2107 Fall Contest New Poets: Honorable Mentions and Judge’s Comments

Honorable mentions:

1st Honorable Mention: “Memorial Day” by Joanna Rose, Portland, OR

2nd Honorable Mention: “Fostering a Better World” by Jennifer Rood, Grants Pass, OR

3rd Honorable Mention: “After Midnight” by Stephanie Striffler, Portland, OR

 

 

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.

We understand the world by naming the things in it. We make meaning of those names by arranging them on the page in beautiful patterns—thank you to all who did that work and entered it into this contest.

It is a daunting task to make a choice of the top six. If you entered this contest, you may be interested in how I managed the choice: I read through all the poems three times. The fourth time through, I made myself separate out the weakest half. Those poems were generally less ambitious or had multiple errors or flat language. I then read through the top favorites again and again, taking out the poems with logic problems or with too many linking verbs or overrun with adjectives, until I had eight remaining. Then I spent quite some time reading the remaining eight and making the impossible task of rating them—it’s an imperfect system, judging poems, and I worry my own taste influenced the final decisions. I do love inventiveness and imagination! If your poem is not a winner this time, please keep writing poems! Writing poems is a way of making meaning in the world, and as the world gets more complicated, we need more and more of us taking notes and making beauty out of disorder!

Lisa Allen Ortiz

2017 Fall Contest Winner: 3rd Place, New Poets

I Went to School Today

 

Salvador Dali was instructing, painfully, the concept

of relativity. “Everything is relative to something else…

this chair is relative to that corner. And the corner is relative

to the clock on the wall as well as the room down that hall.”

Einstein was sweeping up after the children’s lunch in the cafeteria.

The chemistry lab had been converted to a plant for recycled bubble

gum, so the kids could learn the importance of making tires.

I asked Dali something about black holes, and he told me,

“You must paint something like that with white; break it

into parts first.” So I drove home, prepared to apply

my new-found knowledge to the canvas of my life

in the suburbs. I parked the sedan in the driveway

and looked heavenward.

 

I see the sky is the color of your eyes before it rains but

after you’ve been crying. You meet me at the door, your heart

dripping on your sleeve. Furtively you look out the door, then

beckon me in. Your cheeks match the color of the rose I’m holding

out for you. I step over the threshold of a dream into my life. Inside,

the walls are the color of a peeled hardboiled egg, where the

yolk appears yellow just under the surface. I reach into my

pocket and find the ticket from the movie we saw last night—

now just a stub of time.

 

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. “I Went to School Today” immediately unleashes meaning from its tether. The first line, and Salvador Dali is teaching relativity to a class of students. Later in the poem, the heart of the speaker’s lover drips on her sleeve—all imaginative language that opens the cloak of expectations and lets a wild nakedness out. That’s one way to create meaning!

 

James Merrill is a Salem poet who moved to Oregon to teach at Chemawa Indian School in 1999; he retired in 2014. He holds an MFA from the Naropa Institute (1992), where he received tutelage from Beat writers such as A. Ginsberg, G. Snyder, Wm. Burroughs. His most recent book is titled Blues Fall Down Like Rain, available from Amazon.

2017 Fall Contest Winner: 2nd Place, New Poets

Cosmonaut’s Lament

 

Above her head

the stars,

bleary in their watchfulness

 

Under her feet

black offal,

of metal tang and smoke and char

 

Contrails unspool like strands of hair in zero G

and the cosmonaut thinks of

earthbound tidepools

 

little pockets of life

where there should be no life

 

Of her sweetheart, unclasping

a locket notched at her throat

when she sees a burning line unzip the sky

 

Of her mother and father, looking

to the strafed horizon

from the empty boardwalk

 

Am I their Lucifer,

the Heavens lost,

falling down to an embered earth

 

Or their Icarus,

spine twisting,

fused emptying breath and breezes lack?

 

The cosmonaut enters the breach

and Earth swings up like a steady sword

from a golden myth

 

little pockets of life

where there should be no life

 

 

Genevieve DeGuzman was born in the Philippines, raised in Southern California, and graduated from Columbia University. Her fiction and poetry appear or are forthcoming in Indigo Lit, LONTAR, Liminality, Rising Phoenix Review, Switchback, and AJ (now Tablet), among others. She has been awarded a residency at Can Serrat and currently lives in Portland, Oregon.