Oregon Poetry Association – Fall 2015 Contest Winners

vincePoet’s Choice. Judge: Karen McPherson

1st Place: “The Good Nurse”  by Nancy Carol Moody, Eugene
2nd  Place: “Cryopediology” by Marian Shapiro, Lexington, Massachusetts
3rd Place: “the wonder and terrible” by Liz Robinson, Phoenix

Honorable Mentions:

“Among the Things You deserve” by Emily Ransdell

“Live Music” by Dan Kaufman, Central Point

“Central” by Marjorie Power, Denver, Colorado

I read the eighty submissions in this category with great appreciation and admiration over several weeks of summer and into fall. With each successive read-through of the reshuffled pile, I would notice new details and appreciate different voices, forms, perspectives, and approaches. Many strong and compelling poems floated into the pool of my current favorites and it was not an easy task to choose from among them in order to come up with the three winners and three honorable mentions.

I picked “The Good Nurse” as first-place winner because it kept surprising me. It offers the directness and predictability of a well-told story while holding at bay another story that is raw and painful and not being told. Like the good nurse with her fists “brimming with bandages,” the poem applies itself as unguent and palliative until the very end, when the other story comes whispering through. The shift of perspective (gaze and voice) and the shared hurt in the last three lines bring the two stories powerfully together.

The second-place poem, “ Cryopediology,” takes a very different and structurally innovative approach to telling a story. I particularly appreciate how it vibrates between the familiar and the strange, weaving together and juxtaposing fragmentary and suggestive poetic strands. Months, weather, clothing, a relationship distilled. This poem is rich in its apparent simplicity.

The poem I chose for third place is “the wonder and terrible.” It isn’t easy to write a successful poem about writing poems. I kept coming back to this one because of its urgency and the skillful way in which the poet finds each stanza’s energetic center.

I also chose three Honorable Mentions. “Among the Things You Deserve” (after Dan Albergotti’s poem “Among the Things He Does Not Deserve”) is one of the most startling and effective list poems I have read in a long time. “Live Music” is precisely what its title offers: an excellent example of musical ekphrastic. “Regrets Sent from Central Mexico” had me hooked from the moment I read the first two lines: “Thank you, my dear, for inviting me/ to hone my craft.”

Each of these six very different poems struck a chord with me, bringing recognition, surprise, delight. I thank and congratulate the poets.

Karen McPherson


Members Only. Judge: Paulann Petersen

1st Place: “Nutmeg” by Nancy Carol Moody, Eugene
2nd Place: “That Morning” by Margaret Chula, Portland
3rd Place: “At Twilight” by Linda Appel, West Linn

Honorable Mentions:

“Rules of the Empire” by Jesse Ford, Philomath
“Early Morning with William Stafford” Donna Hein, Eugene
“Drought” Linda Gelbrich, Corvallis

Inordinately fond of short poems, I marvel at how the successful ones can encompass, can accomplish, as much as they do with the few lines and words they use. My first, second, and third place choices each employ 28, 54, and 26 words, respectively. Impressive compression. Each may take up only a small part of a page, but each fills and overspills the page’s edges with resonant images and music. “Nutmeg” swiftly takes us to its essence: “core/ of stone milk. O burl that grinds// to sweet—.” “That Morning” quickly places us in a world where a coyote is “parting the desert air/ into haves and have nots.” “At Twilight” creates a vision that includes the ascending moon, “that silver mirror// climbing the vapor path….” The six poems I chose for recognition offer a spectrum of tones: that of ode, political satire, elegy, and eco-poetics. My choices reflect the notable range present in the submission pool.

— Paulann Petersen


Dueling Judges. Judge: David Biespiel

1st Place: “And There Were Lacewings Everywhere” byNicole Chvatal, Portland

A gem a dream poem on self-reproach. The poem has what all fabulous poems about the Jungian recesses of the mind have, archetypal complexity. To begin a poem with “I don’t have a child” and end it, childless, with “sleep next to me” is a master-stroke.

2nd Place: “False Dawn” by Michael Hanner, Eugene

A wonderful, dense portrait of the “distended” hours of living in a dangerous and difficult time that reminds us of the many ways we move in the world: creeping, walking, oscillating, dancing, ticking, streaking, bumping, and swaggering.

3rd Place: “Food Chain” by Catherine McGuire, Sweet Home

A fierce attack on consumerism and American hurly-burly that renders the “race, race, race” of our noble identities in a new way and a fresh music.

Honorable Mentions:

“Tilt” by Charlotte Abernathy, Ashland

A tour de force of nostalgia where the games of childhood become the conduits to reckoning with mortality.

“Sway” by Linda Kennedy, Mechanicsville, Virginia

The myths of our lives are fabulously catalogued in this poem as a sway of bird song and bard song — as with these killer lines: “…mortarboard and sporran tassels, / a pendulum, a parachute, a spider suspended on its silk…”

“Eleanor Park, Albany, Oregon 1964” by Doug Stone, Albany

A keen narrative about the imagination as metaphor for want — want as in lack, and lack as in desire for thriving in the night and calling it a night.


