Poetry Contest

NAMI NJ Dara Axelrod Expressive Arts
2024 Mental Health Poetry Contest

Theme: What will you be doing all while the world is screaming?

We thank all 72 participating poets and 227 voters for another successful NAMI NJ Dara Axelrod Expressive Arts Mental Health Poetry Contest!


Click here to download all Top Ten Poems

1st Place: Sotto Voce by Anu Mahadev

2nd Place: The World is Ending and I am Holding Your Hand by Yumna Juha

3rd Place: Lullaby –An Elixir, a Tourniquet, a Panacea by Megha Sood

4th Place: I’d Search for Peace by Damaris Chanza

5th Place: No Longer Distant by RescuePoetix

6th Place: Hope is Between Two Sides by Jaime Hope Chaifetz

7th Place: Rewriting the Script by Tammy Smith

8th Place: Never Forget by Jessica Decker

9th Place: After the World Burned by James Irwin

10th Place: WEIGHT by Deanna Butler


Congratulations to all!


Voter Comments:

I love all the different approaches to such a simple yet powerful prompt.

All beautiful thoughts, an intensity so refreshing that the reader cannot be left unmoved.

Each of these pieces touches on such personal experiences that impacts all of us.

All the poems are wonderfully penned!

Awesome and powerful experience to read all the poems. What an empowering celebration of the path to mental wellness.

Really enjoyed reading the poems. As a poet and writer the range of work and emotions in these poems was both numbing and chaotic – beautiful and sad.

These are absolutely beautiful. It was so hard to narrow the choices down to three. Very talented individuals.

Heart-felt and very touching poems.

I saw glimmers of hope and peace in these poems despite the difficult theme. The poets conveyed the state of our world these days, however much in anguish and despair we are. Thanks to all!

These poems were all incredible! It was so hard to choose!

Thank you for the courage of these writers.





NAMI NJ Dara Axelrod Expressive Arts
2023 Mental Health Poetry Contest

Theme: Joy


Click here to download all Top Ten poems

1st Place: I Never Thought I Could Be a Cartographer by Bryan Franco

2nd Place: Joy is in me by Chamylah General

3rd Place: Joy Within by Zachary Peterson

4th Place: Collective Joys by Megha Sood

5th Place: Spring Showers & Other Merry Moments by Yumna Juha

6th Place: Chasing Joy by Adrita Chowdhury

7th Place: Exact Euphoria by Sharon Ivanauskas

8th Place: Uncommon by Rescuepoetix

9th Place: Untitled by Andrew Conti

10th Place: Discovering Joy by Crystal Davis


Voter Comments:

Each poem is wonderful, they show resilience and positive attitudes in the face of adversity.

Kudos to all the poets!

Each of the submissions inspires and brings beautiful perspectives to a theme rarely explored or expressed in these days. It was difficult to decide which ones impacted me most.

All of the poems were vulnerable and authentic and much appreciated!

Wonderful messages for all! Read all with joy!

A pleasure to read this year’s entries!

These were great poems, each of them in their own right!

This activity is a lovely creative outlet that allows the insider to be expressive, and the outsider/s a welcomed participant and supporter of the authors in a genuine way. I have been further enlightened and lifted!

All of the poems were excellent and so impressive!

What a wonderful contest and such thoughtful submissions.

A nice variety of poems, an array of feelings. Thanks for sharing your joy!



NAMI NJ Dara Axelrod Expressive Arts
2022 Mental Health Poetry Contest

Theme: Aspects of mental health stigma and how we think and feel about them.

We thank all 65 participating poets and 403 voters for another successful NAMI NJ Dara Axelrod Expressive Arts Mental Health Poetry Contest. Special thanks to our guest judge, Jyoti Singh, this year! We are grateful to Robyn Sabel, mental health advocate and founder of Buttercup & Joy for her generosity in sending a special gift to each of our three poets who penned the community’s Top 3 favorite poems!

Top Ten Poems

Click here to download all Top Ten Poems

1st Place: The Mask by Neha Mishra

2nd Place: Comes with Rules by Cole Capriotti

3rd Place: Silent Chaos by Megha Sood

4th Place: Metamorphosis by Lexie Manion

5th Place: Free by Lisa Marie Bettencourt

6th Place: Our Family by Susan Wagner

7th Place: Your Smile Never Ceases to Exist as Part of Who You Are by Bryan Franco

8th Place: Inheritance by J. Lewis

9th Place: Spare Tire by Rescue Poetix

10th Place: Crazy by Stacy Carchman


Voter Comments:

Wonderful submissions, very hard to choose!!!!

I thought they were all very good, insightful, authentic.

It was especially difficult to choose this year! All poets are to be commended for putting their hearts and feelings out there.

