 21 years, and in that time, I have seen many writing contests and publication opportunities fall by the wayside, and with it, kids’ motivation to press on with their writing. That’s why I’m grateful to the Library for giving us this gift.”

The winners of the 2019 contest are…


First place: “Remembering Prywa Lukowska Nuss” by Sara Nuss-Galles

Second place: “Fading Pictures” by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett

Third place (tie): “Irish Farewell” by Mary Jo West

Third place (tie): “On the Rocks” by Nina Welch

21st Annual Barbara

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Photo by Dianne Russell

Adult Second Place Winner Barbara DeMarco-Barrett

Eleventh & Twelfth Grade:

First place: “Rising Muse” by Jessica Gallego

Second place: “Sweet Cup of Tea” by Logan Leeds

Third place: “Mad Hatter Day” by Erin Chang

Tenth Grade:

First place: “Some Memories Never Leave You” by Taylor Esparza

Second place: “Depression” by Grace Wilson

Third place: “My Queen” by Clara Becker

Ninth Grade:

First place: “Painted Skin” by Christina Peng

Second place: “The Lost City” by Katrina Wei

Third place: “Monster in the Room” by Angelina Lyon

21st Annual with teacher

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Photo by Dianne Russell

Clarissa Ngo of Imagineateink assists Eighth Grade First Place Winner Joleen Bakalova

Eighth Grade:

First place: “Goddess Girl” by Joleen Bakalova

Second place (tie): “”Holocaust” by Hailey Weng

Second place (tie): “Holocaust Poem” by Giovanna Palazzo

Third place: “Two Yellow Stars” by Maximo Cossa Golia

Sixth & Seventh Grade:

First place: “An Insult to the Father” by Marie Choi

Second place: “My Memory Tree” by Justina Cha

Third place: “Pele” by Zen Mir-Scaer

Fifth Grade:

First place: “Thirty-Two Degrees Fahrenheit” by Elise Y. Chen

Second Place: “Sea Dive” by Estella Cuyler Newton

Third place: “Hope” by Max Sauers

Fourth Grade:

First place (tie): “I Am From” by Anna Waltersdorfer

First place (tie): “I Am Me” by Marta Essen-Conti

Second place: “Come Help Me, My Hero” by Isla Villadelgado

Third place: “Tiny Black Balloons” by Angelina Choi

Third Grade:

First place: “If I were in Charge of the World” by Ella Black

Second place: “The Forest Trek” by Gayatri Sivakoti

Third place: “Getting a Haircut” by Graham Richland

21st Annual with friend

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Photo by Dianne Russell

Niloo Shiraz looks on as Maïla Drescher – with a little help from a friend – reads “Bees”

Second Grade:

First place: “Dragons” by Ariel Mualim

Second place: “Bees” by Maïla Drescher

Third place: “Unicorn” by Taylor Brook James

First Grade:

First place: “Snails” by Carter Z. Chen

Second place: “Horses” by Ella Hamersley

Third place (tie): “My Dog” by Daniel Barriga

Third place (tie): “Seagulls” by Yuri Nikola Hamersley


First place: “Sunny Days” by Brixton Perlis

Second place (tie): “Hamster and a Boy” by Barrett Anderson

Second place (tie): “Rain” by Kinsley Kesler

Third place: “The Club 19 Storm” by Sebastian Zamorano


First place (tie): “Amelia” by Nova Rebollar Ternborg

First place (tie): “Captain Hiccups” by Kayla Cabral

Next year the theme for the contest will be “Believe.”

The Laguna Beach Library is located at 363 Glenneyre St, (949) 497-1733.

For more information on future events, go to


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