2017 Fall Contest Winner: 1st Place, New Poets

Disturbance Theory

at HJ Andrews Experimental Forest

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Judge’s comments

I thought a lot about meaning as I read these poems. I thought about how language creates meaning, how humans create language, and how, despite how frail the letters words are made of, how inadequate the sounds of words are to represent the wide world, still meaning is made by one person who makes marks on a paper and understood by another person who looks at those marks with her eyes. It was a pleasure to read every poem entered and respond to the images, sounds and intent of each one. In “Disturbance Theory,” language is a torrent, blowing around owls, lichen, trees, punctuation, convention—the poem makes meaning out of a hike in the woods, melting that meaning with ecological data, wild conjecture and a marching-band sound.


Michael G. Smith is a chemist. He has had writing residencies with the Spring Creek Project (Oregon State University) at Shotpouch Cabin and at the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest. His poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Cider Press Review, Crannóg, Labletter, Nimrod, The Santa Fe Literary Review, Sin Fronteras, and other journals and anthologies. His books include The Dark is Different in Reverse, No Small Things, The Dippers Do Their Part, and Flip Flop.

2017 Fall Contest Winner: 3rd Place, Theme–Current Events

The Greatest Show on Earth

Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus, 1919–2017


Grandma said the circus came to town

by train, paraded through the streets to the fairgrounds


tigers in horse-drawn cages, clowns, a man on stilts,

a brass band, acrobats in spangled costumes;


the children tugged at their parents’ hands

to the fairground, where the Big Top was hoisted


by elephants. In our day, the circus came

with announcement posters, rectangular tickets


vivid orange, yellow, red, a snarling tiger’s head

encircled in blue, and in black the performance date.


On the big night, rows of cars guided by valets

waving red and white wands pointing “this way,”


already sawdust tickling the nose; we clattered up

the shuddering pine and metal risers.


Spotlight!    Ringmaster all in black, a silken hat —

a crescendo of bareback riders in pink sequins,


eight white horses flowing

in an endless circle round the ring


Tigers         hoops of fire!

cracking whips, snarling, how we gasped


at intermission caramel corn, begged our parents

for a little lizard tethered on a flannel board


and when I went alone for cotton candy, passing a lion

asleep in his cage, plump tawny paw poked through the bars


he twitched in a feline dream and I nearly

Screamed!   ten-year-old heart pumping!


When the crowd filed out at the end

my little sister followed the wrong line

ended up behind a huge camel and

a trio




Now the circus has folded its tents, acrobats and

tiger tamers gone, animals scattered


painted wagons lined up in a circus museum

still smelling faintly of sawdust and dung.


Judge’s comments

We live in tumultuous times, and the poems entered in the Current Events category certainly reflect that. There were so many fine poems that judging was a delight.

“The Greatest Show on Earth” bids a sad adieu to the closing of Ringing Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus in language exhibiting both childlike joy and regret for things passed.


Linda Barnes is a Certified Applied Poetry Facilitator. She teaches online with the Therapeutic Writing Institute. Past president of the International Federation for Biblio-Poetry Therapy, she is a founding member of the Rogue Valley Chapter of the Oregon Poetry Association, where she coordinates an annual poetry contest.

2017 Fall Contest Winner: 2nd Place, Theme–Current Events

Off Old Hwy. 99

Old men fill the donut shop this morning,
every morning, talking politics in


matched pairs; they agree about the state of
things, which is much worse than it used to be


when they were as young as the girl at the
glass case deciding on which donut she


will choose, and fearing the choice will be wrong—
not completely satisfactory.


But the sopapillas look like they might
have been touched with magic, and the pink ones


with sprinkles remind her of the sky at
sunset.  The old woman with the penciled


eyebrows smiles absently, knowing no choice
is ever the right one because there is


always regret when one thinks back, even
when all the choices lead to a kind of


happiness. Choosing means carrying the
heavy emptiness of what was not but


could have been. She turns her thoughts toward tonight,
when the men who look like her own children,


who love her like they loved their mother’s tongue,
will stop in and tell a story or two


while she pours tequila and drinks their words.
They will lift their glasses to ¡Arriba!


and brag and tease and laugh until they are
themselves again. Then it will be time to


shoo them home. There is work still for her to
finish, and she must rise early in the


morning tomorrow to create the world
again, and to welcome the old men in


to talk of what was but won’t be again.


Judge’s comments

We live in tumultuous times, and the poems entered in the Current Events category certainly reflect that. There were so many fine poems that judging was a delight.

“Off Old Hwy. 99” walks the knife edge between small, everyday joys and the political unrest shadowing the lives of many.

Jennifer Rood lives and teaches English in Grants Pass, Oregon. Her gift to her students each day is a poem, and she has been hard at work building a poetry culture in her little corner of the universe. She is thankful for the support and encouragement of her husband Robert and her friends in the Pagan Warriors poetry group.