Spring 2021 Contest Winning Poems, Theme Category “Emergence”

2021 Spring Contest Winning Poems for the Theme Category: Emergence
Judge – Rachel Barton

First Place: “Because You Asked” by Michael Hanner

Death is the return to the place we came from. Some say
it looks a lot like McDonald, Goshen or East of Eden.

I got here via my parents’ assault on the nothingness I was.
I got here on a bus from Ely, Minnesota. Never Gretchen.

I got here in a wet dream, a cavalcade of the disobeying.
I got here following Ursa in the sky. Gretchen is thinking,

“How did I get here?” I got here from the labyrinth,
through the French doors into the haze, the hazard.

From the foothills of the Andes, a thousand miles past
landlocked Mendoza, Buenos Aires waits dreaming

her chocolate eyes, her name thin as an ace. A doxology
is towed behind the bus. Remember the bus? (Ely)

So close. Edward Weston came by to shoot some nudes,
but Gretchen and her curves were wandering in the yucca.

Then the explaining, fiddling with the pantographs,
collecting newspapers for the war effort, much forgotten.

Perhaps it was reckless to pass the warning signs,
but no one spoke Magyar. We were caught in a cat’s cradle.

The seance is breakfast on the Twentieth Century Limited.
It’s an October lost in the Truman administration,

in the dining car there was salt and pepper. In the kitchen
tarragon, chervel and thyme. I see now how I got here.

I got here on a Greek ferry. Turn at the shabby maze,
(you could say, labyrinth, cock’s comb or Bathsheba.)

I kept coming back to the beginning; each time
the beginning was older, a little more fretful, forgetful.

The woman with the long neck is dancing with Gretchen.
It was Christmas again, baked ham, Dylan Thomas

and a goddamned goose. Gretchen is touching her
or she is touching Gretchen. This conundrum followed them

through the coyote years. The wind blew out of Montana
like the wrath of god or someone very like her.

Still it was a good Christmas, a sticky Christmas.
A few new cigarette burns on the kitchen table.

Since the freeway was built, and that was fifty years ago,
nobody from out of town drives through McDonald.

Sharon told me I was holding it upside down. It was Lydia
with her cat and she asked, Who the hell is this Gretchen?

Judge’s Note: This poem is the speaker’s answer to “how I got here” in which he transcends geography and time, wandering back to one “start” and another, touching on a few notable characters—Mendoza, the mysterious Gretchen (and the woman with the long neck), Edward Weston, Truman, Dylan Thomas, and finally Sharon who seems to be the recipient of this journey’s accounting. The poem is made enjoyable by the fact of the speaker’s discovery as the journey progresses (“I see now how I got here.”) We are permitted to enter the poet’s interior domain with its collage of information and experience to witness a kind of sorting. Nothing especially linear here. It is the reader who pulls the thread to a semblance of continuity.

Poet’s Bio: Michael Hanner is an architect whose poems are found in Timberline Review, Nimrod, Cloudbank, Mudfish, Rhino, Southern Humanities Review, Gargoyle and others. He is the author of chapbooks: Palm Sunday and Avenida Uriburu. Recent books are October, 2015 and Adriatica, 2016. and a guidebook, Le Bugue, Black Périgord & Beyond as Forbisher Mandangle. He loves Toni Hanner plus ceramics, sharp scissors, Esterbrook pens, travel, gardening, irony, English croquet, French cooking, Argentine tango and photography.

Second Place: “Habitat” by Ursula McCabe

eastbound the road
gets straighter by the mile

chest percolates
a bubble of anticipation
motor running
steady heartbeat
in sync with
something out there

mountains are shadows
perched on horizon
dreams waiting to happen

sagebrush blooms on all sides
it’s dawn

pulling over
stepping out
I hold my breath

and wait for the fluttering sound
a clean clear cooing note
followed by a whistling pop
it’s a male sage grouse
with snowy white chest

from dewy mist
the speckled brown hen

she steps daintily
she is ready to inspect
his chest inflates

at my feet a bitterroot
is starting to blossom pink

Judge’s Note: This poem is tight. The speaker invites us to join in, our own chests percolating, vehicle motor chugging like a heartbeat, the male grouse inflating his chest. This is a captured moment where the perceived lines of separation between human, animal, and environment are conflated. The effect makes me catch my breath.

Poet’s Bio: Ursula lives in Portland, Oregon and has been published in the Avocet, Piker Press and Oregon Poetry Association’s Pandemic Anthology.

Third Place: “1969 Woods Creek Road” by Joy McDowell

A beggar at the start of life.
Sinew glistens in sun and oil.
Leisure subtracted from death.
Unlucky numbers send
young men off to die.

Heat clamps down.
One-hundred degrees. A transistor
radio jabbers. News and pop music.
The horse on the hill behind the house
now a gelding. Too feisty with vinegar.

Trees beside the stucco farmhouse
peel, their madrone bark red and raw.
Napalm rains down, skin blisters, shedding.
Electric noise floods an arcane jungle war.
Depression-era parents discover divorce.

Nothing in the canyon feels harmless.
Seven bodies sleep in one place.
A greasy mill worker pesters
for carnal attention. Bull snakes crawl
through dry grass keeping rattlers away.

Kindling Is shoved into an ancient
wood cook stove. Eggs and coffee.
Oak trees tangled on the ridge. Gun fire
higher up the road. Blackberry vines and
poison oak. Acid rock promises.

In the dark, a porcupine eats
the heads off roses.
Clean cuts from sharp teeth.
Buzzards own the flawless blue sky.
Always something dead up in those hills.

The radio cuts out half-way through
the noon news. Paul Harvey’s voice
brings it back. The days drain away.
August. September. The well is going dry.
Lizards own the high front porch.

Dust sifts from shoes.
Stars promise another punishing day.
A baby boy turns two and receives a tricycle
to pedal away. Escape from battle, from
bloody hills, from being gone at twenty.

Judge’s Note: This poem collects impressions from a specific time in our history with Viet Nam overshadowing all. The use of short choppy sentences combined with a greater number of fragments solidifies the impressionistic intent. This poem leaves me with nothing but splinters of what was once regarded as whole. The poem is ambitious and does not flinch at the gritty details— “always something dead up in those hills.” Paul Harvey, acid rock promises, and being gone at twenty.

Poet’s Bio: Joy McDowell is an Oregon native. She graduated from the University of Oregon. Her writing workspace overlooks the McKenzie River. She is inspired by the persistence of the river.

Judge’s Bio: Rachel Barton is poet, editor, and writing coach. She is a member of the Calyx Editorial Collective, reads for Cloudbank Magazine, and edits her own Willawaw Journal. Her poems have been published in the Main Street Rag, Moon City Review, Mom Egg Review, the Oregon English Journal, Sin Fronteras, and several other journals. Find her chapbooks, Out of the Woods and Happiness Comes on her website, rachelbartonwriter.com.

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.