Spring 2021 Contest Winners, New Poets Category

2021 Spring Contest Winners in the New Poets Category
Judge: Clements Starck

First Place Tie: “Garden on Thanksgiving Morning” by Carol Boutard

Pathways raked in July are covered with leaves,
nothing thriving but billows of chickweed,
sturdy rosettes of hawksbeard and mahonia
which shakes fists of yellow buds at the sky.
Brush dragged into piles now shelter quail
who butter the gloom with their soft chuffs
and cause me to pause
before I pick the salad greens for lunch.

Last spring, a pheasant stood where I stand now,
resting from the violence
of the season’s mating ritual.
One June, two eagles, fighting for primacy
spiraled down from the blue,
almost strafing my back as I knelt below.
There was the afternoon a coyote strolled through the garden,
stopping for a drink from the water bowl
next to our sleeping dog.
I recall these miracles
as the dull thrum of rain begins to build.

Our old chairs remain
where I placed them in warmer days,
claiming a picturesque view
of the Wapato wetland to the south.
I remember sitting together
in the fragile light of last Thanksgiving
how we enjoyed the valley below,
tracing the longhand of the tree line,
its vertical green of Doug firs balancing the em-dash
of our neighbor’s metal roof—
how we never saw what was coming.

Judge’s Comment: This is an excellent poem. From the first line we are furnished with precise and knowledgeable detail: “billows of chickweed, / sturdy rosettes of hawksbeard and mahonia.” There are the “soft chuffs” of quail, who “butter the gloom” (a wonderful image!) and “cause [the speaker] to pause,” leading smoothly to the final line of the stanza: “before I pick the salad greens for lunch.”
The second stanza also contains some precise natural imagery: a pheasant, two eagles, a coyote. Right up to the end of the stanza the speaker is singular (I / me), but suddenly the plural appears: “our sleeping dog.” The stanza ends nicely (and somewhat ominously) with “the dull thrum of rain begins to build.”
The third stanza starts right off with the plural: “Our old chairs” and then directly invokes a second person sitting with the speaker in the past, “last Thanksgiving.” Then comes a beautiful landscape description: “the longhand of the tree line, / its vertical green of Doug firs balancing the em-dash / of our neighbor’s metal roof” followed by the powerful and totally unexpected final line: “how we never saw what was coming.” It is so powerful because we, the readers, never saw it (whatever it was) coming either. The fact that “it” is not specified makes it even more effective.
This is a terrific poem—quiet, pensive, pastoral, understated, very well-written.

Poet’s Bio: For more than twenty years, I have helped farm a small slice of Oregon’s Tualatin Valley year-round. Working with this land has been a living companion that places its own demands on our exchange. Our farm is located along a north-south migratory route as well as a wildlife corridor east to west. We gladly share this land with the birds and mammals that I write about. I have just earned an MFA from Pacific University.

First Place Tie: “Fuzzy-Diced” by M. Sean Stanley

At the misty limn of this
redlined neighborhood, once
forest, now MLK, at the rise
upon which Vanport refugees’
ark was forced into harbor
between meat market and
bright athletic shoe outlet,
into cracking city housing
swathed in metal emissions,

the 80’s model Chevy
floats paused at a red.
Robust and fleet, polished
to the shiniest matte grey
and chrome of fantasy,
chiseled and buffed, it’s slunk
deep upon its long trunk,
heavy, resistant, not to be
removed easily again.

Perched canary-like inside,
a delicate caramel of man,
bowled Yanomami cut,
in crisp white T, tensely
poised knife-like, awaiting
green, the card to admit his
cannon’s turn, a slow chesty
plow further into morning,
his fuzzy-diced self-making,
a jaguar hustling from doug-fir,
churning the lazy glade astir.

