Pongo Project Journal

Sharing stories of our work with teens
Feb 23
Being Pretty on the Inside

Sometimes we struggle to both be ourselves and also please other people. We’re confused by the vulnerability we feel, especially when our vulnerability has been used against us, to hurt us deeply.

This blog shares great poems on these themes -- the latest winners of the Pongo Poetry Prize.

In “If My Fist Could Speak” (January 2013) a young woman, age 13, speaks intensely and courageously to a bully. She writes: “You should eat diamonds so you can be pretty on the inside.” The three poems that received honorable mention for January 2013 are also on the theme of bullying (links below).

In “If God Were Looking at My Life” (October 2012), a young woman, age 14, writes: “If God opened a new door for me…I’d change who I was, and I would try to find the real me. The me who isn’t afraid. The me who is me." The poems that received honorable mention are also terrific (links below).

The Pongo Poetry Prize is a quarterly prize for poems submitted on the Pongo web site. They come in from young people all over the country. FYI, both of these winning poems were written using writing activities on the Pongo site. Maybe you know someone who would like to write an If My Fist Could Speak or If God Were Looking at My Life poem!
*****


If My Fist Could Speak #4
by a young woman, age 13


If my fist could speak, it would tell you how much i hate you,
how i've always wanted to hit you and watch you cry
how i've never thought you were once nice
how it has watched you hurt me again and again

If my feet could speak, they would recall how many times i had wanted to run
how i wanted to walk away from the fight that you caused
how many times i would have kicked you and laughed
how i have always wanted to run and never come back to the bullying you cause

If my eyes could speak, they would tell you about how ugly you are inside
how you should eat diamonds so you can be pretty on the inside
how you’re ugly on both sides, inside and out
how the blood should be flowing from your nose as i punch you


If my pounding heart could speak, it would say how scared it is to slow down
how you cause it to speed up in horror of the next horrid line you will speak
how i am worried that my heart will beat out my chest
how you’re horrid in the heart, even at the bottom of it

If my hair could speak, it would explain how it wishes you would stop pulling it
how it will fall out if you carry on your wicked ways
how you should stop before it turns around and bites you
how i am going to hit you if you pull my hair once more

If my ears could speak, they would share how horrid your voice sounds
how your voice is a burning fire and it stings
how you call me so many names they echo in my head
how your voice shall forever be stored in the hate part of my mind

If my body could speak, it would tell you about how much it wishes to kill you
how it hates you so much it burns inside
how you beat it till it bleeds
how you should leave me alone and never say anything mean about me again

If my brain could deal with everything, it would want to ask -- why did you say those things?
why are you so mean to me and other innocent souls?
why do you hate the sound of happiness and laughter?
why is your voice so mean and angry?

never be a bully
never be mean again
being a bully is horrid and everyone agrees!
*****


If God Were Looking at My Life #3
by a young woman, age 14


If God were looking at my life...

He’ wonder why i chose to live life in this way rather than take the right path.

He’d understand that life to me has been cruel and difficult, but it’s because of my actions, because i chose it that way.

He’d know the way things had gone for me – They’ve gone terrible.   I've cried for what i thought i needed and didn’t have.   I've behaved like someone i wasn't.   I say words i thought were right, but didn't mean.   I hurt people who i never thought were so important to me in my life, until i lost them.   I changed my appearance for people that talked behind my back, and i acted like a jerk to my parents and close friends.   Yet, now that i'm alone, i want to be me, but I’m afraid.

He’d remember how things went when I was very little, like when i had to take care of my sisters while my mother was in the hospital taking chemotherapy treatment, and i had a difficult time trying to cheer my father up so he wouldn't fall apart on us and so he would have the strength to keep us informed about our mother.

He’d know that i was who i was, but i changed who i was for what people wanted me to be.

He’d know that I’m trying to change certain things, like how i look, how i act, how i dress, and hide the real me.

He’d know how hard it is to change because he has seen me.   He has seen my process and the solution at the end, and by the solution he knows i didn't succeed, just made things worst.

He’d want me to understand that life is how it is, and i decide how to live it.


If God opened a new door for me...

It would lead me to going back and retrace my steps.   Apologize to those i hurt and become someone new. I'd change who i was, and i would try to find the real me. The me who isn't afraid. The me who is me.

Then I could start over with my life.
*****


[The poems below also address bullying and themes of seeking acceptance.]

Honorable Mention, January 2013
Girl with the Scars #3
Running #2
Offend You?