Dueling Judges. Judge: Wendy Willis

1st Place: “False Dawn”, Michael Hanner, Eugene
2nd Place: “Resurrection”, John Sibley Williams, Milwaukee
3rd Place: “The Virgin Poem” by Joan Dobbie, Eugene

Honorable Mentions

“She Was Convinced the Black Dots on Her Mother’s Skin Were Where the Ants Came From” by Vargus Pike, Beaverton

“Time Flies” by Rosemary Lombard, Hillsboro

“A Way of Seeing” by Carol Lantz, Corvallis

The watchword for the winners is vividness! These three poems popped with detail and quirk and surprise.  It feels as if the writer of “False Dawn” peeled the refined veneer off the streets of Paris and gave us a peek into a wild subculture that tells jokes and dances and rots beneath the surface. The poem teems with memorable lines. Who could forget: “before lifting the skirt, the loud scudding of the clouds?” And “Resurrection”–with its crazy turn at the end–leaves us both unsettled and satisfied in the very best ways. I will also say that I am not typically a fan of ars poetica, but “The Virgin Poem” had me when it compared itself to a pretty two-headed calf. All of the honorable mentions–and indeed all the poets–took themselves and poetry seriously in an era when we are exposed to cynicism and cravenness at every turn.  The poets who entered this contest offered me, as a judge, tremendous hope for the continuing arc of our cherished art. And for that, I am enormously grateful.

— Wendy Willis


Traditional Form, Haibun Judge: Toni Hanner

1st Place: “Raspberries in June” by Tricia Knoll, Portland

The layered landscape is the visceral body cavity of a surgical patient and the outer landscape of “June sun” and the “redbud’s heart-leaves.” The poet’s language in describing the surgery: “scoop,” “speckled-egg ovaries,” “sluiced her gut,” is surprising and strangely beautiful. The turn near the end of the prose, “It’s solstice,” leads back to the ripe raspberries of the title. The haiku give us another image of something torn: “the spider’s web” / “in the sprinkler’s blast.”

2nd Place: “Cannery Row” by Nancy Carol Moody, Eugene

A familiar landscape with excellent sensory details, especially smell. The language is fresh, including rhyme such as “skim/swim,” “scrimshander/clipper,” “wrappings/raspberry/racks.” The haiku at the end connects us back to the shadow in the poem’s first line.

3rd Place: “Known” by Liz Robinson, Phoenix

The poet describes an interior journey with external details. The phrases “exacting edge of shadow” and “wildflowering meadow and the antler clashing field” blew me away. A fierce attention to sensory detail is reflected in the haiku.

Honorable Mentions:

“Train” by Donna Prinzmetal
“Leaves in August” by Samuel Seskin
“Along the Road” by Joy McDowell

I read each of these poems three times. First, to get an overall impression. The second time through, I marked those that stood out for me in any of a number of ways: how well the poem followed the category guidelines, original language, and the relationship of the prose with the haiku. After the second reading, half the poems were marked as stand-outs.

I again read each of the 30 poems, looking for that ineffable quality that spoke directly to my heart or my gut. This third reading left me with nine poems. I moved these nine around like puzzle pieces, finally assigning places to them by combining the category’s guidelines with my personal score.

— Toni Hanner


New Poets. Judge: Brittney Corrigan

1st Place: “Silver Creek” by Sally Blatt, Springfield
2nd Place: “Ahmad Jamal’s Ba’albeck” by Susan Whitney, Eugene
3rd Place: “On the Prairie There Is Wind” by Bill Gholson, Ashland

Honorable mentions:

“Zen Reverie” by Donna Hein, Eugene
“Froggy Flamenco” by Norma Wilson, Vermillion, South Dakota
“Pillow Book” by Cathy Cain, Lake Oswego

I chose the winning poem, “Silver Creek,” for its vivid and sometimes startling imagery (in particular, the phrase “minnowed, alien surfacing below the skin” to describe the veins in the subjects’ feet) and the poet’s ability to capture a moment that is at once intimate and infinite. In “Ahmad Jamal’s Ba’albeck,” I was particularly drawn to the way the language conjured jazz percussion as well as giving the reader a strong sense of place and history. “On the Prairie There is Wind” left me feeling haunted, as if the wind being described stole my breath for its own purposes. “Zen Reverie” is a lovely contemplation that spoke to all of my senses, and “Froggy Flamenco” seemed to me to be its sister poem, with its slow detailing of the frogs’ voices and striking final line. “Pillow Book” does a remarkable job of braiding essential life experience with the shared act of dying as the poet weaves words and phrases together to create an astonishing juxtaposition which I found to be both heartbreaking and brave. I thoroughly enjoyed reading all of the poems, and I feel that the six poets whose work rose to the top show great promise. It was a privilege to read work by new poets who are just beginning to share their voices with the larger world.

— Brittney Corrigan


Themed: Longing. Judge: Frances Payne Adler

1st Place: “arkansas river roads”, John Clark Vincent, Portland
2nd Place: “The Old Farm”, Barbara Blanks, Garland, Texas
3rd Place: “Maybe what I miss the most”, Dan Kaufman, Central Point

Honorable Mentions:

“Some Days Are Like That”, Carol Lantz, Corvallis
“Train Station”, Sallie Ehrman, Ashland

What I was looking for, in these poems about longing, was the imprint of that longing. Which poem, with its unique mix of metaphor, music, language, was able to embody itself? Which poet’s heat of longing had called me inside? Thank you to the winning poets for transporting this reader so skillfully to the interior of multiple forms of longing: for the grit toward a glimpsed future along a river road in Arkansas, for the bruising and beloved brothers on an old prairie farm, for a parent’s smile above a kitchen sink in summer. And thank you to all the poets who entered the contest, for your commitment to and belief in the written word.