Amazing. Thought out. Starting a conversation that needs to be heard.

Incredible work! Really well articulated and unique pieces, it was hard to pick top 3!

ALL the poems were Winners in my book!! The youth of today has many struggles in society and hopefully with outreach, services, and programs like this, if we can help people overcome their inhibitions/fears of mental disease we can conquer mountains. Thanks for all you do!!!

Very powerful poems!

Amazing insight by all composers.

Keep the contest going every year! Marvelous works.

I enjoyed reading the poems! And thinking about the subject from different points of view. Thanks for having this contest!

All the poems are very well written and thought provoking. Mental health is still a taboo in our society. Hope people will open up to it and treat it as a general ailment and fully support it.

Kudos to all the young budding poets. Loved it!

All were amazing, all writers should be so proud.

These poems had the poets’ emotions shining through. So thoughtfully expressed and heartfelt. Great submissions this year.



NAMI NJ Dara Axelrod Expressive Arts
2021 Mental Health Poetry Contest

Theme: “Food” – Fond memories of your favorite food and your attachment to it


Click here to download all Top Ten Poems

1st Place: Labor of Love by Jyoti Singh

2nd Place: Gram’s Fried Green Tomato Pizzas by Sharon Kaye (Guerrazzi)

3rd Place: Memories sealed up by Sharon Ivanauskas

4th Place: Food is Family by Rescuepoetix™

5th Place: El sándwich de Papa by Martha Rodriguez

6th Place: Homemade Soup by Patricia Urban Korsak

7th Place: THE MADNESS by Neelam Chandra

8th Place: Savor by Aditi Tandon


10th Place: Mulberry Mud Pies by Dana I. Hunter


Voter Comments:

Congratulations to all the writers – the poems were wonderful!

Excellent evocative work, much admiration to the poets!

Amazing poems that touch the soul.

Incredible Talent!!

Interesting lovely poems, thanks for sharing poets and giving us poetry fans the chance to read and vote. Congrats.

Very well written poems.

All the poems were great. It was difficult to vote!

Love it.



NAMI NJ Dara Axelrod Expressive Arts
2020 Mental Health Poetry Contest

Theme: “battling our challenges with superpowers”

Top Ten Poems

Click here to download all Top Ten Poems

1st Place: My Survival Story by Megha Sood

2nd Place: Untitled by Jennifer McGraw

3rd Place: Silence by Michelle Belfiore

4th Place: Hello my name is: Resilience by Edward Ballo

5th Place: Metamorphosis by Karen Jung

6th Place: Visibility by Cooper Kidd

7th Place: Cosmic Revelation by Sacha Batra

8th Place: D.I.D. by Jodie Intilli

9th Place: Signs by Aparaajit Sriram

10th Place: The good the bad and the mental illness by Shelley Pickles


Voter comments:

Amazing poems! All these poets are so talented and have so much to give to the world!

It’s great how so many different people have so many different ideas about what their ‘power’ is: expressed in so many ways, too! It goes to show we are each individuals with our own unique voice. This diversity is exactly why it is so valuable to share!

A lot of courage is reflected in all the poems. Thank you!

This year the poems were really outstanding – very hard to select only 3. I think this year’s submissions are among the best ever received. Thank you for sponsoring this effort!

It was challenging to pick the top 3 poems since each of the 10 poems has a unique style and story. They were all heartfelt, inspiring poems that give others a lens into what it looks and feels like to have a mental illness. Words can be so powerful, healing, and inspiring. Thank you NAMI NJ for sponsoring this annual mental health poetry contest! 🙂

Every single poem is beautiful.



NAMI NJ Dara Axelrod Expressive Arts
2019 Mental Health Poetry Contest

Theme: “moving or capable of moving in the air”


Click here to download all Top Ten Poems

1st Place:      I Rise by Alexa Taylor Sharpe

2nd Place:     The Rebirth of the Phoenix by Tarrin Morgan II

3rd Place:      A Journey towards freedom by Megha Sood

4th Place:     Take the Dare by Swati Ambole

5th Place:     Hope by Kris Peterson

6th Place:     Survivor by Karen Jung

7th Place:     A Need to Breathe by Patricia Urban Korsak

8th Place:     Taking Flight by Laine Sutton Johnson

9th Place:     The Power Within Me by Kelly Grayson

10th Place:     Untitled by Strawberry Gallagher


Voter comments:

All so powerful. . .thank you for providing an avenue for these amazing individuals to share their gifts.

It was so difficult to vote because every one of these poems was so powerful and moving! Kudos to every one of these writers!!! Wonderful Job!!!

Very moving poems. The poets are really talented. Thank you for offering this annual event!!! Truly “expressive!”