Honorable Mention, October 2012
Cry My Stress-Tears at Night
To Be Me
That First Apple

Oct 29
Where I Come From

What do we mean when we talk about “Where I Come From”? 

“Where I Come From” is often about more than a place, it’s about something deep in us, the world of our childhood and family. But more than that, it’s about love, the lessons of love, and sometimes our disappointments with love. It’s about the legacy of love in us, from the time when love defined us. “Where I Come From” is about who we are. 

And when the legacy of love is imperfect, it doesn’t define us less. If anything it defines us more. We carry the scars and tenderness from imperfect love. We might have a sublime but misunderstood sensitivity. And poets use that sensitivity to write with insight about a complicated world. 

It’s my pleasure in this blog to share the last two winners of the Pongo Poetry Prize, the poems “Where I Come From” (July 2012) and “I’m Non-Replaceable” (April 2012). I’ve also included links to the three poems from each quarter that received awards of Honorable Mention. The Pongo web site has a writing activity to help anyone write a “Where I Come From” poem. Check it out!
*****


Where I Come From
by a young man, age 16

I'm from a street where evil is its fate. There is no hope, but could we have one last chance?

I'm from faith in where God sees me.

I'm from a long line of people who are just the same every day. We pass and we don’t see the things that people, that can’t see, see.

I'm from confusion about my dad not being there for me, and not taking time to be with me.

I'm from laughter over my friends, my friend M, and the things we used to do together.

I come from a family that don’t care about school and do drugs, and I choose not to do the same.

I'm from love, and I know that because they take care of me, and I really miss my dad, and I can’t see him, but I am not mad at him because of what he did.

I'm from fear, especially when I think about all the memories that were bad, and then screams fill the room.

I come from a long line of folks who have died.

I come from experiences like evil everywhere, and look around and see nothing but crying.

I come from bad cities and bad places. There is nothing I can do, but if there was, I would stop it if I could.

And I wish my life would become a name for fame, I have no pain.

That's where I'd like to be from.
*****


I’m Non-Replaceable
by a young woman, age 14 

I'm non-replaceable
At least I think
I'm more than a person
could be gone in 3 blinks

There's things I could be
100 things i'm not
If i love a boy
I'd give all i got

I suck at rhyming
But it’s what i love to do
I could be solving a problem
And forget without a clue

I'm in love with the thought of love
But I grew up with hate
When my dad was messed up
I'm the one who paid for his mistakes 

When my world crashed down
And when my mother tried to beat her monsters
There i would be by her side
I practically lived in that hospital 

So, i made mistakes
And they probably weren't  the best
But i'd cut through thick and thin
To get out of this mess.
*****


Honorable Mention, July 2012
If My Fist Could Speak
This Is Who You Are to Me
The Way You Sang


Honorable Mention, April 2012
Where I Come From (#3)
Empty Body
This Is Who You Are to Me

Oct 16
Trapped in Life!!

It's my pleasure to announce the latest winner of the Pongo Poetry Prize. "TRAPPED" is a stunning poem about fear, hiding, and despair in an abusive home. But it also represents the courage of a poet who is able to go TO that child hiding under the bed, in her moment of world-destroying terror. I've included the award-winning poem below, and a second by the same author.

In "MY WORLD" our poet, in a more adult voice, describes a chaotic and dangerous circus inside someone, where a loving soul is hiding.

These two poems are followed by links to three fantastic poems that received Honorable Mention.


TRAPPED
by a young woman, age 18

ONCE AGAIN UNDER THE BED I GO.

TRAPPED, WHILE I HEAR HER SCREAM!!

"HER LOUD, LOUD SCREAMS"

I COVER MY EYES BECAUSE EVEN THO' I DON'T SEE IT
I CAN FEEL IT AND IT MAKES ME

SEE IT. SO THEREFORE I COVER MY EYES. I PRAY THAT
DADDY OR SHOULD I SAY THAT EVIL MAN

DON'T COME DO THE SAME TO ME. I WANT TO PROTECT
MOMMY I DO. WOULD SHE BE MAD IF

I DID SOMETHIN' BAD SO DADDY COULD BEAT ME?
TRAPPED, EVERY DAY FOR HOURS. I DON'T

COME OUT TILL HE LEAVE AND MOMMY COMES TO GET ME
FROM UNDER MY BED. EACH DAY

SHE TELLS ME WE ARE TRAPPED AND WILL BE FOR A LONG TIME.

TRAPPED UNDER MY BED, TRAPPED IN THIS HOUSE,
I'M TRAPPED IN LIFE!!


