Fall 2020 Winning Poems for the Members Only Category

Fall 2020 Winning Poems for the Members Only Category
Judge: Amy Miller

First Place in Members Only:
“At the Frenchglen Hotel” by Scottie Sterrett

We gather with other guests,
mesmerized as butterflies,
opulent in cellophane envelopes,
emerge from two shoeboxes.

The LA lawyer, resplendent
in Oakleys and Lauren
has spent himself on Steens Mountain
collecting uncommon lepidoptera.

He needs six of each species
because, he cheerfully explains,
one of these rare birds
can get you two from Bolivia.

The child among us stands perplexed,
hands clasped behind her back.
In seven-year-old wonder, she says,
You killed all those butterflies?

Poet’s Bio: Scottie published her first poem in high school. Since then, occasional poems, like cream or swamp gas, have bubbled to the surface of the great pond in which she is a very small fish. She served in several capacities on the OSPA board and as president of Portland Poetry Festival. Currently, she is writing her autobiography. Scottie lives in the rolling Rosemont hills of West Linn with squirrels and birds and a pack of Deerhounds.

Judge’s Notes: While judging this category of short poems, I was amazed at what poets could do in 20 lines or fewer. The first-place poem, “At the Frenchglen Hotel,” epitomizes that economy and power—16 lines packed with information, but done so subtly that the almost nausea-inducing subject matter slips into the reader’s consciousness without a lot of fanfare. But there it stays, a poem that got under my skin and wouldn’t leave. It made me uncomfortable; it made me think. And those amazing lines—“one of these rare birds / can get you two from Bolivia”—so deftly illustrate an offhand, careless cruelty that resonates with a lot of our world in this time, right now. This poem nails the balance between message and tone; its restraint is what makes it so disturbing.

Second Place in Members Only Category:
“Stealing Flowers From the Neighbors” by Sherri Levine

No dark sunglasses, no hood over my head,
no scissors, shopping bag slung over my shoulder,

I slide behind bushes, pricked by brambles,
yank and snap, rip and tear.

No worry or rush,
or hush from the birds.

Squirrels, too busy collecting nuts
don’t stop on the lawn to judge.

Dandelion spores fill the air like dust.
A silent sneeze, a cough caught in my throat,

I crawl under towering weeds
and hedges, wedge myself

between rocks and prickly thorns.
I do not feel the scraping of my knees

or the bee sting, burn of the sun
on my cheeks, heat on my hatless head.

Stealing flowers from the neighbors
I could only think of you in your hospice bed,

your weary head,
waiting for me to appear.

Poet’s Bio: Sherri Levine is an artist and poet living in Portland, Oregon. Her poems have been published in CALYX, Poet Lore, The Timberline Review, and others. She won the Lois Cranston Memorial Poetry Award and also First Place in the Oregon Poetry Association biannual contest. Her book, In These Voices, was published in 2018 by Poetry Box.

Judge’s Notes: I love the journey of this poem, from *almost* humor at the start to real poignancy at the end. It makes the reader ask a question early on—why this stealing?— and then surprises with its answer at the end, which telescopes the poem out into a larger story. And all this is done with such music, elegant internal rhymes that quietly weave throughout—hood/bush, rush/hush, sneeze/weeds/knees, head/bed/head. It’s a bit like a song that begins as a lark and ends up much darker.

Third Place in Members Only Category:
“Weathervane” by Charles Castle

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Weathervane                           

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Butterfly                                     weathervane

Metal roof on a red barn             hay stacked

John Deere tractor                 backed against

            a picket fence

Four black cows                  and a prized bull

          some distance on a hill

A farmer’s wife                      in a garden plot

tomato plants                a trellis vine

flowered like       the woman’s dress

A stoic scarecrow            with a clergy collar

Screen door swinging     on a crooked hinge

An old dog                 beneath a cottonwood

             asleep

And the farmer’s            teen-aged daughter

      cocooned             in a rope hammock

         reading Anaїs Nin

Poet’s Bio: Charles Castle writes from Eugene, Oregon. Before Covid, he was co-host of the monthly open mic, Burnin’ Down the Barnes at Barnes and Noble Books, and he frequented as many other readings as he could. He believes in spoken poetry, delivered live and in person, and so he is currently in exile. Charles has published four books; Living with Patriarchs, A Season’s Second Coming, A Good-night in America and Chasing Down the Storm.

Judge’s Notes: This poem is image, image, image—a story the reader sees. And it moves and swings, with its left-right justification and its weathervane and its screen door. The shape evoked one farmy thing after another in my mind—a silo, that door, a window, a field. And then, after all the fresh, authentic images, the last three lines turn very arch—you know the daughter is dreaming of a bigger world. And even though the world she lives in has its beauty—heck, we just spent an enjoyable poem there—still, we can’t help but root for her and whatever it is she sees beyond that farm. She, and all the ambitions and dreams we feel on her behalf, are what elevate this poem to a higher plane.

Judge’s Bio: Amy Miller’s full-length poetry collection The Trouble with New England Girls won the Louis Award from Concrete Wolf Press. Her poetry and nonfiction have appeared in Barrow Street, Gulf Coast, Rattle, Tupelo Quarterly, Willow Springs, and ZYZZYVA, and anthologies including Ghost Fishing, Nasty Women Poets, and Clash by Night: A London Calling Anthology. She won the Cultural Center of Cape Cod National Poetry Competition, judged by Tony Hoagland, the Kay Snow Award, the Jack Grapes Poetry Prize from Cultural Weekly, and the Earl Weaver Baseball Writing Prize. She lives in Ashland, Oregon.

Third Place Poem in Poet’s Choice Category

Third Place in Poet’s Choice: “The Ballad of Chaos Nightingale” by Charles Castle

My name is Chaos Nightingale. My mother christened me,
but it was my father’s song I followed here.
Come with me. We begin as I’ve begun, and we’ll end no differently.

