Creative Challenges

Fall Creative Challenge Winners: Poetry Writing and Performance

NEHS was overwhelmed to receive many wonderful pieces of written and performed poetry. The Fall Creative Challenge focused on the work of current US Poet Laureate, Ada Limón. In order to encourage students to consider not only the writing but the performance of their poems, student members were asked to write a poem in a style of their choosing and then perform it. Winning poems, and their accompanying videos, are published here, and represent a wide variety of approaches and responses to Limón’s work.

All winning students will be candidates to receive prizes at the end of the year.

The next round of Creative Challenges takes place between December 11 and January 8. NEHS is aware that drama (both contemporary and classic) is slowly being eroded from high school English curricula. The Winter Creative Challenge aims to engage students with pieces of literature that they may not be familiar with, and to foster a love, and understanding, of script writing as a creative process. Students will focus on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Applicants should consider the wider themes and motifs discussed in their chosen scene and focus on updating it to their particular local geographic and cultural context. The evaluation team looks forward to receiving high quality submissions via the NEHS AwardSpring platform.

Continue reading to enjoy the Fall Creative Challenge winning submissions!

Fall Winners: Poetry Writing and Performance

Elegy Penned on the Shore of the Lethe

Nathan Martin

I know the portent name of Water
Where it comes from,
How it cries,
I know the whisper of its Song;
I know the cadence of its lies.

I know the crimson name of Suffering
The death-scent place,
A hacking Cough,
I taste our bile on your lips;

I pen our sorrows for your lost.
O’ I know the name of Sunlight,
Of Shaxberd, of Lead;
O’ I know the name of Bruises,
Of Dreamings, and yet

I do not know the name of you—
Where you call from,
How you writhe,
I know that we both drink the Lethe, my
But I only wish to meet your eyes.

Nathan Martin is a Senior at UMS-Wright Preparatory School, in Alabama, and first year member of NEHS. He is an aspiring poet and novelist and likes to write about the little bits of ourselves that make us human. Among his inspirations are Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, Neil Gaiman, Lewis Carroll, and James Joyce. In his free time, he can be found playing jazz, pouring over a new book, or enjoying a cup of tea.

Love is Pain

Itzel Tak Hambleton

Why don’t we just call things what they are?
Love is pain.

Love takes control of us, makes our heartstrings intertwine.
Transforms our stomachs into forests and draws spirals in our eyes.
Love will follow you, everywhere. It won’t let you off its grip.
Love will grab your heart so harshly; you’ll just feel like it will rip.
Love is everything and nothing, constantly on our mind.
It feeds our brain with the question: “Is it better to speak or to die?”—

Speak and your honey laced truths will come, pouring out of you like a faucet.
Say it all, spare no details. And risk the chance of being unwanted.
Die by drowning in your head, in the sea of the deepest secrets your heart can hold.
And accept the fate of your last words to be “What if I had just risked it all?”

People like to tell us how to love.
Love someone so honestly that you’re willing to fight for them.
Love someone so deeply you’re okay with letting go.
So, which one is it?
Do we speak, do we die? Do we fight, do we cry?
Do we stay? Do we love?
Why do we do this to ourselves?

We don’t call things what they are because even though we hate to say it, pain is also love.
You hurt because of love.
Because you love.
Because we are made of love and we can’t fight our nature.
We love so truly that we’re willing to bleed.
To hurt for it, to fight for it; to die for it.

Let’s just call things what they are.
Love is pain.
The butterflies in my stomach are pain.
The creases by your eyes when you smile are pain.
The way you speak so softly is pain.
The way I love you is pain.

Pain is love.
The universe is love.
We are love. You are love. I am love.
I’m in love.
I’m in pain. Love is pain.
But it’s oh so painfully beautiful.
And all the pain in the world is worth it for a chance to love you.

