Pongo Project Journal

Sharing stories of our work with teens
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!

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