I am bent by age in these somber times. My back is humped by life’s
uneven weight. I don’t complain, I welcome it.
I live in a house behind a church, a stone house in a field
of standing stones. I live on a broth of flowers left for grief,
my bread, a crust of loss.
I spend my days as a poor man spends, little by little, close
to nothing. But nothing, or close to it, is enough
and my prayers are often for nothing.
The hide on my feet is the leather of my coming and going.
I go as best I can, though less of me returns.

These days are distractions, but nights are a passage by dream
and all I meet along the way are like me. And though they may not
favor me, we are allied by our attire. My coat is threadbare to sky,
a tatter to rain, my hat is a rag-worn crown.
Each day’s weather is an advance of clouds towards storm, building
on the hours. It’s on this branch of road I sing through dust
and cloudburst leaning on a skull-capped cane.
I no longer nurse a muse. We share the same infirmities.
There is no unhappy word, one is like another, and now with you
we face into them as a headwind.

On this path across a bridge we visit a city shrouded by fog.
To describe the architecture is to describe fog giving birth
to spires under a halo of moons. The inhabitants sleep or perhaps
in a pandemic they do not brave the night.
We rarely see but a glimpse of them. A murmur of prayer
narrows through the streets. There are no songs shared
among ravens and crows.

Wood and stone render perspectives of charmed facades.
We meet at a fountained square down a cobbled boulevard.
You might wonder what intelligence designed it,
but if genius gave it order, we are strangers to it.
Yet there are inscriptions on the arches that genius
had some hand in, but the language is forgotten.

In a quaint and vacant neighborhood, a bell rings once.
Shadows absorb the peal and the hour is hidden.
There is an aroma of bread we’ve never tasted.
Somewhere a baker kneads in solitude, his hands a contrast
of shadows on leavened dough cast by a fire where the ovens warm.
Here is a single lamplit lane where we browse about the windowed
shops, but carelessly.
Our remoteness is a currency without exchange on this side
of bolted doors with their keepers all burrowed home.
Up the wine-stained stoops of shuttered taverns copper counters
reek of hops. The upturned chairs on café tables
reach toward darkened ceiling fans.
The alleys that we pass are robbed of light.

Our destination nears. We climb toward a hill where a bell tower
with a clock appears, but not a knell upon the knoll will tell the time.
And though we spend it here, we cannot stay. We only visit to take the view.
Yet should the fog part before the city wakes with its virus and its prayers,
we’ll sing a single penny’s love to the disease and beg it leave us
whole again.
Or by the bell at dawn return across the bridge to find
the field of stones has changed with the flowers left
that we’ll collect along with water from the rain.

Poet’s Bio: Charles Castle writes from Eugene, Oregon. Before Covid, he was co-host of
the monthly open mic, Burnin’ Down the Barnes at Barnes and Noble Books,
and he frequented as many other readings as he could. He believes in spoken poetry,
delivered live and in person,and so he is currently in exile. Charles has published
four books; Living with Patriarchs, A Season’s Second Coming, A Good-night in America
and Chasing Down the Storm.

Judge’s Statement (Pepper Trail): Judging a poetry contest is a privilege, a pleasure,
and a burden. One goes into it knowing that there will be impossible choices,
the weighing of apples and oranges on an uncalibrated scale. This is particularly true
with the Poets Choice category, which asks only that poets submit the work they love
the best. How to compare a tender 10-line lyric with an epic 70-line rhyming narrative,
when each fully expresses the author’s intent and skill? The poems I ultimately selected
are varied in style, length, and subject, but all shared powerful and original imagery
– sometimes stark, sometimes slant. Each is a work of art, bearing the fingerprints of
its maker.Each took me to a place I had not been before, and gave me reasons to return
again and again.

Judge’s Bio: Pepper Trail’s poems have appeared in Rattle, Atlanta Review, Windfall,
Borderlands, Ascent and other publications, and have been nominated for Pushcart and Best of
the Net Awards. He is the author of three collections: Flight Time, An Empty Bowl, and
Cascade-Siskiyou: Poems, which was a finalist for the 2016 Oregon Book Award in Poetry. His
writing on the environment has appeared in High Country News, Shambala Sun, National
Geographic, and elsewhere. He lives in Ashland, Oregon, where he works for the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service.

Second Place Poem in Poet’s Choice Category

Second Place in Poet’s Choice: “Temenos” by Alicia Byrne Keane

is the name of the surgery,
the street is a jeweled neatness
of bookshops,

I know the doctor’s number
off by heart and I can’t afford this
synesthesia of fours and nines
showing up yellow ochre
or plum-bruised
in the clang
dread makes.

Ringing the doorbell
becomes a remembered tree-shadow:
we’ve entered the adjacency,
unwrapping a grove
from taut silence,

I know the doctor’s number
off by heart although I shouldn’t,
the rules don’t apply here
in the unresolved:

my fear something
I scramble to reach the edges of,
cloth in wind.
Assess the parameters
of what is hallowed;

walk the shell-pink edge of a diagnosis
that seems either terrible
or nothing at all,
depending
on the

shapes
of newly-spun
branches stilling the blue

above you
as you
drive home

Poet’s Bio: I am a PhD student from Dublin, Ireland. I have a first class honours degree
in English Literature and French from Trinity College Dublin and a MSt. in English Literature 1900- present from Oxford University. My poems and short fiction have previously been published in journals such as The Moth, Entropy, The Berkeley Poetry Review, Toho Journal, LuckyJefferson, and others. I delightedly follow the Oregon Poetry Association for many reasons including your diverse focus, your encouragement of an interdisciplinary view of the arts, and the vivid originality of thecontest-winner poems published here.