Poetry and Storytelling Competition Winners

Poetry and Storytelling Competition Winners

Poetry and Storytelling Competition 2015

poetry winners 2015

First place winners

Kate I. Foley and Nada Rahmouni

Dear Dr. King
Kate Foley Reading Her Winning Poem

Written on April 4th, 2013

Dear Dr. King,

45 years ago today,
You were shot and killed by James Earl Ray.

Sometimes I wonder if you hadn’t died,
If you could’ve done more when you were alive.

Then sometimes I think that by being the martyr,
You helped to do more with things that are harder.

Did you know I walked on your bedroom floor?
That I touched your house,
The kitchen door?
Today you could have been 84.

And teaching what’s right.
All of that ended with a bullet in flight.

People filled with hate.
By the time we changed,
It was far too late.
For this never should have happened
To the human race.

How is it that we creatures
With brilliant minds
Could be so hateful
And so blind?
How is it that deep down we knew what was true,
But we would keep screaming terrible things
Until our faces turned blue?

Dear Dr. King,
I’m writing to say,
That I hoped while you lived
You lived every day.

Nada Rahmouni


Safia looks up at me with big, round, solemn eyes. Like her eyes know more than mine. Like she’s surprised that I forgot. Like she’s sad that she has to be the one to remind me. Her eight year old hand wraps around mine. My nails are blue. Hers are bare, because she’s not allowed to paint them.

“Girls don’t do that kind of thing, Nada.” She says in Arabic, of course, because it’s all she knows. It sounds more poetic that way I guess. “We stay home while the boys go out.” I haven’t said anything yet, and I’m sure my expression is not of the poker-face nature so she falters, pauses. Her eyes ask me for approval. “Right?” Or maybe hope I don’t give it. “Right, Nada?” I open my mouth but no sound comes out.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I comprehend my cousin’s words, but the look on her face is what captures every bit of my attention. They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul, but in this moment it is almost like she can see mine.

I want to answer her. Of course not, I want to say. Your gender does not make you inferior. Dream big dreams. Don’t let society pull at your hair and clip your wings. Hold your head high. You are their equal.

But her mother is sitting on the other side of the room, and her face tells me to leave it be, to tell her she is right. Because when I leave, Safia will still be in this place where the society and the government tell her that my words aren’t true. Maybe it will be easier for her if she’s naive. If one never attempts to walk past the length of his rope, he will never know of its presence.

I look at her face and try not to see her expression.

My mouth opens, and a non distinguishable sound comes from my throat. Safia takes it as a yes, because it’s what she’s expecting to hear. I know, because her face falls just as quickly as sand through gaps between thin fingers. The energy in her eyes dims, and my heart clenches in regret. She nods, then continues in a whisper. “I forget sometimes, too.” She pulls her attention back to the television.

I watch with her, not really paying attention to whichever midday cartoon is playing. My mind crawls back to earlier in the day.

When my (male) cousins and my brother were talking about their plans for the night I had joined in, naturally assuming that I was invited, because back home, in the United States, I would have been. So I had gotten up to get dressed, to go to a soccer game, to go out for the night, to have fun. But I had gotten up and there she was with that look upon her face. Confusion. Then understanding. Then empathy. Then acceptance. Because that’s what she’s been told since as long as she can remember, to accept her limitations. Because as much as I’d like to tell her they don’t exist, they do exist here.

I could tell her, I could tell myself, it’s just a soccer game. No big deal. I didn’t want to go anyway. I don’t even really like soccer all that much. But that is unacceptable. Because it would be different if I wasn’t going because of something else. Not enough tickets. Money. A consequence for something I did. But I can’t go (we can’t go) because of something completely out of my control. Because of my gender. Because I am a girl. And, here, that somehow makes me lesser of a human being.

But the fact is, earlier today, I beat all of my cousins at FIFA, a “boy’s” game. They told me girls don’t play, so I picked up a controller, and I beat them all. Every single one. But now I am on summer vacation, visiting my parents’ native country, and I am forbidden from attending a soccer game, because I am a girl, and girls do not do that sort of thing.

All of this, being here, makes me so thankful, however, so thankful that my parents immigrated to the United States. I am so thankful that back home this is unacceptable. I am so thankful for feminism and gender equality. I am so thankful to live in a country where women are accorded equal opportunity. I am so thankful to live in a household where I am treated as my brother’s counterpart. I am so thankful to live in a household in which my parents are equals, in which my dad cooks dinner and cleans (“women’s jobs”) maybe even more than my mother does. I am so thankful that the words college and career are spoken instead of housewife and marriage. I am so thankful that I get the chance to be a woman in society and not just a mother. I am incredibly thankful that I get to be an individual.