Wow, such powerful poems, it was difficult to choose the 3 best in my opinion. But that is actually a good problem to have. Thank you for having this important poetry contest.

The poems conveyed the idea that becoming a human being is most of the times a challenging process. With great work, we may find meaning in our existence in health and in sickness. I also appreciated their sincere message. Congrats to these amazing poets.

Really enjoyed all poems. The Authors put their hearts into their work. Best to all.



NAMI NJ Dara Axelrod Expressive Arts
2018 Mental Health Poetry Contest

Theme: “What is your song?”


Click here to download all Top Ten Poems

1st Place:     My victory song by Megha Sood

2nd Place:    More Than Words by Laurie Goldman

3rd Place:     Symphony by Maria del Carmen Rodriguez

4th Place:     Freedom by Brenda Vaughn

5th Place:     My Song (1) by Kelly Brennan

6th Place:     Cosmic Masterpiece by Sacha Batra

7th Place:     My Freedom Songs by Nicole Spector

8th Place:    “notes of silence” by Deesha Arabatti

9th Place:     Flirting with Suicide by Edward W. Fashole-Luke

10th Place:    My song (2) by Jaime Chaifetz


Voter comments:

I really appreciate that these 3 poems, while following the rules of contest of course, show great originality and deviation from the usual- as if NO ONE else could have possibly written them, and they do not rely on inferred cliches or common rhyme schemes to do the real work of imagery. That is important. Thank you.

All wonderful. Congratulations and Best Wishes to all who submitted!

All of the poems were strong it was hard to choose.

Very creative poems and so heartfelt.

Emotions are beautifully expressed by the poets – impressive and moving! THANK YOU for running this contest.

I was impressed with all of them. 

I voted according to the emotions that these poems left on me. It is shame I can’t put them all on the first position. All of them are quite good.

I love the poem written by the writer!! Always beautiful, affectionate and well connected with the readers!!

Wonderful opportunity to share talents!!

Just Wow! I feel so much connected.

Amazing writing!!

Wonderful idea!

NAMI NJ Dara Axelrod Expressive Arts
2017 Mental Health Poetry Contest

Theme: “the process or processes you use to help you make it through the tough times”


Click here to download all Top Ten Poems

1st Place:     “You Heal Me, O World” by Joyti Singh

2nd Place:     “I Sit by the Sea” by Verdie Eaton

3rd Place:     “A Hero of My Own” by Daniel Shao

4th Place:     “How I Cope” by Annie Glynn

5th Place:     “The road to healing” by Kelly Brennan

6th Place:     “Never Stop Letting It Out” by Jennifer Bristol

7th Place:     “As the ink pours out on paper” by Agnes Abdelwahabe

8th Place:     “Ten minutes” by Swati Ambole

9th Place:     “A Motorcycle” by Ariana Landeira

10th Place:     “H.A.L.T” by Jeffrey Varanyak


Voter comments:

It was really difficult to choose a winner. The poems are beautiful stylistically and more so metaphorically. It made me smile to read them. They are all winners!

All these heartfelt poems were so poignant. I had difficulty choosing only 3. I think all of them should win First Place.

So much creativity each and every one of you. To me, all of you are winners.

Beautiful, creative, and very moving.

Great and courageous heartfelt poems.

All the poems were wonderful as well as inspiring.

Enjoyed them all! It is so healthy to put everything down on paper.

All of the poems are great and give food for thought. Thanks!




NAMI NJ Dara Axelrod Expressive Arts
2016 Mental Health Poetry Contest

Theme: “Positive aspects of having dealt with mental health challenges”


Click here to download all Top Ten Poems

1st Place:      A Brighter Day by Nora Weiss

2nd Place:     Thanks by Sneha Bolisetty

3rd Place:      The Upside of Mental Health Challenges by Annie Glynn

4th Place:      Never Did I Think” by Stephen R. Garvey

5th Place:      Seed by Mercedes P. Kobrin

6th Place:      Joy Division by Laurie Goldman

7th Place:      Untitled (you are not alone) by Patricia Korsak

8th Place:     “Manic Depression (Bipolar Disorder) The Good Stuff by Valerie Ryan

9th Place:      Untitled (a gentle touch) by Melanie Aaron Pappas

10th Place:    The Never-Fading by Melissa Seymour


Voter comments:

Great idea, all poems are wonderful and expressive and raw.

All of these poets will receive a blue ribbon. In their own way, each poet conveyed their feelings both beautifully and thoughtfully. Thank you, NAMI NJ, for holding this poetry contest.

These poems speak to the heart. Most of us experience disfunction/mental illness within our families. These poems help us to see the struggles those suffering and living with these issues have to endure.