— Frances Payne Adler


Experimental Poetry. Judge: Dena Rash Guzman

1st Place: “12 Laments for the Old City” by Susan Whitney, Eugene

A gripping and rhythmic tale of change. Phrases such as

People are angry—the core repertory
People are sad, to borrow a term


Says one, “This wave will only swell”
like so much else

manage to impart a difficult message, which is the subtlety with which chaos and fighting can rise, a stark comparison to chaos itself which isn’t ever subtle – “a parable against subtlety”

This experimental piece uses subtlety applied with blunt force to  illustrate the absurdity of subtlety in the face of reality with a rhythm akin to blood rushing through veins. It made me taste adrenalin.

The language is a tight spill – water loses the shape of knocked-over glass. This poem defies reason to run across the table in a perfectly straight stream.


2nd Place: “On the Playground” by Shirley Plummer, Yachats

This poem uses concise story-telling to matter-of-factly tell the tale of how everyday civil order and disorder can lead to riot; it tells a tale of how rapidly police intervention can escalate to harm those who needed help to begin with. It’s chilling in that the police are called to handle simple playground bullying, something simple peaceful verbal enforcement of rules should have quelled. The power of the piece becomes electrifying when the original victim is further victimized. “no, oh no” lament those who knew and chose not to or were unable to nip the victim’s pain in the bud. This is how innocence is gutted. The interspersing of storytelling with police language builds tension and gives contrast. I won’t soon forget this poem. It told me something I always knew but never gave words.


3rd Place: “Sally: frm. Sarah:princess” by Sally Blatt, Springfield

Names are one of humanity’s ultimate experiments. They take on such meaning when attached to a life. Does the life lived by the person named define the name? Sally isn’t Sarah: Sally is loops and attempts at definition. Sarah just is. Sally fell off of Sarah somehow. The names become vessels seeking a place to land in this poem, a complex meditation on simple meaning.


Honorable mentions: 

“In Crayon” by Sharon Munson, Eugene
“Trill” by Stephen Jones, Corvallis
“Prepping For the Test that Matters” by Keli Osborn, Eugene

Oregon Poetry Association – Spring 2015 Contest Winners

Oregon Poetry Association
Spring 2015 Contest Winners 

OPA congratulates all the winners below, and thanks them
and all the poets who entered for sharing their work.


1) Poet’s Choice. Judge: Maxine Scates

1st Place: “Provenance” by Karen McPherson, Eugene
2nd Place: “Plea for Understanding” by Helen Sina, Lihue, Hawaii
3rd Place: “Degeneration” by Meagan Johanson, Corvallis

Honorable mentions:

“All of Us” by Angela Allen, Portland
“Boy on a Skateboard” by Michael Coolen, Corvallis
“The Silence of Kansas” by Michael Hanner, Eugene

I think long poems are hard to write so my primary criteria in judging these poems was how well each of these poets held the elements of the poem together. Since long poems are often narratives, as these were, the poet must move the narrative forward while also maintaining a nuanced imagistic thread throughout, a kind of echoing that lets you both remember where you’ve been but which also satisfyingly foreshadows where you’ve arrived by the poem’s end–even if it’s surprising. Thus, my criteria here was how well these poems did just that, while, of course, embodying the poem’s emotional content.

“Provenance,” the first place poem, is a meditation on a photograph of a painting, that image in and of itself, a fairly distanced representation, but what the poet does is evoke the history of the speaker’s relationship to the painting until by poem’s end, the distance closed, this exploration of image and memory has fully transformed the painting from photograph into self– “where each saw/ what the other saw/ and how it holds us there.” The second place poem, “Plea For Understanding,” is also a poem of memory, this time of landscape, the almost Eden of the speaker’s childhood foregrounding the present of logged forests turned to fields and worse, a rural dumping ground, all of which is rendered in compelling and vivid imagery. “Degeneration,” the third place poem, traces the speaker’s relation to his or her father from childhood to adulthood. Here, the dominant, and very evocative metaphor of pears, how they look, smell and taste, guides the reader throughout while embodying the poem’s emotional flow.

I found much to be moved by in all of these poems, the Honorable Mentions and also the many other fine poems that were entrants–it was a pleasure to read them.

–Maxine Scates

2) Members Only. Judge: Ingrid Wendt

1st Place: “Just Add Water” by Ann Farley, Beaverton
2nd Place: “Frida” by Kathleen Dunn, Ashland
3rd Place: “Partly an Affront” by Carolyn Martin, Clackamas

Honorable mentions:

“Finding Assurance” by Leah Stenson, Portland
“Koi Dreaming” by Helen Sina, Lihue, Hawaii
“Uninvited” by Judith Edelstein, Corvallis

I always greet requests to judge with a mix of happy expectation and dread—expecting I’ll find things to respect in each and every poem, be it a philosophical stance, an allegiance to beauty or to one small moment of wonder; be it words that radiate generosity and human kindness; be it a skilled and playful use of craft. And this task will also make me sad: I’ll have to say “no” to so many poems which will come within a hair’s breadth of winning: poems on subjects that matter.