And I am incredibly sad. I am incredibly sad for all those girls out there like my cousin Safia who have been told by society that they can’t. I am incredibly sad for all the girls who have dejectedly come to terms with what they perceive as their limitations.  I am incredibly sad for girls who, as a result of societal pressures, have oppressed each other. I am incredibly sad for girls who are silenced and for girls who have never tried to speak their mind. I am incredibly sad for girls who haven’t dared to dream and for girls whose hopes were deemed irrelevant.

But when it comes down to it, I am incredibly hopeful. I am hopeful for equality. I am hopeful for girls who want to have a say in the world. I am hopeful for girls who have never accepted their limitations and girls who have never backed down. I am hopeful for girls who want to get an education and girls who want to be leaders. I am hopeful for girls with mischievous smiles and fire in their eyes. I am hopeful for independent girls and intelligent girls. I am hopeful for witty girls, fearless girls and pretty girls. I am hopeful for sarcastic girls, funny girls and happy girls. I am hopeful for all girls. I am hopeful for girls with dreams. I am hopeful for girls who have a choice. And I am incredibly hopeful for Safia.

Second place winner – Peace Okiye

It started slow

The sound of the bullet exploding from the gun
The sound of the tear of his flesh as the bullet pulled its way through his skin

It started slow.
The sound of the mother’s anguish wailed through the night
The shock was apparent in the crowd as one after another, they began to scream.

It started slow.
In the dead of the night, someone called for justice.
All across the nation, people started to protest.
Some lended their voice to the cause, while others took to the streets.

It started slow.
The announcement that he was to be let go.
A whole race mourned that night, with the feeling of despair.

But then they felt the burn of rage in their hearts,
They wanted change.

They wanted to be heard.

So, again they took to the streets.
If the world didn’t want to listen, they would make them listen.
Every word was spoken in rage, but it made the nation pay attention.
Every word was dipped in gold to catch the attention of someone, anyone who could help.

It started slow.
Slowly, but surely the world was listening to every gold-dipped word.

It started slow and ended slow.
The match was quick to light.
The bullet struck its target.

The bullet was the flame.
It was the match to the kerosene.
It started the protest.
It started every word, spoken from their tongues.

It started slow.
The sound of a mother’s anguish.
Her voice, carrying through the crowd.
Weaving its melody through their hearts.

It started slow.
Now the mother does not weep alone.
She hears the roars of the crowds.
The thunder of the stamping of their feet.
The screams and commotion heard in the streets.

It started slow.
Like a melody that starts soft, but then gets louder until it is all you hear in your ears.

She hears change.

And she dances along with the tune.
She raises her voice to yell the lyrics.
She stomps her feet along with the beat.
She smiles to herself because she knows better days are coming.

It started slow, the sound of change in the nation.
The sound of making a difference.

It started slowly and grew to a raging fire.
The sound and sight of making a change.

Third place winner – Jaclyn Tsimmerman


I’ve been running from myself for eternity

Constantly seeking validation––

Why them? What have they done?

The famine, the suffering, the rape, the marriage.

What is this?


Psychological questioning plays with “ignorance is bliss”.

And it plays quite skillfully indeed.

The voices can never be silenced.

“What’s the point?” repeated over and over and over and over again.

A peace of mind is nonexistent.

War is nice. Senseless death is good.

Objectification of woman is even better.


I’ve been chasing time forever, trying to make a change, to be the change.

Everyone always talks, pours out such wonderful words.

But what is succeeded other than solutions full of empty promises?

Will the earth end in fire? Will the seas freeze in time?

Memories are lost in our society; our generation cuts off its wings, then tries to fly.


Wind forces through blasé faces

Canvas with no expression– emitting nothing but the truth

Here you are: nothing special at all.

Stop discriminating.

Build up self-esteem. Build up your community. Build up the world.


Destruction, havoc, chaos of the world… it bothers me.

And the alienated bodies staggering to their daily destination.

iPhone in hand, coffee in the other.

Do you check to see what’s in front of you?

A baboon

–Or a platypus?

Maybe that is also the destruction, the havoc, the chaos.

Because to you:

They look the same.


Anxiety tags along with achieving the expectations of a high GPA.

And friends.

And portraying yourself to be perceived the way you want people to perceive you.

It’s such a controlled environment– WATCH OUT!

Don’t go over the speed limit.

And thousands of miles away, a teenage girl needs to make sure she and her baby son have enough to eat that day, enough to drink. Enough to survive.


I want to be everything at once, yet I want to disappear.

And I am lost in a psychosomatic mechanical wasteland.

A neutral space of existence– I don’t know if I’ll ever get out.

I just don’t know what this is.

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