2022 International Poetry & Storytelling Festival

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Watch the entire event here:


Students from the Harrisburg area and overseas submitted short stories and poems on this year’s theme: “We Shall Overcome: Covid & Social Unrest”

Here are the Harrisburg area winners:

First Place

Melting Pot
Lunden McClain
A country built on war, 
Preaching about peace
A country built on stealing and looting, 
Preaching about charity
Preaching about giving back 
Knowing what was taken from us 
A country preaching about the past 
But telling us to move on
Preaching about united 
Preaching about what is right and what is wrong 
Knowing what they did to us 
A country built on hurt and violence and trauma 
Preaching about constitutional freedom and unconditional trust 
Knowing their word means nothing in the end 

In the midst of a global pandemic 
When hospitals are running out of beds
When people are being beaten for using their first amendment rights
Being killed in their own bedrooms, 
Begging for their lives 
You do not have the right to be tired, America 
You do not have the right to be tired of seeing it, 
Hearing about it, and reading the articles 
You do not have the right to be tired 
When the black community is constantly tired of being retraumatized, 
From watching our own genocide live on television 
When teachers are calling their students the n-word out of “frustration” over a Zoom call 
And children are failing 
And teen suicide rates are sky rocketing
And depression is the new black 
And mass shootings are still a thing 
And the world feels like a thousand dumbbells sitting on your chest 

Want to talk about sudden anger? 
When this has been happening for decades, you just decided not to notice 
You want to complain about the fires 
When our world was already burning
Like the Amazon forest… still
Like the hills in California… still 

You can not be surprised now when you poured the gasoline 
And gave us the matches 
And now, the bottom line is,
This is what you get America 
We been knew the world was gonna go up in flames 
We just didn’t know how 
And you need to realize that our country will continue to burn
People will continue to protest
People will continue to be angry 
More people will continue to fall
Because this is what happens when you continuously scorch the bottom of the pot 
This is what happens when it brews for too long on the stovetop
When you constantly put your hands in the fire 
Why are you surprised to see 3/5th degree burns? 
Why are you so shocked when water 
Doesn't work on the grease fires that you started 
As you wake up and notice the house is in flames 
Gasping from the smoke inhalation 
And have we forgotten why the White House is the White House? 

When the people have reached their boiling point 
You will start to see your melting pot boil over 
When the founding fathers start scraping 
The bread bowl of America 
Trying to salvage the fondue that’s spilling over the sides
Using the paper towel bodies of our ancestors to clean up the mess 
And the President of the United States decides to get a bag of doritos for the fiesta 
Don’t expect an invitation to the cookout 

This country has only known pain and torment 
Why are you surprised when it turns around to KKK kick you in the throat 
People think that after all this time things would change, 
But they forget the saying 
People think that after all this time things would change, 
But they forget the saying 
People think that after all this time things would change, 
But they forget the saying 
People think that after all this time things would change, 
But they forgot about the saying 
History repeats itself
As if you haven't asked yourself “why is this still happening” 400 thousand times 

And now that there is no more ignoring it, you must listen 
There are no soundproof walls to protect you here
No more squad cars patrolling the area
No one to call when the thugs come knocking 
No more hiding behind closed doors 
And staying cooped up in your safe suburban neighborhoods 
No more half-hearted apologies and inhumane compromises 
There is no such thing as safety here

This is the country you built, America  
And we really should be thanking you 
For how easy it was to tear it down 
Because you built this country out of Tulsa  twigs and Selma sticks 
Made the foundation out of hay and jute twine 
And was shocked when the big bad wolf 
Came rolling in with a blow torch 
How everyone blames the wolf 
When he just wants what is rightfully owed 
Just wants his property back 
From the pigs who moved in and claimed it theirs 

How you claimed to be the home of the brave 
But how you raised a bunch of cowards 
And dressed them up as politicians 
Claimed to be the land of opportunity
And the land of the free, 
But how the whole  nation should be sued for the false advertisement 

Do not demand Kaepernick to stand up
If you are willing to let a cop kneel on Floyd’s neck 
Do not wish the country a good night 
When you kill Taylor in her sleep
Do not tell the country to get more physically active 
But gun down Arbery for running  
And all you have ever done is made criminals out of free men, and free men out of criminals 

So WE are done with being compliant while being met with a casket 
We are done with being walked over 
As if our bodies were the pavement you kill us on 
Done with being called irrational when the most unbelievable things keep happening 
We are done with being asked to hold our composure 
As we cry over our children’s corpses 
We are done with being complacent in the distraction of our futures 
Because this is not the type of America we were promised 
BECAUSE we will not be the ones who are surprised 
When we look back in the history books, decades from now 
To find that the only thing this chapter of America consists of 
Is our ashes 

Second Place

With and Without
Janice Baldwin
With all that’s going on
And the space that’s in between us all
I’ve come to learn the importance of independence 
The importance of being happy with yourself and being able to cope with change 

I’ve come to accept the idea of one day not being able to go out to school 
One day not being able to see my friends for weeks at a time
The inability to go anywhere without a mask
Muzzled in a sense. 

This has become reality 
As though it were a sci fi movie 
Harsh, but real. 

Living life thorough the screen of a computer 
Through wires and connections 
Hopes and dreams that seem so possible 
But prove untouchable 

Coming to love being at home, 
Then having to go out in person again 
Is no less than overwhelming 
It’s nothing but scary, to say the least
Lost social skills, 
And having life flip like a coin 
Where has it all gone? 

With all this change, 
I have come to learn how to do with and without.