Judge’s Comment: This is a remarkable poem, an urban poem, street-smart and savvy, full of rich, highly unusual expressive language. It is nothing more than the depiction of a car stopped at a traffic light (“paused at a red”). The entire poem consists of three sentences which detail, in order: the place, the car, and the driver.
The place is a specific location in NE Portland, once forested land, site of the Vanport flood, now “a redlined neighborhood” with hints of crack cocaine and heavy metal music. The car is a buffed-up vintage Chevy, unusually described as “Robust and fleet, polished / to the shiniest matte grey / and chrome,” with a pair of fuzzy dice hanging from the rearview mirror. And the driver is “a delicate caramel of man,” who is initially “Perched canary-like inside” with the haircut of an indigenous Amazonian tribesman, but after “awaiting / green” and “plow[ing] further” he turns into a jaguar prowling the underbrush.
What a transition! Enough to take your breath away. What was “once / forest” at the beginning of the poem has been turned into jungle by a caramel-colored man in a spiffed-up Chevy. And to top it off, the poem ends with a rhymed couplet. Terrific!

Poet’s Bio: M. Sean Stanley is a father and physician, who is trying to reflect more and consume less, and for whom writing has been helpful to these ends. Although not originally from the PNW, he has now lived here longer than anywhere else.

Second Place: “Breakfast in Bed” by Miriam Steinbach

Morning, again
there is coffee brewing in the kitchen downstairs but
here, your lips taste like cream and
mine are dripping with honey

Here, light is sliced on bedsheets like banana bread and
your eyes are sunny side
each pupil a yolk
swimming in sleepy white

Here, you laugh like pepper,
smile like salt and
melt my butter hips
with your sourdough hands

Morning, again
there is coffee brewing in the kitchen downstairs but
here, we’ve got breakfast in bed

Judge’s Comment: This is a sweet poem, light and erotic. The conceit of two people being food for each other is nicely carried through to the end.

Poet’s Bio: Miriam Steinbach is an English Communication major studying at Corban University in Salem, OR. She enjoys playing music, making jewelry, and enjoying the abundance of hikes that exist in Oregon. She dreams of publishing her own book of poetry someday and pushes herself to write something new every day.

Third Place: “Homeless Man” by Mike McPherson

Baggy brown ski hat
Rolled up over his ears today
My eyes ahead, seeing red, waiting on green
I’m stopped alongside Homeless Man

“Homeless, will work for food, please help”
His cardboard sign tells me
Uncomfortable, I am
Is he?

Tired of a forced stare ahead
I think of my friend who said
Don’t look away

I turn and see this grey beard
Duct-taped glasses
Hole over one boot toe
And old pain

I think, a few dollars
May matter after all
I pull out my wallet
Look him in the eye

But the light switches to green
Homeless Man
Keeps his eyes ahead
Beyond my stare

Poet’s Bio: Mike McPherson’s poetry comes to us from Eugene, Oregon. He graduated from Oregon State University in 1983 and has worked as a tree planter, salesman, hike leader, technical writer, reporter, and house framer. McPherson hiked east-to-west across Oregon with a friend to celebrate college graduation; fondness for the Beaver State turned to love on that trip. He’s a fan of Raymond Carver, Harper Lee, and Paul Theroux among other authors.

Judge’s Bio: CLEMENS STARCK has been writing poems for over sixty years and living in Oregon since 1976. He has published seven books, including the Oregon Book Award-winning Journeyman’s Wages (1995) and the recent Cathedrals & Parking Lots: Collected Poems (2019). Retired now, he has made his living mainly as a carpenter and construction foreman. A widower, he has three grown children and lives on forty-some acres in the foothills of the Coast Range outside of Dallas, Oregon.

Spring 2021 Poetry Contest Winners, Members Only Category

Spring 2021 Adult Poetry Contest
Winners in the Members Only Category (Judge: Colette Tennant)

First Place: “From the Journals of Rumpelstiltskin” by Linda Ferguson

I gave myself the name.
So many syllables – delicious – like chocolate and almonds
or the wrinkles of dried cherries and shards of coconut all tumbling
between tongue and teeth.

At the castle they’re in a tizzy: Virus, quarantine, blah, blah blah.
Ha! I live alone in a hut with a roof of woven branches.
I dance around the stove while I’m cooking.
I’ve made a family for myself out of fallen plums.
My favorite is Gisella. She wears an oak-leaf apron
and greets me with her Alpine contralto.