And so it was here. I read each entry twice, at least, loving the heart that went into each one, saddened that small things kept many worthy poems from turning into winning ones. Some poems tried a little too hard to be sure we’d “get it.” Some poems had one or two lines not as clear as they might have been. Sometimes cleverness stole the show at the expense of meaning. In such short poems as those in this category, one false move, just one cliché, can be the Achilles heel that brings a fine poem down.

Yet what pleasure to find these six small, lovely gems shining bright, in their finely-tuned balance of content and craft. I delight in the various levels on which “Just Add Water” succeeds: the contrast between the first and last lines, the musical language backing up the central image, the steady movement towards hope. In “Frida,” the poet’s plea for strength is beautifully countered by the poem’s sureness of voice and effective use of line. And in “Partly and Affront” the rocking rhythms echo the push-pull of the poet’s internal response to an early Spring.

Many thanks, all of you entrants, for an afternoon of pleasure and for the privilege of reading your work.

–Ingrid Wendt

3) Dueling Judges. Judge: Kate Gray

1st Place: “War Makes Cannibals of Us All” by Betsy Tighe, Portland
2nd Place: “Reconstruction” by Graham Murtaugh, Portland
3rd Place: “Familia” by Dan Kaufman, Central Point

Honorable mentions:

“Didi Does Vegas” by Sandra Rokoff-Lizut, Corvallis
“Tang” by Suzanne Burns, Bend
“Letter” by Eileen Kennedy, Amherst, Massachusetts

The attention to language in the submissions for this category was sharp. Most of the poems really attended to compression and sound, and made reading these poems delicious. The subjects varied considerably as revealed in the winners. What distinguished the top three winners was their unique perspective, their powers of observation, their way of seeing what most of us might miss. In particular, the first poem reveals a power we hope never to know, a choice we never want to make and an action we could never shake. It reveals a terrible truth about war. The other winners took body parts and acts of generosity and gave them new life. All these poems did what good poems do: offered the readers a lens to see new things with very clear focus. It was a privilege to read them.

–Kate Gray


Dueling Judges. Judge: Jennifer Richter

1st Place: “Tang” by Suzanne Burns, Bend
2nd Place: “Grief Is a Primitive Art” by John Sibley Williams, Milwaukee
3rd Place: “The Haiku Form” by Maureen Addington, Portland

Honorable mentions:

“A Reconciliation” by Tammy Robacker, Philomath
“Pulling the Rope” by Nancy Flynn, Portland
“Out of the Woods” by Rachel Barton, Corvallis

General comments:

It was truly a pleasure spending time with all these beautiful poems. Every one of the submissions I read—every one of these strong, evocative, diverse voices—made me feel proud to be a poet in Oregon.

1st, “Tang”:

This poem immediately rose to the top of the stack. From the first lines—“Maybe I paint my nails the color of Tang/to bring out the astronaut in you?”—this smart, sweet love poem surprised and delighted me. I really admire the poem’s swift, deft movement—how it covers miles of back roads, neighborhood blocks, war zones, decades, and galaxies to land finally, solidly, in the “you” at home.

2nd, “Grief Is a Primitive Act”:

Dear poet, you had me at the title—in my mind it remains its own little stand-alone poem. But of course there’s plenty more to admire here—wise lines like “Should the light source/be celestial/or inherent to our hands?” This powerful poem has found new words for our shared experience of grief, reminding us that, in the grieving process, there are often more questions than answers.

3rd, “The Haiku Form”:

Bravo! Dynamite
three-line ars poetic.
Wish I’d written it.

–Jennifer Richter


4) Traditional Form. Judge: Ruth Harrison

1st Place: “Yellow Moon” by Michael Hanner, Eugene
2nd Place: “Puck Unrequited” by Kelly McDowell, Waldport
3rd Place: “Year of the Swine” by Marjorie Power, Corvallis

Honorable mentions:

“Dimensional Dementia” by Jean Adams, Winston
“When Summer Rises” by Donna Hein, Eugene
“Safe Distance from the Flame” by Shawn Aveningo, Beaverton

Kudos to every poet who tackled this challenging and somehow off-putting form. It’s a form calling for courage, syllable-counting patience, and persistence, along with inspiration, to make it happen successfully. Everyone who attempted it is solidly grounded in her craft, and honors his medium.

#1 earned that spot with masterly use of language, fine imagery, telling details, paying unobtrusive heed to all the rules, and finally, dealing with the identifier-couplet in an unusual way.

#2 offers excellent sensory appeal as well as colorful images, to satisfy the old form in new ways.

#3 offers an engaging back-story and a pleasing stretch of the language to create a strong poem.

All three honorable mentions push the boundaries of the form to fulfill its potential, and present lively, memorable details and phrases: sinking ship, “when summer rises,” and the unforgettable charred broom.