MY WORLD
by a young woman, age 18

INSIDE MY WORLD IS CRUMBLING, CRUSHING WALLS.

MY UNCONTAINED FIRE-BREATHING ANGER, THAT BURNS LIKE A WILD LIFE FIRE.

MY TEARS ARE CREATING AN OCEAN OF FEAR. NO WHERE TO RUN TO. NO ONE TO TURN TO

WITH NOWHERE TO HIDE.

I'M SHEDDING LAYERS OF EMOTION AS FAST AS THESE DEAD BODIES ARE DROPPING.

WICKED UNBALANCED BALANCE BEAMS MY THOUGHTS ARE GOIN' LIKE THREE HULA-HOOPS.

MY WORLD IS A NEVERENDING CIRCUS. EVERY DAY I HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT THESE

FEROCIOUS BEASTS. MY ENEMIES ARE LIKE LIONS THAT HAVE NO MERCY FOR THEIR PREY,

ALL ATTACKING ME BECAUSE THEY FEEL THREATENED. INSIDE MY WORLD IS A SOUL THAT WANTS

TO BE LOVED AND GIVE LOVE. MY WORLD IS A MESS.


[Author Statement: "I have been writing poetry for years. Writing is the only way I can express myself without being misunderstood. I searched the web long and hard and found Pongo Teen Writing. I read about the web site, loved it, and decided to add a few of my poems on there. I have books and more books of nothing but poems. I would love to keep writing for Pongo Teen Writing."]


Honorable Mention, July 2011
Ruin and Effort (about the heroic work to create a life after loss)
Another Child (about a childhood with too little)
I'm Still Breathing (about emotional need, physical connection, and risk)

May 18
When I Face My Fear

In March, at a Friends of the Children poetry reading, an 11-year-old called Mimi (a pseudonym) performed her poem “Face Your Fears.” In her performance, Mimi was helped by an adult mentor, who recited the lines that Mimi repeated. The result was a litany that included these lines:

          Face your fears 
                                               Face your fears

          Face your fears 
                                               Face your fears 


          It is the main event 
                                               It is the main event 


Imagine what it means for a young person to understand that truth, that facing your fears is the main event. And imagine how significant it is to be courageous, like a litany, in response to these fears. 

Here’s another poem by different young woman, a 16-year-old called Mary (a pseudonym) who used the Pongo fill-in-the-blank activity “Lessons of Courage and Fear”:

Lessons of Courage and Fear
by Mary, age 16

In my life I’ve known Courage.
We met when I had my baby boy.
Nowadays Courage is standing by my side.
I find Courage when I face my fear and speak my mind. 

In my life I’ve known Fear.
We met when I got sexually abused.
These days Fear is the nightmares that don’t let me sleep.
Fear finds me when I see those guys that have hurt me. 

I’ve learned that Courage and Fear are different.
When Courage tells me that I am strong and I don’t have to look behind,
Fear says I’ll never be me again.
Usually I listen to Courage, Fear, and my heart.
I wish no one may know my fears and only see my courage and strength
So that I can be me again.
I wish I was Courage and not Fear. 


In her poem, Mary writes about Fear in the form of sexual abuse. So imagine Courage, in this context, like a litany, to face your fear over and over again – maybe every single night and every single day – whenever you have a nightmare or see your abuser. 

I am happy to award the latest Pongo Poetry Prize to Mary’s poem about Courage and Fear. And here is a link to Mimi’s poem. Please read the following three wonderful poems that received Honorable Mention: 

Nightmare (about a terrible nightmare that plays like a movie)
Sometimes I Feel Like (how sometimes we all hide from the dark)
Trapped Inside (about a feeling, after a loss, that you're tightly bound by vines overgrown with thorns)

Feb 19
As Strong as the Waves that Swallow Me

When we experience great hurt, it’s in our human nature to blame ourselves, often.
 
And when we experience great hurt, it’s in our human nature to generate great emotion, often, that we can use in the cause of insight, connection, and purpose. This emotion is a tremendous strength.
 
And, as I witness this strength in so many Pongo writers who have experienced childhood traumas, I appreciate these young people, and I believe it’s important for all of us to appreciate them. They are showing us how strong we can all be.
 
