Pongo Project Journal

Sharing stories of our work with teens
Nov 02
What Youth Say About Writing

Though our web site, Pongo receives poems from all over the country, and we periodically recognize a few with the Pongo Poetry Prize. (Many poems are worthy!) Here are some authors’ thoughts about what writing means to them, followed by links to their award-winning poems.

“Writing has always been an escape for me. Pongo allowed me a chance to share with others what I never had the courage to share before. Everyone should have this kind of thing, where they don't have to hide how they feel, or what they think. This is a sort of sanctuary that releases many from their everyday struggles.” – a young woman 15, received Honorable Mention

"I discovered Pongo while searching for someplace, anyplace, that would allow me to share my poems, and with them, a piece of myself. Writing is my life, my passion, my love, and my core, and without writing I don't know where I'd be. It helps me express who I am, what I'm thinking, and anything else about me, since I don't share my thoughts verbally. Every teen should be able to express themselves in a safe, familiar, comfortable way. Writing just happened to be mine." – a young woman 17, received Honorable Mention

"What writing means to me... Whenever I write my feelings down about my past it feels great to let it all out. If I couldn't write about the things that have happened to me, I would have to hold it in and it would be harder for my life. I like being able to tell my story and let others know that I am OK, even though bad things have happened to me. I wish my birth mom could know how angry I am. Maybe someday I will tell her in a story." – a young woman 14, received Honorable Mention

And here is the 12th winner of the Pongo Poetry Prize, the poem “Violated,” that speaks to the lingering effects of abuse.

Violated
by a young woman, age 14

I was sitting in the dark
all left alone in isolation
hiding from any more doom
and away from this situation

Those sickening eyes keep on staring
with dis-pleasuring thoughts behind
hands who keep on roaming
violating me in every way they can find

It was a past I just kept remembering
a part of my life I'll always carry
with great pain in every sting
stuck in a place that's nothing but scary

The poems:
http://www.pongoteenwriting.org/Violated.html
http://www.pongoteenwriting.org/Masks-and-Colors.html
http://www.pongoteenwriting.org/Letter-After-a-Time--2.html
http://www.pongoteenwriting.org/I-Just-Thought-You-Should-Know.html

 

Feb 26
Dear Mom

When I first starting working with distressed teens, and they wrote about disappointments with their parents -- like having a dad who cared more about alcohol than his children, like having a mom who stayed with a boyfriend who beat her -- I was surprised when the teens dedicated their poems to the parents. I actually thought, at first, that the teens were being ironic.

Of course, this was absolutely not true. There was nothing about the youth that was calculating or adult when it came to expressing a child's love. The teens loved their parents deeply, very deeply, maybe even more deeply than others love, because of their disappointment.

I started to think about all the good reasons for this. Children understand their parents' brokenness, and they want to take care of their parents -- to be a parent to the parent. Also, it's natural for us as children to love deeply in order to earn the love we desire. And when our lives feel flawed, it's natural for us as children to raise our determination to love -- to circumscribe with love a safer and better world.

The two poems below are by young women who are writing to their moms. The first was written in juvenile detention by Davina (a pseudonym). The second was written on Pongo's web site by a young woman on the East Coast, and is the latest winner of our web site's Pongo Poetry Prize, for the period ending January 1st. The Pongo Prize winner is followed by links to three wonderful poems that earned Honorable Mention. Please enjoy!



Dear Mom 
by a Davina, age 16 

I just thought you should know that life is hard -- I've seen a lot: 
murders, love like grandma's peanut butter pancakes, hate like my parents' addiction and absence, my siblings tormenting me because I have a different dad
(theirs sent money, mine disappeared)


I'm loud, but it's a mask
On the inside I'm quiet
But I'm making sure I'm seen and heard

I just thought you should know that your actions make me hate you, everything you made me see -- It made me think you didn't care:
taking me to drug houses, letting people do what they wanted to me so you could score

I'm going to be more than you were
I'm going to make you proud of me

I just thought you should know that I love you and that the pain that you caused taught me a lesson -- about how to treat my children:
I'll never do to them what you did to me

I'm going to help them succeed



I Will Always Love You
 
by a young woman, age 16 

Dear Mom,

I just thought you should know what I'm doing now.
I am a strong, happy, Young Lady,
who spends a lot of time thinking about you and how you are doing.