–Ruth Harrison


5) New Poets. Judge: Amy MacLennan

1st Place: “Shuffling Through Leaves” by Eric Le Fatte, Lake Oswego
2nd Place: untitled by Andrew Smith, Portland
3rd Place: “How the Seasons Change” by Jennifer Dorner, Portland

Honorable mentions:

“In F Major” by Sherry Wellborn, Eugene
“Garden” by Sara Freeman, Tigard
“Black” by Michelle Cristiani, Portland

1st Place: Shuffling Through Leaves: A wonderfully constructed poem – tight and evocative. So many of the lines are elegant and give the perfect tone of contemplation: “one river bathes one foot once” and “sheds its innocence simply / by running in place.” This is a quiet piece, and the line breaks are artful. The move from observation to the involvement of the speaker in the poem works very well with “We took an evening stroll anyway,” and I felt pulled in to the speaker’s musings effortlessly.

2nd Place: untitled / first line: “angels fall down without warning”: The unexpected images and exceptionally strong voice make this poem. I was taken in immediately by the first line: “angels fall down without warning.” With specific, unusual imagery, the poet builds a sense of urgency for the reader. The lack of capitalization and precious little punctuation (just some eclipses) gives the sense of a headlong run through each stanza. The final two lines snap this poem shut.

3rd Place: How the Seasons Change: A beautifully contemplative piece. With a single stanza comprised of six long sentences, it’s a meditation on seasonal transition and the effect on the speaker’s psyche. Striking metaphors and similes fill this poem: “Like an overhead mirror we live under / until it cracks, I can’t see what we’re leaving” and “a sudden / shade pulled down fading the light” capture the essence of transformation.

1st Honorable Mention: In F Major. This poem is a fantastic mix of sadness and beauty.
2nd Honorable Mention: Garden. Gorgeous imagery in this poem.
3rd Honorable Mention: Black. A wonderfully tender work with a lovely last line.

It was a pleasure to judge this contest, but also difficult to winnow the pool down to the winning poems. I appreciated the craft exhibited in so many of the entries, and the passion in writing was evident.

–Amy MacLennan


6) Themed: Endings. Judge: Cindy Williams Gutierrez

1st Place: “Eating at the Small Table of Graces” by Graham Murtaugh, Portland
2nd Place: “Seamless” by Keli Osborn, Eugene
3rd Place: “Hard Frost” by Suzanne Burns, Bend

Honorable mentions:

“Day one as a volunteer in a memory care center” by Carolyn Martin, Clackamas
“Denouement” by John Sibley Williams, Milwaukee
“Sixteen Chickens, Three Boxes” by Jenny Kerr, Corvallis

There were 58 entries to the 2015 OPA Themed Poetry Contest. I looked for imagination in adherence to the theme, as well as skillful craftsmanship. I read the poems once, one after the other, and created a pile of poems that I wanted to reread. In doing so, poems immediately stood out for the way the poet used language and structure to create an experience for the reader. The three poems that initially attracted my attention were the same three that I returned to during subsequent readings.

“Eating at the Small Table of Graces”

Again, I am drawn in by the title—this time by its beauty and humility. Along with the poem’s economy, I admire the use of metaphor and simile: “…The kitchen is slabs/ of light.” and “…Weather has turned/ around a wooden post like wire barbed/…” The poem is cinematic: I can see and feel what happens as each line deftly unfolds. Following “…This all will freeze…,” flowing sentences freeze into the solidity of terse fragments: “A frozen sky in the street./…/ …A robin on the doorstep.” Imaginatively, the poem arrives at the rebirth pangs of “…The world waiting/ for the right moment to shatter and groan.”


This poem creates a constant, low-fevered dissonance: “She wears men’s slacks to the office/ …/ smears vivid color on her lips/ every evening at home.” Through the skillful use of juxtaposition: “She begins to toggle/ between sturdy shoes and plain pumps,/ button-downs and silky blouses,” the poet arouses our curiosity. By stanza 4, the poet captivates us with this revelation: “(bangs inching downward/ sideburns vanishing/ into a softening face).” And by stanza 6, “Long after she buries/ the tattered Boy Scout manual/ and Army dog tags/…/ she will find herself,” we realize the significance of the title. This poem was one of the most imaginative treatments of the endings theme.

“Hard Frost”

What struck me about this poem is its imagination. In a poem that compares the end of a love relationship to a hard frost, color assumes a memorable presence: “pink forgetting itself, when, not long ago,/ it carried a summer melody better than Sinatra” and “…when you think of me, just once in the snow,/ my body will be the red of summer.” I appreciate the allusion to Rapunzel and the striking use of metaphor: “…my hair/ no longer hair but the rope in stories men long to climb” as well as the poet’s audacity to use the imperative: “Go ahead, take cuts to the front of the line.” Ultimately, the poet has dug beneath the triteness of lost love to find a lost language: “This winter we will neglect words like touch, stroke, contemplate” and then finally the glimmer of a new idiom: “Someday your tongue/ will again long to taste. Then we will speak in words/ like shoulder, glisten, appetite.”

— Cindy Williams Gutierrez


7) Experimental Poetry. Judge: Laura Winter

1st Place: “Insanity” by Michelle Cristiani, Portland
2nd Place: “April Showers Bring May Flowers” by David Hedges, West Linn
3rd Place: “The P air of Us” by Coco Owen, Encino, California

Honorable mentions:

“Demarcation” by Irene Cooper, Bend
“I Am Standing in the Fog When You Accidentally Call” by Suzanne Burns, Bend
“Painting the Canyon” by Michael Selker, Portland

There is a lot of good material written on the progression of experimental poetry and I chose to look at the use of form, visualization of text, and play or disruption of language. Few entries fit this lens, but the three chosen to place all excited me as a reader and performer. In experimental poetry, the ideal result is a finely tuned use of language that exhibits innovation. The innovation may be realized through form, voice, visual arrangements and abstractions through performance. I looked for a surety of the use of experiment as well as a solid poem.

