Élan Middle School Writing Contest – 2020 Winners!

Élan celebrates the work of students between 6th and 8th grades in our annual Middle School Writing Contest. The winner of the contest is awarded a certificate and publication of their work on the Élan magazine blog.

Students can submit in any form, including poetry (of any length and style), fiction (of up to 5,000 words), and nonfiction (essays up to 3,000 words). Below is a listing of this year’s winning pieces!

FIRST PLACE WINNER

“Grief” by Janna Tannous

SECOND PLACE WINNER

“Questions of the Youth” by Erion P. Sanders

THIRD PLACE WINNERS

“The Roaring Himalayas” by Rehan Sheikh

“Untitled” by John Walker

The winner of the 2020 contest is Janna Tannous, a rising 9th grader who submitted her poem, “Grief”. Our editors were impressed with the strong intention behind Janna’s work and her use of metaphor throughout. Poetry editor Conor Naccarato said, “This [poem] takes great risks with abstraction, and the images are really evocative. A very promising voice.”

We are excited to share Janna’s work with you today and look forward to the work she creates in the future!

Grief by Janna Tannous

I am the blood gushing out of my grandfather’s nose,
that seeps into the cracks of the old wooden floor.

I am the rough waves that hit the edge of the lighthouse,
only to be met by cascading darkness.

I am the many once-lit candles,
that flicker with solitude,
only to be blown out suddenly,
with no explanation.

I am the wide open fields,
that seem to go on for miles,
but only last a few.

I am the hymns sung at the service,
where the white snowflakes seem to contrast the color of my attire.

I am the many stones of the named,
yet only one seems to be clear,
and it’s someone whom I know.

Tiger Games

The poem, “tiger, what it means to leave behind” by Jaden Crowder is a beautiful work, and one of my favorite pieces in the Spring Edition. It expands on the pains of growing and the bitterness of nostalgia, opening up on the heartache of faded friendships and lost innocence. The way it begins is playful – opening with a rhyme scheme most of us can relate to some of our most favorite lullabies from childhood. For me, this poem brought out a feeling that buried itself a long time ago – when the sun was something new on my skin, and the color green made my eyes smile. In many ways, this poem reminded me of my own lost childhood – having once thrived with pride like a cub, I am now older and as fierce as the world wants me to be. There is no time to play – we can only remember and continue to remember.

I, too, had a friend like the poem describes. She was as blonde as our pinky-swears and as playful as any kid could be. I remember her smiles in the car when we sat in the backseat while our parents drove, racing to be in the front seat when we were older, riding scooters in the parking lot, and making soap potions in the bathroom. Yet, I just barely remember the last time I saw her – we were 13, I think. I believe we were by the pool. I think the sun still felt warm as it went behind buildings, the shadows resting comfortably on our forms like they were our own. The conversation was nothing special – it certainly didn’t feel like the last. We probably said ‘goodbye’ when it got too late, something like: ‘see you next weekend!’ rolling off our tongues as though they budded with longing right then and there.

No, I don’t think she left because she disliked me. I don’t think she dislikes me now, even when she doesn’t respond to her birthday texts. It was a simple, ‘no, you can’t see her anymore’ from her mom that ended our friendship.

Sometimes I think about her – usually it’s late and the world has exhausted me of any other thought to do with the present. It’s when I want to live in the past, lying in my dark bed with the moon outside my window which, I know, was the same moon then; the one that peaked over us at the pool. I think: ‘what is she like now? what is she doing?’ I think about how much of a sister she was to me, and I wonder if it was ever the same for her. Then I ask god what life would be now if she stayed.

Does she not remember the days when we were small, dancing around the pool as sailors, mermaids, spies, and adventurers, just kids up to our tiger games, hoping the world was as big as our dreams and hearts? Leaving her behind; what that meant for me involved fabricating a wall around our memories to give the illusion there weren’t games to begin with.

Admittedly, I think of her on these nights, but I don’t want to know if she thinks of me; I just pull the moon close and let my eyes flutter their lids, pressing my cheek to the pillow.

This edition has many pieces that speak to me – pieces from teens who convey their own turmoil and passions through art. I opened up about two that had a very special impact on me.

Art as a whole is meant to connect us to each other and ourselves, and I think it is wonderful that Élan grants young artists the opportunity to give that experience to the world. These works are from teens, but that does not take away their impact; Élan proves how crucial it is to allow the voices of growing artists to be heard. To me, as both a student and artist, that is such a beautiful thing. As this Spring Edition impacted me, it can also leave something with you.

Reece Braswell, Senior Art Editor

Stories Without Words: Samuel Pabon’s Pressure Cooker

Looking through the final art and writing decisions of Élan is never a disappointment. There are always a couple pieces I am surprised by; maybe I didn’t pay much attention to them through the first selection process, but in their new context of the surrounding stories, they make perfect. Then there are the pieces I knew would be selected from the moment I first laid my eyes on them. The selection process is always tough, as we receive mountains of submissions from talented artists and writers, and we cannot include it all in the book. But from the moment I saw Samuel Pabon’s Pressure Cooker, I knew this piece would rise above the rest.

Even the name of the piece invites speculation into the emotions of the subject. Yes, “cooker” could be a literal reference to the apparent heat the subject is surrounded by. But the subject of the piece is interesting because it invites a host of questions that a literal interpretation fails to answer—why is the figure holding a bag over his head? And why does he appear so serene in the face of so much heat and force? The composition pulls the viewer forward, as the steam surrounding the subject is portrayed in less detail than the facial expression of the boy with a bag over his head, as if the focus is not on the steam, or even the bag at all, but the emotional content under the surface. These questions force the viewer to consider the situation from the subject’s perspective.

For me, the emotions of the subject registered on a personal level for me. I have a habit of taking on too many tasks in too short a time to complete them all. I call it work ethic, or perfectionism, or just being a workaholic—and, when I manage to complete all of my tasks, the pressure taken off my shoulders feels wonderful. But leading up to this catharsis, I put myself under increasing pressure, trying to live up to my own expectations of myself, failing to care for my personal needs, all with the goal of getting my work done to the best quality I can manage. The catharsis when I do complete everything is remarkable, but it creates a legacy of self-sabotage.

When I look at Pressure Cooker, I see the same self-sabotage. The bag over the head and the serene facial expression is not unlike my own serenity in ruining my personal life for the sake of productivity. Under heat and force, diamonds are made—but so is oil and hot tar, compressed from the bodies of living things. Pressure Cooker is a warning that, if we do not reexamine the situations we put ourselves in, we will put ourselves through unnecessary suffering.

Every piece in Élan’s Spring Edition tells a story, and this is the reason why I am so proud of this issue—reading through the book, noticing how the art expands on the stories of the writing themselves, is an emotional experience like few others.

Noland Blain, Senior Managing Editor