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
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
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
Tired of a forced stare ahead
I think of my friend who said
Don’t look away
I turn and see this grey beard
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
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.