Three poems jumped out at me as I was reading the entries. Insanity. This construction immediately captures the imagination because of colliding shapes and color. Each shape contains words and connects to one or more cells. The cellular structure can be read in a variety of combinations of juxtaposing interactions. The situational choices are an interesting catalogue of places where rather competitive and tense human drama may play out. The lines of text above and below the shapes force control and build a visual wall to prevent the spinning out of control. The one cell that calls for order is the only cell left unfilled with color. I find this piece provocative. First place

Second place. Visually interesting, this piece introduces the concept of multiple voices as the delivery system for repetitive sound. It is an intriguing performance piece. I wonder how many readers would read each word? I read through this piece out loud and discovered a blip in the cadence – plpp. I wondered if this was intentional? The interruption in the sound was jarring – how do you pronounce or emote that word/sound? I made up my own emotive sound and proceeded to the end of the poem. I liked the interaction and would like to hear this performed with all 5 voices.

Third place. I like the possibility of language with this poem. There are multiple meanings through the visual construct of divided words. I enjoyed reading the poem out loud and heard it best when I brought my own enunciation of the many sounds offered through the split of words.

The three runner-ups:

Demarcation: I selected this poem because of the use of form to create a cadence that is interruptive to the poem. I would recommend some fine-tuning around what you what from the concept of “demarcation”. I have a second poem jumping out of the concision of reading the lines that hang out in space.

The above 4 poems represent those that I thought best realized the experimental category. Two additional runner-ups were chosen because they are simply very well written poems. They are not experimental.

Thank you,

–Laura Winter

Oregon Poetry Association – Fall 2014 Contest Winners

Oregon Poetry Association
Fall 2014 Contest Winners 

OPA congratulates all the winners below, and thanks them
and all the poets who entered for sharing their work.

Poet’s Choice. Judge: Sam Roderick Roxas-Chua

1st place: “Very Old Man With Enormous Wings” by Sandra Rokoff-Lizut, Corvallis
2nd place: “Over Breakfast and the News I Wonder” by Hannah Thomassen, Cottage Grove
3rd place: “Whom Shall We Blame” by Susan Clayton-Goldner, Grants Pass

Honorable Mentions:

“Break Out” by Penny Hetherington, Redmond
“…yet Donatello’s Magdalene” by Ruth F. Harrison, Waldport
“The Garden of Dogs” by Pepper Trail, Ashland

The selected poems for the Fall 2014 Poet’s Choice category have been read aloud to the ocean, to a ten-year old, and to a November fawn. Now I offer them to you dear reader in hopes that you continue to read them aloud. Tear the pages off this book, make copies, share them with a minnow, the small of someone’s back, an ear, a river.

Dear “Very Old Man With Enormous Wings”: Thank you for reminding me about the small fibrous wings in paper, thank you for giving them your memory of Gabriel, your words anchor me. When I was a young boy, I was forbidden to speak directly to the color black—I was forbidden to draw her many hues on paper, or color her sky. I couldn’t touch charcoal, squid ink, or midnight rain. Your poem has shaken a mountain.

Dear “Over Breakfast and the News I Wonder”: I think of your dolphins aligned along a shore. Make them touch our eyelids with their rostrums as we sleep, to remember the marketplace of love. I am lifted by you.

Dear “Whom Shall We Blame”: Sometimes it is through silence that we are able to listen to the loudest of bombs. I think of the impermanence of life and the language we use to prolong or shorten it. Your poem slowed my day down and allowed me to pay attention to the deeper hues of our red, white, and blue. Thank you for your beautiful poem.

Thank you dear poets, your voices were heard.

Sam Roderick Roxas-Chua


Members Only. Judge: Penelope Scambly Schott

1st place: “The Language Vest” by Sue Parman, Hillsboro
2nd place: “Good Morning” by Pamela Wilson, Corvallis
3rd place: “Spanish Lace” by Linda Ferguson, Portland

Honorable Mentions:

“Palindrome for Robin Williams” by Sandra Rokoff-Lizut, Corvallis
“A Mountaineer in Florida” by Dave Harvey, Talent
“Initiation” by Donna Hein, Eugene

I picked “The Language Vest” as first prize winner because its ten lines are as jam-packed with wit as the hypothetical vest is crammed with nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and verbs.  The poet puns about those verbs, “…at night/they sneak out and conjugate.”  The clever moves make this poem a delight.

“Good Morning” received second prize for its effective retelling of a cute story about a grandchild.  What the kid says and does is funny, but what makes the poem effective is how skillfully the poet handles tone, how perfectly the reader is being set up.

“Spanish Lace” receives third prize for its well chosen specific details.  We can see “the imprint of my imperfect teeth in a slice of orange cheese.”  Of all the childhood images, the silent doll speaks the loudest.

