2019 Fall Contest Winner: Traditional Form—1st Place, Blank Verse


by Diana Morley

Death comes sudden, so I hear,

heart gives out or mishap:

ladder tipped, car crash…

Yet some lives linger,

some die slowly—move closer

day by day, one by one,

no news—dying soft as they

live on the go right to the last day

when they know it’s time for leaving,

for seeping past a limpid line from day

to not-day, the way watercolors blend

and bleed past lines to seep through

into new hues, all while other people

eat and dance and sing—celebrate their luck.

At the store, balancing a hearty apple

freehand, calls to mind that when

wise to dying over time some people

show their spirited genius at living

Judge’s comments

The seduction of this poem is how the quiet images run counter to the trochaic meter. Typically, what would generate a strong, driving rhythm somehow softens into the background internal music of this deft poem. What’s remarkable is how “Gifted” follows, never forces, the meter through surprising or seductive images to its poignant destination.

John Morrison

Poet bio

Spreading Like Water (2019), is Diana Morley’s first chapbook; single poems published 2018–2019 by Right Hand Pointing and Passager. Second Prize (2018) and Honorable Mention (2019) received from Oregon Poetry Association contests, and her novel Something to Howl About (literary fiction) was published in 2014. She writes obsessively these days, often listening to Philip Glass, her muse, and reads poems at bookstores and coffee shops.

2019 Fall Contest Winner: Traditional Form—2nd Place, Blank Verse

The Prince: First Anniversary

by Carolyn Martin

She will not let it go: her narrative

about shape-shifting steeds and bullying

step-relatives. I’ve begged her to delete

the past and re-compose her life. I can’t,

she turns her back on me. Not now. Not yet.

The fact is she electrified that night.

The metaphor of lightning strikes? They pale.

Only later did I see raw skin hiding

up her sleeves and relentless darting eyes.

They intimated there was work to do

and Heaven knows how hard I’ve tried. I block

her charging down the stairs to get the door.

I squeeze her hand beneath the tablecloth

so she won’t clear the plates. I beg her not

to polish silverware or bow to maids.

You embarrass me, she fires back, and claims

I live in rampant idleness. I hold

her eyes with mine and wonder where she lives.

Each morning when she sneaks out of our bed

to stoke a fire or check deliveries,

I ransack every room. I need to find

those glass-blown shoes that sealed our wedding vows.

She’s hidden them like secrets that can’t bear

to face themselves. I’ll walk them door-to-door

through every street of nearby neighborhoods.

Perhaps they were designed for someone else.

Judge’s comments

The savvy voice and the strong yet subtle meter really serve this satisfying poem. The poem trusts the meter to not be a stricture but to lead where it will. In addition, sharp images help propel the narrative. As a reader, while I was never sure where I was headed, I was absolutely along for the adventure.

John Morrison

Poet bio

From associate professor of English to management trainer to retiree, Carolyn Martin has published poems and book reviews in journals throughout North America and the U.K. Her fourth collection, A Penchant for Masquerades, was released by Unsolicited Press in 2019. She is currently the poetry editor of Kosmos Quarterly: journal for global transformation. Find out more about Carolyn at www.carolynmartinpoet.com.

2019 Fall Contest Winner: Traditional Form—Blank Verse, 3rd Place

Elegy for Hands

by Susan Morse

My hands are like a tree. Cut them open

Expose the rings. Take notice, I tell you!

Cupped upon my fingers, ten moons, each one

unique with its own spots, mapped with imprints

of this world, whole histories carved within.

My left hand the sluggard, unlearned—the right,

ambitious, pimp to my indiscretions.

In both my hands lives a whole city street:

the naysayers and doers, begging hands,

sad mimes juggling shadows upon the wall,

come hither hands with fingers traveling.

Like magicians my fingers talk, wag

tongues, harbor the stinging slights of others.

These are angry hands that scoff at good-byes,

sign in silence, wishing for a last kiss,

hands that feel coldness in an empty house,

recoil from the bitter breath of regrets.

In the brown bark of my hands, a parchment

of thin blue veins remembers broken nails

doing dirty work, howling blue midnight.

Prisons of caged fingers grasp at funnels

of air. I shudder, find these hands empty

at dawn, curled with sleepless fingers, cold weights.

My hands are bare trees. Hold them. Slice the roots.

Unfold the right, carrier of sorrows.

Raise pale moons, untangle bitter fibers.

In my left hand, plant your fragile, green shoots.

Judge’s comments

In this remarkable poem of extended metaphor, my sense is the meter is less underlying music than a guardrail to keep this frenetic voice from howling off into the darkness. That tension of seeing if the voice can be kept “in check” is a dramatic high-wire act. There’s a lively energy here and a sure confidence that the prosody will deliver the poem to its destination.

John Morrison

Poet bio

Susan Morse recently relocated from Maine to the Willamette Valley. She holds a Master’s degree in Literacy Education from the University of Maine, Orono, and completed a summer internship for the Maine Writers’ Project. She is a retired Language Arts teacher. Her first chapbook, In the Hush, was published by Finishing Line Press in May 2019. Individual poems have appeared in Cream City Review, The Mom Egg, and Willawaw Journal.