I have a rich interior life. You never hear about that, though –
all you get is that same tired story:
The one where I throw a fit and tear myself in two.
Now why would I do that? I don’t need a mirror
or an Instagram account to see myself:
I’m like a bonfire whose sparks rise to kiss the gull’s arc.
I know who I am and how it feels when I lift my face to the sky
and the stars kiss me in return.

Let that be the story you tell your kids tonight.

Judge’s Comments: What an amazing poem! I love the voice here. This poet is a master of metaphor and simile. Impressive all the way through, and notice how this poem builds to that crescendo at the end.

Poet’s Bio: A four-time Pushcart nominee, Linda Ferguson is a writer of poetry, fiction and essays. Her first poetry chapbook, Baila Conmigo, was published by Dancing Girl Press, and her second collection is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. As a writing teacher, she has a passion for helping students find their voice and explore new territory. https://bylindaferguson.blogspot.com/

Second Place: “Tether” by Melody Wilson

The old car cleared its throat as we turned onto the road—
my sister, her boyfriend, me draped over their seat.
We were sent to the store,
but instead followed first one then another
two-lane road as they spun their web,
across the desert.

We rode in the arms of the radio’s light,
the Jupiter blue of every August night,
the three of us sailing past Dairy Queen,
past the water tower,
past curfew.

Joshua trees pressed their hands
over incredulous eyes
as white lines came faster and faster,
broke to a single ribbon
just elastic enough
to keep us from taking flight.

Judge’s Comments: In this wonderful poem, the poet takes what could be familiar details and makes them all magical.

Poet’s Bio: Melody Wilson earned an Academy of American Poets Award before beginning her teaching career. She returned to poetry in 2019 and received a 2020 Kay Snow Poetry Award. Recent work appears in Visions International, Triggerfish Critical Review and One Art Poetry Review. Upcoming work will be in Cirque, Briar Cliff Review and Tar River Poetry.

Third Place: “February” by Suzy Harris

Is it the transit of Venus this month?
Or the hunger moon? The celestial bodies
confuse my sense of time. Days
have taken new names: Leaden, Torpor,
Boulder, Granite, Fog, Tepid, Dormant.

A pale winter sky asks me to reconsider
my condemnation. Golden threaded witch hazel
offers itself as Exhibit A. Aren’t I
magnificent? she says, glowing holy
in the afternoon light.

Judge’s Comments: In a quick ten lines, this poem so aptly and subtly describes the odd passing of time during a pandemic without once mentioning the word.

Poet’s Bio: Suzy Harris is a retired attorney. Her poems have appeared in Calyx, Clackamas Literary Review, Rain, Third Wednesday, VoiceCatcher, Windfall, and various anthologies. She lives in Portland, OR.

Judge’s Bio: Colette Tennant has two poetry books, Commotion of Wings and Eden and After. Her most recent book, Religion in The Handmaid’s Tale: a Brief Guide, was published late in 2019 to coincide with Atwood’s publication of The Testaments. Her poems have appeared in various journals, including Prairie Schooner, Rattle, and Poetry Ireland Review.

Spring 2021 Contest Winners, Poet’s Choice Category

Spring 2021 Adult Poetry Contest
Winners of the Poet’s Choice Category (Judge – John Morrison)

First Place: “Everyone Worries Schrodinger’s Cat is Dead or Alive, Yet No One Stops to Ask Its Name” by Brady Pearson

You can measure the speed of light with a microwave and a chocolate bar
though if the time we are given is a finite resource
it seems a better investment to spend it on you.

According to the theory of special relativity,
the faster you move through any spatial dimension relative to a stationary observer,
the slower you appear to move through time.

So when you said you wanted to spend eternity together
it made sense that the first thing you did was run from me as fast as you could.
As long as I’m still, I can keep time from catching you.

And since light moves at the cosmic speed limit
light never ages.
Which means, in light’s perspective, we were never together anyway.

Subjective fact: Gravity pulls on all of us, at all times, from all directions. Every heartbeat pumps
against a cosmic war of tidal forces.

Objective fact: I can float whenever I’m around you.

Poet’s Bio: Brady is an aspiring artist living in Portland has a passion for subjects starting with p—philosophy, physics, painting, poetry, and music.