Penelope Scambly Schott 


Dueling Judges. Judge: Andrea Hollander

1st place: “Call It Water, Call It Rain” by Jeanne Morel, Seattle, Washington
2nd Place: “Zoology 401” by Hannah Thomassen, Cottage Grove
3rd Place: “Streamline” by Dan Kaufman, Central Point

Honorable Mentions:

“Navigation” by Toni Hanner, Eugene
“Unremarkableness” by Jean Adams, Winston
“Who Can See the Wind” by Jon Sinclair, Portland

My assignment was to choose three winners and three honorable mentions from the sixty-three contest entries, which I read and reread with real interest. One-third—eleven poems—stood out enough to be placed in a group I labeled semi-finalists.

The poems that did not make semi-finalist status failed for a variety of reasons, prevalent among these (1) the diction lacked vitality, (2) the syntax was monotonous, and/or (3) the poem’s journey was predictable.

Of the semi-finalists, I chose eight finalists. The writers of these poems succeeded because, more than anything else, they understand that words are more than their meanings; that language has texture and syntax rhythm; and that the way the poet places a poem on the page (in lines and stanzas) signals how the poem is to be uttered and, thereby, heard. In short, the writers of these poems understand how to deliver a poem the way good music is delivered—memorably.

Finally, I chose the winning poems plus three honorable mentions. These six poems I read at least a dozen more times each (aloud, the way I read all poems throughout the judging process). As far as I’m concerned, they’re all winners.

“Call It Water, Call It Rain”.

This poem explores the notion of vulnerability—human and planetary—through precise detail and a juxtaposition of focus, as well as a balancing between the inner and outer world.

“Zoology 401”

This poem demonstrates beautifully—and in language whose presence is musical as well as meaningful—how a person can be impassioned by knowledge.


This poem by a writer with a fine ear for the sound of language describes a small moment rich with urgency.

– Andrea Hollander

Dueling Judges. Judge: Elyse Fenton

1st place: “Sweeping: Three Scenes” by Sandra (Ellston) Mason, Seal Rock
2nd Place: “Evidence, Occurrence” by Nancy Flynn, Portland
3rd Place: “Navigation” by Toni Hanner, Eugene

Honorable Mentions:

“Senõr Moment” by Ruth F. Harrison, Waldport
“Zoology 401” by Hannah Thomassen, Cottage Grove
“Timelines” by Marvin Lurie, Portland

I sat with this sheaf of poems first in a yellow manila envelope, then in a loose fan on my desk, and finally spread across my floor so that I could best witness and gauge each poem’s insistence to be seen, to be heard, to be picked up and held in my hands. I scrambled and shuffled and read and notated, then scrambled and shuffled and read and notated a whole lot more. September turned into October; the Oregon rain held off; the grass held its brown breath; the poems held on and held on.

So many poems not singled out here are noteworthy for the small moments they illumine, the invitations they offer the reader to listen, to watch, to see anew, and equally, for their impulses to disrupt what we think we see.

The winning poem, “Sweeping: Three Scenes” called to me with its meditative quiet, its careful cobble-by-cobble composition, and the way such quiet and care yields to luminous openings: “This is his way to make love,/ centering first like a pot on the wheel/ then clearing a path/ for the day to proceed as it will.”

I admire the second place poem, “Evidence, Occurrence” for its tendency toward disruption and disorder, its willingness to see chaos in beauty and not just the other way around. This poem hurtles its breathless self: “because the branch bearing a body gone fruit shaded the flashbulbs underneath/ because the pulp from inside got looted, bargained, sold.”

“Navigation” offers an ars poetica for the elegy, holding me in the long, falling breath of its final lines: “…When your father died, you tossed// his ashes off the bluff overlooking Puget Sound,/ they drifted over the salmonberry bushes// and wild sweet peas, waiting for the next/ good rain to feed them into the earth.”

– Elyse Fenton


Traditional Form, Litany. Judge: Sandra (Ellston) Mason

 1st Place: “Codicil for Grief” by Keli Osborn, Eugene
2nd Place: “Between” by Liz Robinson, Phoenix
3rd Place: “Even Presuming” by Christopher M. Wicks, Silverton

Honorable Mentions:

“Fragmentation” by Pepper Trail, Ashland
“An Optimistic Mother” by Lisa Baldwin, Grants Pass
“Growing Up in Small Town USA” by Carol Ann Lantz, Corvallis

“Codicil for Grief”  This poem draws us in to a mystery of narrative in its litany of events and their emotional impact on other lives, lives that remain.  The speaker chronicles those details, which ultimately construct the telling moments of our lives and their chains of causality.  Many of the details are perplexing, surprising–revealing a satisfying poetic logic as connections are discovered through ordering and juxtaposition.  The poem is both deeply personal and richly cultural, an attempt to piece together the sense of a family, each line like the beam of the flashlight, a highlight that ultimately fails to illuminate the inscrutable truth of the matter.

“Between”  The power of this poem lies in its movement between an archetypal galactic perspective and the inner personal working of mind and spirit.  What constitutes a life, where does the self reside, what determines right action?  We exist in contexts of moments here and gone, elusively experienced, remembered, reconstructed–the invisible as powerful to our sense of being in time as the rotations of the stars and the grinding of the magma under our feet.  What remains is the moment of now between the cycles of creation and destruction.