Third Place

Life During a Pandemic
Sahiti Kulkarni

Koa sat at her desk, trying to focus on Ms. Orwell’s rather lengthy lecture on verb tenses or something. She wasn’t paying attention. However, Koa was always a good student, with emphasis on ‘was’. She could grasp things very quickly and she was great at focusing on things that were important to her. Unfortunately, this year was different. This year, she was online for school. As her mind drifted off into space, Ms. Orwell’s words ran faintly in the background, and Koa had fixated her eyes on her reflection off her computer screen. 

She noticed the reflection of her bedroom as well. To note, her periwinkle-painted walls surrounded her. A light maple wood desk sat in front of her, and a pair of socks, a Nike sweatshirt, and a T-shirt were bunched up in the far left corner of her room, which she placed strategically so that they were not featured in her Zoom call. 

Yet there was one very important detail to be noted on, and that was the light blue surgical mask that had hung from her bed frame. It seemed like just yesterday she and her classmates received the “exciting” news that school was canceled for two weeks due to COVID-19. Little did they know, the situation would soon get way worse, and it would unravel into society’s worst nightmare, a global pandemic. 

“… see you all tomorrow!” Koa heard Ms. Orwell say in the background of her thoughts. She thanked her teacher and promptly clicked “leave meeting.” She then headed over to her twin-sized bed that sat against the opposite wall in her room and picked up her iPhone. She opened up the app Twitter which was one of her favorite apps recently because it let her read about interesting new ideas and topics and just let her unwind. However, right as the app opened up for her, tweets on recent protests and upset citizens bombarded her message feed. That was not the relaxation she had hoped to get out of this. She then moved over to Instagram, in hopes to be able to relax a little more over there. Unfortunately for her, her feed was overwhelmed with pictures of irresponsible teenagers not wearing their masks in public and arguments made by random people on social issues who were not educated on these issues. Being tired of all of this nonsense, she immediately turned off her phone. 

“What has our world become!” Koa thought to herself, angry to see the carelessness of some people. “Our society has experienced such a rough time the past few years and things like a pandemic have turned into something political.” 

All of this had left Koa in a slump so she thought, what better to get her mind off things than to go on a walk! She threw on a light jacket – it was still the middle of September, but there was a fierce breeze blowing outside – and then prepped Hallie, her black border collie, to get ready for a walk. Putting a blue surgical mask on, she headed out the door and began her walk. 

After a round or two around her quiet neighborhood, Koa set about walking back home when her phone buzzed. 

“Sorry Koa, but if you weren’t doing anything important, do you think you could run down to George’s and get a carton of milk? – Love you loads, momma.”

I guess I could make my walk a little longer, Koa thought. She then proceeded to ask, “What do you think Hallie? You up for it?” She laughed off the cute little tail wag Hallie responded with, texted her mom back, and walked over to the small yet beloved supermarket, George’s. 

Ding! The door rang when she entered the supermarket. She picked up the two percent milk, as per her mom’s request, then picked up her vanilla oat milk and went over to the cashier counter. 

Suddenly, a voice from behind the counter arose. “Koa! Long time no see, huh?” “Haha, hey George!” 

“Aye, lookie here Koa, boosted! Neat, huh?” As George said this, he pointed to his right shoulder. 

“I love to see it!” Replied Koa. 

She had recently helped organize an event to raise awareness of the importance of vaccinations. All of a sudden, another voice chimed into the conversation. It was Mrs. Ginger who to many, including Koa, was considered the neighborhood grandma. “Hey, darlin’!” 

“Mrs. Ginger! How are you doing?” 

“Ugh, just great, sugar.” She replied. 

“Hey, Mrs. Ginger! Oh, have you gotten vaccinated yet?” said George as he scanned the two milk cartons. 

“Oh, you see I would love to, but my son’s girlfriend was just telling me a whole bunch of scary things about getting the vaccine, and I just don’t know if it’s safe enough.” Uh-oh. Koa couldn’t let Mrs. Ginger get pulled into this misinformation. “Oh no, it’s nothing like that Mrs. Ginger! There are no severe side effects of it, you won’t become magnetic (I promise you that!), and there most certainly won’t be a chip inserted in you after you get the vaccine!” Koa was prepared for that response. She was so tired of the misinformation around the vaccine. 

As Mrs. Ginger stepped towards the counter to give George her things, she said “wait, really? Are you sure, Hon?” 

“Trust me, Mrs. Ginger. Trust me.” Koa added. 

“Hey, why don’t you check out the clinic tomorrow?” George mentioned as he placed Mrs. Ginger’s clementines in a paper bag. 

“You know what, I might just take that up! Thanks, cuties!” 

“No problem Mrs. Ginger, have a nice day! And make sure to tell your son’s girlfriend about the new information you learned today!” 

“Of course, peach!” 

As Koa walked back home, she was proud of herself. She was able to help someone, and as long as one person knows the truth, then everyone else will too.

Here are the overseas winners:

First Place

Conquering Covid
Arundhuti Biswas
We were going through our life joyfully and cheerfully,
But a treacherous storm came and destroyed it fully.
In a disguise of a storm, came a virus name covid.
It spread throughout the world, like a flame fanned by wind.

In the pandemic many get afraid,
Getting affected by this many are dead.
Washing hands , wearing mask is made compulsory by government.
Covid stopped our all forms of entertainment.

Going out and playing with friends come to an end,
But slowly our power and hope we have to regain.
We have to fight back against this covid,
We have to find the way, from this virus how to get rid.

Covid has taken away many innocent lives.
In the world , covid has made it difficult for us to survive.
But we have to regain our power and we have to fight,
To make our future healthy and bright .

Time never stops because it waits for none,

From the covid situation we do not have to run.
This pandemic will also come to an end,
Because the vaccine for covid the scientists have invent.

Second Place

Covid 19 Experience
Abdellah Oumouh

Third Place

My Experience with Covid 19 Lockdown
Abdeljalil Ait Onjar