Itzel Tak Hambleton is from Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico. She is currently a junior in high school, studying at PrepaTec Eugenio Garza Lagüera, and one of her proudest achievements is having won her middle school’s Mother’s Day Poem contest, winning a small digital tablet for her mom. Since she was a little kid, she has always had an enormous passion for anything art related. Whether it was dancing, singing, writing poetry, or acting, art has had a very significant impact throughout her life. She believes that NEHS is an exciting opportunity for her to share her passions for writing and performance with the world and to keep improving, not only academically but individually as well.

I Don’t Get It

Maryana Olhovsky

I am standing above her casket, built by the hands of her father;
The same hands in which he tried to save her, but failed.
I always envied her beauty. Here she lies in front of me,
Still beautiful even as a dead corpse.
Her cold, gray skin is waxy to the touch.
I tell myself she’s in a better place but in reality,
She’s not with me.
I am not in a better place.
I look around through my glassy eyes,
Blurred by the never-ending salty stream of tears.
I spot her sister, calm and motionless.
She’s almost too calm, it makes me uncomfortable.
She turns to her friend and whispers.
A subtle giggle protrudes from her lips.
I don’t get it.
Her dead sister lies three feet away from her.
I look back at the casket.
Why did she have to die? I think to myself.
I don’t get it.

Maryana Olhovsky attends Allentown High School in Allentown, NJ.  She is a member of the National English, Math, and Spanish honors societies. She is a 3-year varsity athlete in Girls Basketball. She works at LOFT Outlet after school and, in the summer, works as a lifeguard. She loves to be creative in her free time. Whether it be doodling, painting, or designing on the computer, she likes to express herself through the use of art. One day, she aspires to become a graphic designer in NYC. She also enjoys singing with her church choir and in a youth choir with her friends. English has always come naturally to her, and she always enjoys a good writing/art challenge.


Zuhan Lee

It’s that part of the movie again,
the part where they wait as we watch the credits
and boo those less devoted.
They watch as bits of litter are swept up into a dustpan
to be thrown away like an unfinished puzzle.

A mob of jobs against the screen
felt frozen in one moment.
The tape flips black
and time flicks back
a dreadful disappointment.

Ending a never-ending story,
a never easy task,
like eating something savory
its taste tends to last.

And as stars begin to illuminate the sky,
dazed by darkness,
our eyes take time to adjust
from locked vision of fictional figures
to the actuality of reality,
we descend down the stairs
and out the cave to breathe fresh air.

We leave with satisfaction
longing for just a fraction, of a second,
for that flicker of a moment
we call the past.
Though in stories told on screens
the moments seem to pass
watching the movies of our lifetimes
the memories forever last

Zuhan Lee is a Junior at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, CA, and a proud member of the National English Honor Society. Influenced by his father, and his work within the movie making industry, as well as being influenced by his former language arts tutor, Zuhan found a passion for the creative process at a young age. As a varsity level soccer player, Zuhan spends many hours out on the pitch, but he also finds joy in the less physical and more emotional aspects of creating his own poetry at home. As a new member of NEHS, Zuhan is determined to elevate his performance with creative literature, as well as find his voice in the literary world.

A Big Sister’s Farewell

Tiffany Gbilia

Sitting in a dimly lit chair,
On the porch, I listen to the weeping sky,
Each drop, heavier than the last,
As my heart pours out its goodbye.
It feels right, this moment,
Fitting perfectly with these tangled thoughts,
My eyes feel watery,
No, it’s all in my head,
Thoughts bloom as I sit here,
All alone, trying to understand these emotions.
My head spins toward our home,
Our home in Monrovia, once warm and bright,
Now gloomy and lost.
The images of a young girl’s carefree run,
of me cradling a baby, a sisterly bond marked.
Oh, my dear cousin, a sister to me,
Raised in my love, as close as can be,
The nine-year gap, mere numbers we defy,
Bound as sisters, reaching for the light.
I recall her arrival, a ray of the golden light,
So bright, so cheerful, chasing away the night.
Another puzzle added to my life,
Striped away from, as life decided to be unfair.
Time is a fleeting friend,
In a world where the journey never ends,
A new home awaits my dear, and with it, comes a bittersweet embrace.
As farewell day draws near,
Emotions flood, so painfully clear,
Tears like raindrops, I know they’ll come from me,
For you are a little girl, blinded by the light.
Facing your room,
Who will I scold, who’ll test my will,
I have a baby, baby, sister, it’s true
But Zeest, I’ve known longer,
With Zeest, it feels different,
A name that means life,
A meaning that suits the personality.
In her absence, my heart will ache
Her beautiful little soul,
Teaches me not to break,
But to rise above, even when day turns to night.
The love we shared, in my heart, it stays,
Big sister, to little sister, as it should be.