“Even Presuming”  Bearing the element in litany of oral affirmation, this poem moves forward ironically through a series of negations that pinpoint the shortcomings of words for full expression.  The speaker “presumes” precise inadequacies in understanding and articulating human joys and mysteries.  Yet the prayer ends in bold belief that grace is redemptive and all will be well.

Sandra (Ellston) Mason 


New Poets. Judge: Stephanie Lenox

1st Place: “Fences” by Amy O’Hearn, Cherry Hill, New Jersey
2nd Place: “Vespers” by Richard Cameron, Portland
3rd Place: “Do Sit Down When You Hold the Baby” by Stella Guillory, Washougal, Washington

Honorable Mentions:

“Raising the Rafters” by Michele Bombardier, Bainbridge Island, Washington
“Thinking of Lucy” by Donna Hein, Eugene


I feel honored to have had the opportunity to read the submissions for this year’s contest. Judging the “New Poets” category is particularly exciting in that it reminds me that poetry is a renewable resource. As long as there is love and death and “elk scat poised on the snow crust,” there will be poetry. It made me think, though: aren’t we all new at this, or shouldn’t we at least feel that way when we’re writing and reading poetry? Ezra Pound said, “Make it new.” Each poem gives us this second chance, to renew our love of language, to see or hear something new, to gain new insights and fresh eyes on a world that needs more than ever our fullest attention.


With its read-in title, “Fences” invites us to leap with the poet into woods dense with language and memory. Without the usual suspect of the line break to give us pause, this prose poem leads us deeper and deeper into the poem’s “inner sanctum with its towering reeds” where boys have secreted away their father’s stash of pornographic magazines. This poem trespasses all sorts of boundaries and asks us to do the same, following the clandestine trail of language in and out of this secluded place.


“Vespers” opens with a hushed, charged voice guiding the reader through a ritual to welcome evening. When I first read the poem, I was captivated by the language, the recurring O and the rhyming couplets that give a sense of ceremony and weight to this moment. Ultimately it was the instruction to “inhabit the silence between the stars” that won me over. I see this line as the embodiment of the poem’s theme in specific and an articulation of the aims of poetry in general.


“Do Sit Down When You Hold the Baby” made me sit up and pay attention. The voices in this poem draw me into the tight circle of grandmother, mother, and child. I admire the way the speaker describes this relationship in terms that are both magical and mathematical. The aha! moment for me in this poem was the description of a lei made from flowers from a bush “where gold threaded chrysalises of the monarch butterflies hang.” Through the use of details and images, readers are invited into a specific and stunning moment of wonder in the life of a family.

Stephanie Lenox


Themed: Fences. Judge: David Oates

1st Place: “Fences/for Sam” by Toni Hanner, Eugene
2nd Place: “North Korea” by Joy McDowell, Springfield
3rd Place: “Night View” by Pamela Wilson, Corvallis

Honorable Mentions:

“November Ends” by WENDY THOMPSON, Troutdale
“Sestina: to a Split Rail Fence” by Amy O’Hearn, Cherry Hill, New Jersey
“hands (2): hammer” by Ruth F. Harrison, Waldport

“Fences/for Sam”

I like how this poem offers, within a formal compactness, an unforced reach toward surprising.

“North Korea”

Unexpected subject matter, handled with droll dryness, ends up as a neat tale of suppression and transgression — just what a contest about “Fences” ought to be hoping for.

“Night View”

Long lines link on repeating words like fence-posts, interrupted by a less organized stanza/heap of materials. As an evocation of fencing, it is visually compelling in imagery as well as on the page.

– David Oates


Experimental Poetry. Judge: Dan Raphael

1st Place: “The Taste of Blue Light” by Toni Hanner, Eugene
2nd Place: “A Month of Sundays” by Nancy Flynn, Portland
3rd Place: “Friday Morning” by Michael Hanner, Eugene

Honorable Mentions:

“An Ethos” by John Sibley Williams, Milwaukie
“Un-doing” by Cynthia Jacobi, Newport
“None But the Customers Mourn You” by Jeanne Morel, Seattle, Washington

The Taste of Blue Light

Cut up pieces of reality, creative details, good ear “his pale blouse blue incognito.” the tug of mother” mixed with “penguins and literature.” A strong core of energy here that the words, as pieces, orbit while also silhouetting like a ‘follow the dots.’

A Month of Sundays

Laid out conventionally but I immediately get interested—“Those July clouds that jewel/ they lie.” The many sharp turns of language, a word that’s unexpected guiding the curve. Soaring and pulling back together at the end.

Friday Morning

The quality of writing and imagery overcame my hesitation about the “begin anywhere” format. Changes of perspective and focus, from section to section, still has an Old West feel.

An Ethos

Strong lines, does some circling around itself—let the language cover more territory.


What’s conventionally understood as ‘experimental,’ but more going on than that. Good word choices and a skilled ear.

None But the Customers Mourn You

‘Experimental’ prose poem. Good word choices, terse, evokes the scene,


Don’t like the “experimental” label, which has often be applied to my writing. Isn’t every poem an experiment—we don’t know if it will work. Trying new things, listening to language & letting it loose, writing in a way that taps into the multiple levels in which language operates. The ‘doing different’ has to be imbued throughout the work—a conventional line chopped across the page is a conventional line, conventional language.

Dan Raphael