I just thought you should know that I'm feeling a little disappointed in you.
I am just a little upset that you're not understanding how much you affect me,
because I'm always wondering when I'll have my mom back.

I just thought you should know what I've been through.
Since the last time I saw you, I have grown and changed so much.
The time that I had with you was especially important to me. 

I just thought you should know what I wish for the future.
I hope that you can get yourself together so my judge will accept you back into my life.
I am glad I don't have to worry about you and all those men, anymore.

I just thought you should know what I miss a lot.
I miss the way we used to have fun and spend time with X.

I just thought you should know that I will ALWAYS LOVE YOU, MOM.



Honorable Mention, January 2012 
Innocence
Gasoline
She Stalks Every Movement


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)

Dec 19
Celebrating Maggie

It would be easy to celebrate Maggie as the 25-year-old young professional she is, a stunning young woman with long brown hair, dedicated to her job, about to defend her Masters thesis, proud of her apartment and independent life.

(“Maggie” is a pseudonym, and some of the facts in this story have been changed to protect her anonymity.)

But I would like to celebrate the whole Maggie, and bring Maggie’s accomplished life together with her other life, the second life that she always kept secret from “good” people. Maggie would like that, too.

Maggie’s earliest memories, to age 7, are of being sexually abused by a brother who was 13 years older. After her parents’ divorce, she was neglected by a deeply troubled mother who kept a squalid house, left rotting food sitting out for Maggie (if she fed her at all), and openly engaged in sexual adventures. Then when Maggie objected to her mother’s behavior, she was kicked out of her house at 14 and afterward lived under bridges through adolescence, while she was alcoholic, anorexic, drug-addicted, and battered. She wintered in the apartment of a murderous and philandering boyfriend who was 11 years older.

Yet Maggie always went to school and always earned A’s. Her intellectual effort gave her purpose and self-esteem. Teachers were her nurturers. And Maggie measured her mental health by her ability to have at least five people in her life who didn’t know about her suffering.

And Maggie always sustained herself with an appreciation for the things in this world that are enduringly beautiful, like the flowing river beneath the bridge where she slept.

Ultimately, there were several events that helped Maggie make a significant change in her life at age 19. An intervention was scheduled at Maggie’s apartment to help her with her coke addiction, and no one showed up (not even the flighty friend who had arranged the intervention), except for Maggie’s abusive brother. Maggie’s abuser broke down that evening, beat himself bloody in a hysteria of guilt, and for the first time acknowledged what he had done. For the first time, Maggie could truly accept the reality of her hurt and feel sane.

About this time, at a vulnerable moment for Maggie, she was violently raped. Then she moved in with her father, who loved her, fed her, played cards with her, and made sure that she was always warm. Maggie completed college at this time, while she battled addiction and eating disorders.

Today, Maggie knows the legacy of her life. She is convinced that she will never have children, for example. But Maggie also doesn’t want anyone to feel sorry for her or think she is a sad person. In her intellectual way, she describes human emotions as existing along a continuum from -10 to 10. The worst pain, the -10, is felt equally by everyone. But if life pushes you, if you feel your -10 from child abuse, for example, then nothing you experience will ever be that bad again.

And when life pushes you, when you feel a -10 from child abuse, for example, then the joy that you feel, the +10, is correspondingly greater. Maggie thinks that when she runs on the beach with her dog that no one is happier than she…

I began by describing Maggie’s accomplished life today, as an independent working woman and student. But isn’t the whole Maggie, to include the life in which she suffered, an even more remarkable person?

In a future article about Maggie, I’d like to discuss the nature and consequences of secrecy in her life.

Two of Maggie’s poems are enclosed below: “Drugs” from the time her mother kicked her out when Maggie was 14, and “Petals on the Floor” from the time her brother admitted his guilt when Maggie was 19.


Drugs
Maggie, age 14 

Because you never taught me that I was supposed to love myself.

Because you are jealous of me, your child, for every accomplishment I’ve fought for.