Tiffany Gbilia is an eleventh grader at the American International School of Monrovia in Liberia. As Student Council President, she actively collaborates with the school to implement Service-Learning Programs and foster a deeper understanding of Liberia among her peers. She takes part in various school activities and is a dedicated member of the Model United Nations (MUN). Tiffany’s passion for literature led her to establish a Book Club, emphasizing its importance for the school community. She’s also a member of AISM NEHS, the first chapter in Liberia. Tiffany’s passion for poetry is rooted in personal connections. She uses poetry to connect, heal and love.


Hannah Simkus

Soft November rainfall should feel like a cleansing of the soul,
But it sticks to my skin like the tears that
Rolled down my face as you kissed me.
The last leaves on the trees standing vigil outside
Reflect the red leaf that
I dragged over the threshold that night,
The candy red maple that was left just outside the bedroom door.
And I used to love candles, but the light flickers
Like the alcohol passion had in your eyes.
Yesterday I tried to cook with wine, but it
Smelled the same way it had rolled off of our breath
When I drank until the world seemed harmless
Because sweet intoxication would be your excuse
And my downfall.
And that night will live on in infamy
For the faint sky blue of your eyes
Is the same color
As two blue lines.

Hannah Simkus is an eleventh grader from The Knox School, in New York. She is an avid reader and writer and who enjoys both the literature created by others, and her own. She grew up performing, playing violin, dancing, and acting both at school and in the local community. Her life and experiences have really given her a unique opportunity to appreciate and compose texts and create performances that mean something to the audience, and she loves how these outlets allow her and others to communicate unique and powerful scenarios with the world.

Upon Watching the Reveal of Razor Clams

Rebecca Aponte

I remember watching my brother
With the razor clams,
Those delicate, surface-bubbling
Twisty-looking things,
The way he would excitedly
Hunt down the source of the sand holes by digging a deeper one,
And how he would scoop
With his whole arm just to
Feel the haunting pulses of the slimy heartbeat
Alongside his palm.
I was never like that. Never
Felt strong enough in myself
Around those concealed creatures
That could cut you if you brushed against them
And propel themselves toward you without warning
As if to say,
Look at me.
It didn’t make sense
To pursue a thing as cold and sharp
As its name, something that you could live your whole life
Without having to see or feel, and having the alternative seem
To counter tradition.
The expectation of forever living
In the familiar.
Is that why he worked so hard to find them?
To break open the fragile sphere of peace
In a lonely and dry
Surface of the world?
There is a sad truth in this
Labyrinth of complexity, perhaps,
A definitive theory
About what lies beneath
That feels more fascinating to discover
Than abiding by the rituals above.

Rebecca Aponte is a junior at the Webb School of Knoxville, in Tennessee. At the age of seven, she read Lewis Carroll’s nonsensical poem, “Jabberwocky,” and her love of poetry began. The strange and unknown words were fun to read to herself but even more entertaining to recite out loud. Her family sent her to Interlochen’s Creative Writing summer program, where Rebecca fell in love with reading and analyzing different poetry forms and dabbled in writing and reciting her work. When she’s not engaged as a poet, she plays violin in the Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra and is a member of her high school’s swim and mock trial teams.