Second Place: “Certain Light” by Nancy Christopherson

Later it was all I could think of—

My skin turned translucent, there were particles
of light attached to each blood cell
between marrows and they danced as they
flowed—rivers bouncing off
boulders and splashing up into the morning’s sunshine.

I distinctly heard the roaring of rapids farther
in. There were armies of sequined fish
jumping high and fanning their tails. Geishas
shyly bowing then smiling in kimonos.

After, when the raft drifted,
my arm hung lazily overboard swishing in
eddies, and the sweet-fleshed fish nibbled my fingertips.

Bright feathers began to appear, singly at first, riffling
past, undone by drake mallards, preening, unseen,
that emerald sheen nearly blinding the water.

I tried to seine some, to reach into that wing—
to bob-loft and then to fly off—kicking hard
with my feet at the surface—

The feathers
transformed back into starlight—a mystical
split via prism or liquid—back into green and green and
green, until it was red again and flowed
through my veins, pulsing my temples. I nearly
drowned from the brightness.

Poet’s Bio: Nancy Christopherson’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Aji Magazine, Helen Literary Magazine, Peregrine Journal, Raven Chronicles, Third Wednesday, Verseweavers and Xanadu, among others, as well as various regional, national and international anthologies. Author of The Leaf, she lives and writes in eastern Oregon. Visit www.nancychristophersonpoetry.com.

Third Place: “Twenty Grace Notes for Barry Lopez” by Joanna Rose

1 I missed you at Brian Doyle’s memorial service last night.
2 Your own health, someone said: fragile.
3 Canyon Wren / catherpes mexicanus / Song: a cascading series of clear whistled notes, decelerating in tempo. (Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, Western Region)
4 Your field notes are a guide for my life, and I keep giving them away.
5 One friend said this: If we are lucky we come to define ourselves in the terms of a story we love.
6 Any pattern of knowing will stubbornly seek a narrative arc.
7 I stepped on the toe of your cowboy boot with the toe of my cowboy boot when I kissed your cheek in the open door of the bookstore. It was one of those sunny cold winter days.
8 There is an uncompromised singularity in any joy, even when the word fragile makes me fragile.
9 I can hear your voice.
10 The tweed of your jacket held the smell of dust and cigarettes.
11 I have known you long enough to see your hair grow white.
12 The pause of your thoughts gathering was not tweed but paisley.
13 I never told you about losing my bluejean jacket in Blue River Oregon in 1979 even though it seemed like an important connection. (I left it in the back of a pick up truck that had picked me up hitchhiking and then let me out at the historic covered bridge, which is where I was headed that day.)
14 I am trying to find a way to describe ‘thank you’.
15 I will do this as my own hair grows white.
16 Thanking you is thanking every good thing.
17 I hitchhiked here from the Blue River Valley in Colorado where I didn’t know the canyon wren. (I spent the hours waiting for rides or warming up in truck stops embroidering a bluebird on the sleeve of my bluejean jacket.)
18 What I don’t know yet, still, is the canyon wren; my own stubborn narrative arc.
19 The quiet song of the red-breasted nuthatch is barely discernible among the conifer sounds of the Pacific Northwest forest, while canyon wren song trills from pinyoned talus slopes of the desert southwest. (Why Birds Sing: A Journey into the Mystery of Birdsong, David Rothenberg)
20 What I can’t imagine is the work of my life without the work of your life.

Poet’s Bio: Joanna Rose is the author of the award-winning novel Little Miss Strange (Winner Pacific Northwest Booksellers Prize, finalist Oregon Book Award.) Other work has appeared in ZYZZYVA, Windfall Journal, Cloudbank, Artisan Journal, Northern Lights, Oregon Humanities, High Desert Journal, VoiceCatcher, Calyx, Cream City Review, and Bellingham Review, among others. Her essay “That Thing With Feathers” was cited as Notable in 2015 Best American Essays. She is an Attic Atheneum Fellow in Poetry, and has cohosted the Portland critique group Pinewood Table for 20 over years. She works with youth through OR Literary Arts’ Writers in the Schools and with Young Musicians & Artists. Her new novel, A Small Crowd of Strangers, is due out in Fall 2020.