Because I want to show you that I am as low as you are. Then maybe we’d have something to talk about.

Because you abuse me with no shame.

Because self-mutilation has been glorified so many times by your lips. It is the only thing worthy of your attention.

Because you never expected any more of me.

Because I am definitely your child.

Because the people that you care about are the people that are more f***ed up than you.

Because I don’t know how to heal the pain you bestowed upon me.

Because you never wanted me to amount to more than you are.

Because I am confused and young and you offer me no guidance.

Because you taught me how to.

Because I see how you don’t have to care about anything while you’re high.

Because I want to be just like you, mother—painless, soulless.

Because maybe hurting myself will hurt you too.

Because this is the way you planned it.

Because if I hit rock bottom, I don’t have to fall in panic anymore.

Because I want you to love me.


Petals On the Floor 
Maggie, age 19

Tearing each petal from its origin
…He loves me, he loves me not…
shooting pain, doubt, a hitchhiker
from the back of my eyes, down.
destination: The Achilles Tendon

Anxious now. No sleep, only to feel
within my once shallow blue waters,
an unclean, terrifying depth. I sink in.
fear between his touch, my skin.

Hurt is warm, slow, blazing red.
the poisoned berry in starvation
and, I, the starving child. the juice drips
dangerously, anxiously, slowly from my lip

I’m walking now,
my left eye a clouded mirror, my right
an antiquated magnifying glass
the path, undoubtedly, unclear

He holds me then, dripping with false apology
his desperation, his relief, onto me
the weight of his burden, his hate.
…He hates me, he hates me not…

As I pull the last petal, hate
and love forgotten. I think.
this stem in my hand, naked, humiliated
the only fact undoubted:
this wildflower is in pieces on the floor.

Oct 30
Watching Her and Her

With today’s journal, I’d like to announce the latest winner of the Pongo Poetry Prize. In “Watching Her” you’ll hear the voice of a strong young woman. It makes me think about the resilience that we see all the time through our Pongo work.

The experiences of abused and neglected youth are terrible when you read about them in the teens’ Pongo poetry, but I always encourage readers to think beyond the sad content - to celebrate the resilience it takes to write and heal. Writing exposes a wound to light and air. After they write, the Pongo teens are proud, feel capable, and gain control in their lives. Instead of being merely reactive to pain, a person who writes can integrate that painful experience into a multi-faceted and cognizant personality. There is still sadness, and sometimes struggle, but a person’s losses can be mourned and a future envisioned.

And complementing the role of writing itself is the ability to be heard, which breaks down the walls of isolation. At Pongo we sit with our authors and listen to their stories as an important part of what we do. An awful reality of abuse and neglect is that the hurt often contains terror, blame, coercion, control, guilt, and helplessness. Abuse and neglect are a pointed injury to a person’s soul. And abuse and neglect throw their victims into terrible isolation. Yet we can help people to heal when we’re strong enough to listen to their stories and to accompany them out of their solitude.

So please read “Watching Her” and watch the author, too. Celebrate the latest winner of the Pongo Poetry Prize. Following the winning poem, there are links to three great poems that received Honorable Mention. Cheers!


Watching Her
by a young woman, age 16 

i've watched my mother all of my life

i watched her let my father beat her till her skull broke open and bled across the hardwood floor

i watched her recover from that incident, return to my father, and become pregnant with yet another child whom she'd always ignore

i watched her struggle in chaos and self punishment while she filled her 135lb body with vodka, beer, and rum

i watched her get so angry at my older sister that she'd beat her till her fragile 98lb body was forced to become numb

i watched my mother live the life of an addict, an abuser, and a manipulator

i watched her try and hide these things that she'd always reveal until the day i walked down the street and watched her do something she couldn't conceal

i watched my mother do these things till the day she had successfully pushed everything, including her children, out of her life

i watched her unconsciously toss and turn in a dirty sleeping bag on the rainy seattle sidewalk of lake city way

yes, i watched my mother all of my life
but sixteen years into watching i choose to no longer watch her strife



Honorable Mention, October 2010
Memory
My Best Friend Is in Love
Addiction