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Ruting-LiWhen Ruting Li (II) sits down to write, she doesn’t know quite what will make it to the page. “I don’t set out to write about a particular topic,” she says. “Sometimes I start my writing from a prompt, or an image. Most often I write about something I’ve seen or experienced, which sparks an idea.”

This spring, Ruting’s poetry earned her a finalist spot in many regional and national writing contests, including the Smith College High School poetry contest, the Naked Truth/PEN New England High School writing contest, and the Oxbridge Edge poetry contest.

Ruting is completing a year of the Advanced Creative Writing course, a workshop for student writers looking to hone their craft. “Taking Creative Writing has made me see myself in a different way,” says Ruting. “I’ve always leaned more toward math and science, but taking this class has made me a better writer, and it has helped me see myself that way.”

Ruting’s poem that earned her Smith Prize recognition is titled “Ode to Summer Storms.” As a Smith Prize winner, Ruting was invited to campus, hosted at The Poetry Center, where she met and worked with the contest’s guest judge, poet Alicia Ostriker. With three other finalists, Ruting spent the day with Ms. Ostriker, talking about the writing process, attending a Q&A with the author, and being invited to share her award-winning poem, onstage, at the author’s reading that evening.

“Villanelle for Madrid”—one of Ruting’s favorite poems—earned her recognition in the PEN New England and Oxbridge Edge contests. As part of the Oxbridge award, Ruting is invited to attend an Oxford-Cambridge writing program this summer, for which she has earned a partial scholarship.

“Having my work recognized in this way is so exciting. Writing is very personal, so sharing it can make you feel a little exposed,” she says. “However, workshopping my writing in class, with my teacher and classmates, has made me more comfortable sharing my poems, and it is such a helpful way to improve your writing. My classmates and teachers always offer great advice to help me refine my work.”

Villanelle for Madrid
by Ruting Li

You taught me to love sound,

rolled soft r’s into my ears like humming street lamps.

Listen. This is where I like to be found.


In the heat of flamenco, toes, heels, hands pound like rain

on Calle Velazquez. Women and men sweat and breathe tears.

They teach me to love sounds.


Like a nation’s blood, Jamón Serrano is striped red.

Horchata, too sweet, yellowed under the sun for a year.

Look. This is where I’d like to be found.


In between besos on my cheek, thick lisps settle

like the age-old stones in cathedral floors, almost too quiet to hear,

teaching me to love sound.


A city pumped on sangria, squid-ink paella,

shrimp whiskers tangled in cracked black mussels—no fears,

just taste. This is where I’d like to be found.


This is a city where the streets hunch together, keeping secrets of the people,

where 3 euro Marlboros curl, smoky, into your hair,

where I learned to love sound,

here, Madrid, I am found.