It is so good to see these struggles and triumphs put into words.

Congratulations to all poets for the marvelous efforts. Some verses brought tears in my eyes. All poems are great and soaked with thoughts of what this illness is about and, hopefully, someday there will be a curative solutions.

All great submissions this year, very hard to choose. I love this type of contest – it’s inspiring and enlightening to hear from our friends with MI.

Beautiful means of acknowledging all the talented people around us.

Hard to make a choice when they are all so very personal and well written!

All of the poems are from a deep place and I thank all of the poets for sharing.




NAMI NJ Dara Axelrod Expressive Arts
2015 Mental Health Poetry Contest

Theme: “Your note from a healing journey”


Click here to download all Top Ten Poems

1st Place:      “I KEPT WALKING” by Jyoti Singh

2nd Place:    “Healing Journey” by Jennifer Freund

3rd Place:     “The Hourglass” by Colleen Wermuth

4th Place:      “Untitled” by Shanna Milligan

5th Place:      “Clarity Soothes the Loudest Noise” by John Di Stasio III

6th Place:      “Untitled” by Steven Kotopoulis

7th Place:      “As the White Dove flies” by Usha Chatty

8th Place:      “Misophonia” by Maithreyi Ravula

9th Place:      “Dark Clouds and Rainbows” by Shirley A. Todd

10th Place:    “Unclaimed Freight” by Janet Lynn Berkowitz


Voter comments:

 “With a son who has bi-polar, who has suffered for 20 plus years, these poems remind me of his journey….many of these feelings are mirrored in his writings.  But it is the message of hope that drew me to these.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading all the poetry on this site.

What a tremendous selection of poems…heartfelt, strong, soft, sorrowful and uplifting. I applaud each and every one.  May those reading the poems, who are on their own journey, be touched by what they read and be inspired to seek the road of recovery.

Putting feelings into words is hard enough; putting troubled feelings and thoughts into verse is harder still. I applaud all who made the effort.

Beautiful poignant poetry…truly makes us reflect inwards…very difficult to choose Top Three…they are all winners!! 

Captured not only the darkness but hope.

It gives me hope for my son who suffers from depression – that most of these poems talk about recovery.

Reading these poems reminded me that pain is part of healing.

They brought tears to my eyes.

I pray that each of you will continue your journey in a positive way.

Excellent event to encourage expressions of the feelings of the authors, and to provide the readers some insights into their difficult journeys.

I wish I could hug each contestant. They are loved and their creativity is a beautiful way to share themselves with others. You are not alone. Everyone is fighting their own battle. Love and peace to all.




NAMI NJ Dara Axelrod Expressive Arts
2014 Mental Health Poetry Contest


Click here to download all Top Ten Poems

1st Place:     “Untitled” by Kelly Brennan

2nd Place:    “Recovery” by Valerie Brown

3rd Place:     “HOPE” by Patricia M. Cannon

4th Place:     “Black Bird” by Stewart Charles

5th Place:     “Untitled” by Virginia Erazo

6th Place:     “Different” by Jennifer Manning

7th Place:     “Skydiver” by Suzanne Mills

8th Place:     “Untitled” by Hannah Morris

9th Place:     “Untitled” by Carly Rizza

10th Place:    “I never told you” by Rebecca Yu


Voter comments:

“All poems were remarkable.”

“I was so impressed with each one that it was difficult to decide. It takes a lot of courage to open your feelings to total strangers and do it in a creative way. I think each one is a winner! Congratulations to all who participated!”

“Beautiful and heartfelt, some strong emotions no doubt.”

“Great idea in continuing this form of art’s expression. The founder (of NAMI NJ Expressive Arts Program), Dara Axelrod, would be very proud that the seed that was planted has continued to grow.”

“Each poem was so well done and showed the pain that the mentally ill suffer. How difficult it is to cope with these illnesses as the patient and as a friend or family member. Thank goodness NAMI is here to help… This contest was a great idea and a chance for the poets to put into words the feelings and challenges, emotions and work that these illnesses bring. It is also a way to speak out to the community and explain what getting involved can do. It can help save a life. What a prospect. How very beautiful.”

My sister lives with schizophrenia. The poems presented help me to understand what maybe her struggle. Thank you.

“Congratulations to all of the poets who have shared their work and truly captured the essence of some of the significant themes relating to mental health.”

“I enjoyed reading all 10 poems. I would encourage all those who I did not pick as “winners”, together with those who I did, to continue writing. In my experience, it is the writing process itself, which is highly cathartic.”


For more information on the contest, contact Jacquese Armstrong, Coordinator of NAMI NJ Dara Axelrod Expressive Arts Network, at [email protected].