With this journal, I am announcing the latest winner of the Pongo Poetry Prize, a poem called “Strength” by a 16-year-old young woman whom I’ll call Evie (a pseudonym). Evie sent me three poems over the internet on Christmas day, using Pongo activities of I Am, Ten Reasons to Love Me, and You Don’t Me. In these poems Evie wrote about feeling uncared for and wretched, and she wrote about her need to cut herself. But she also wrote about the power of her words and dreams. I thanked her for these poems and expressed my reaction that they were about difficult feelings but also contained the voice of a sensitive, articulate, strong, and creative person. The next day Evie sent me her prize-winning poem, which is included below and is based on the Pongo activity Strength.
 
And after “Strength,” I have included another poem from Evie, one that she sent me a few days ago, called “3 thoughts in that one voice.” In this brief poem Evie imagines cutting, but then describes the decision not to cut, and finally shows the strangeness that fills her after making that decision.
 
So, I hope you’ll recognize and celebrate the strength in the latest winner of the Pongo Poetry Prize. Following Evie’s poems, there are links to three great poems by other writers that received Honorable Mention. Cheers!


Strength 
by Evie, age 16 

I can be as strong as concrete, a solid brick wall,
   like the ones that I have build to surround me.
Ready to lock myself within the walls, protected, and unhurt.

I can be as strong as the ocean's waves,
   that swallow me up whole.
Pay attention to my craving waves, the ones that come after you,
   not giving time to breathe.
I will overcome this fear.

I can be strong in ways you don't expect.
I can be as strong as the stone heart that I carry on my sleeve.
Able to stay strong and stable,
   through all the hurt that is thrown at me.

My strength can be gentle.
I can only be as strong as myself, my weakest link.
Ready to crack under all the pressure.

I can be strong and change the world.
I can.
And I will.



3 thoughts in that one voice 
by Evie, age 16 


the thought makes my skin tingle, my hands go numb, and my mind swim.

I can't control the hunger of the pain anymore.

while my mind and heart scream to stop and forget, my hand goes ahead thinking on its own, slicing and revealing my insides.

letting the red emerge from my flesh, hitting the floor, drop by drop.

the usual smile appears on my face. I don't know who I am anymore.

*****


I reach for the steak knife, hiding in the nest of spoons.

the black handle is warm.

as I pull it free, the blade slices the air, dividing it into slivers.

I can see the shadow of my old self.

the girl I don't wanna be.

here stands a girl clutching a knife, with blood in the air, angry words piled in the corners, we are trained not to see this way of life.

the knife silently slithers its way back into the block with only a whisper.

*****


and for one moment,

we are not failed tests, or broken hearts, or liars.

we are crayons and lunch boxes, and swinging so high our sneakers punch holes in the sky.

for one breath, everything is better.

then it all melts away.



Honorable Mention, January 2011 
Letter After a Time 
Captured in Hiding 
Lessons of Courage and Fear 

Jul 15
Love Is a Useless Puppy

Sometimes we think that… We can make someone love us if only we love them enough, if only we give them more and more power over us, if only we measure our love by how much we hurt. This is the poetry of heartache. And this is my personal reading of the poetry that follows, the latest winner of the Pongo Poetry Prize. (Following the winning poem, there are links to three great poems that received Honorable Mention.)

What It Really Is
by a young woman, age 16

Lost

I am a lonely, lost pit-bull.
Confused, hurt,
And nowhere to go.
Last time I saw you, we were at the house.
All I could smell - weed.
All I could see - cocaine.
You gave me so much attention!
This gave me a sweet taste in my mouth.
Then you left and haven't come back.
It's been over three months,
I'm mad,
I have rage and anger.
I'm also alone and hurt.
The only thing you'll ever hear from me is whining.
Other than that I'm silent.
It's because I miss you.
I'm not anything without you.
I am a lonely, lost pit-bull -
Confused, hurt, and have nowhere to go.

What It Really Is

All I can hear is screaming.
That's all I can ever hear.
It never stops.
All I can see is fist and blood.
That's all I ever feel.
You threw me out,
Beat me, and made me feel useless.
You smell like sweat and cologne.
When you hit me, I taste blood.
I didn't do anything.
So why did you do this to me?

You Said

You always said you loved me
And that you would never leave me.
You said those exact words
Every day.
You said you wouldn't hurt me,
But the thing is you treated me like an animal -
That's not me!
Even though you said what you said,
You still left me.
Even if you meant what you said,
You still hurt me.
When you said you really didn't love me,
And you did what you did,
You put silence in my mind.
So now I don't have anything else to say,
You gave me away like a useless little puppy.
Now, all I can see is you.
All I can smell is you.
All I can hear is your voice.
The useless puppy is looking for you.


Honorable Mention, July 2010
Just Imagine
Scarred
Romantic Rain