2020 Spring Contest Winners: Poet’s Choice: 1st Place Winner

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

(a Vivianne sonnet variation)

Barbara Blanks

As embryos we each explore the wall

of womb that holds us. It’s the first place joy

is felt—mom’s heartbeat like a lullaby.  

Cocooned in touch, that’s how we interact.

We’re chastised just as soon as we can crawl

or walk. Just look! Hands off! That’s not a toy.

We’re told to view, to listen, smell that, try

a taste of this—but touch … and hands are smacked.

And so begins our isolation. All

those inhibitions finally destroy

instinctive comfort found in touch, deny

the core of who we are. Our lives contract.

We clench our cell phones, stroke the glowing screen,

as we reach out across the distance, glean

what warmth we can from holding a machine.

Poet Bio

Barbara Blanks, a former Ft. Stevens resident, is the author of seven books, co-author of one, and published in a variety of anthologies. Barb is known for her exuberant love of life, the liberties she often takes with her reality, and her pursuit of a sense of direction. She is also admired for her stick-to-it-iveness, although she mostly sticks to her un-mopped kitchen floor.

Judge’s Comments – Lynn Otto

Thank you to all who submitted poems. Reading them while practicing social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, I felt connected to humanity in all corners of Oregon and beyond. I was surprised to see that the three poems that rose to the top of the stack for me all made use of patterns of rhyme and rhythm. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (a Vivianne sonnet variation) feels like a carefully made gift, not some fussy frou-frou thing, but the result of a real craftsperson’s sensitivity to language and high regard for the reader. The poem’s form suits its subject, a consideration of a change. These poems’ images are strong and memorable; and each poem felt consistent in quality from beginning to end.

2020 Spring Contest Winners: Poet’s Choice: 2nd Place Winner

Arachnidæa: Line Drawings

Stephen Pollock

I.

Extravagance at dawn  —

your finest threads are strung with pearls

and you, a brooch with a clasp.

Magnify the shiny spheres

to divine that each conceals

a miniature, an image

of struggling wings, of life undone.

Pass at the critical angle,

and they flash and snap in the sun.

II.

These haunts are hung haphazardly

with votive offerings, each sucked dry;

paper maché sarcophagi,

cruel chrysalis for moth or butterfly.

III.

Serial killer. 

Insecticide, the skill

in which you specialize.

Can we call it murder if nerves connect

not to brain but to canister, chain and gear,

if the dumb drive to survive directs

your every move?  Or is it fear

that fuels your addiction to others’ pain,

a numbness spreading through the vein

as you rehearse, again, this ritual play ¾

bind and consume in your quick, kinetic way.

IV.

A stickler for particulars,

you’re helpless to repel

the pull of perpendicular

the lure of parallel.

Do lines and circles insulate?

Can order keep at bay

the random drafts that propagate

contagion, death, decay?

The cords are taut.  You draw control

from patterns meant to thwart

unraveling, but the tension takes its toll

on the mental weft and warp.

V.

A concert in the round!

Divertimenti scored for eight short hands

will be played by the maestro

for adoring fans.

The fine fretwork glistens.

The strings tune and go still.

Once in motion,

you dazzle in the parts for pizzicato,

leap with ease over fourths and fifths,

scuttle up scales to a dizzying height

then plummet, by octaves, to the sublime.

All are amused, for a time.

The circle is crossed by chords,

point to counterpoint,

illusions of balance, of words.

Listen to the last mournful strains

murmuring a requiem for the days.

VI.

The hours molt and fall away;

the year grows late.

Your web’s worn watch face ticks in whispers

and you pray that you will hibernate but briefly

and somehow wake.

As if by grace, the breaths of winter

fog the panes,

leave no trace

of love

or joy

or even hate.

There are, in the end,

only the frayed strands of time,

the failing light

and you, splayed at the center,

condemned to wait.

Poet Bio

Stephen Pollock received the Rolfe Humphries Poetry Prize in his senior year at Amherst College. His poem “Syringe” was shortlisted for the 2018 Live Canon International Poetry Prize and was performed as part of the awards ceremony at the Greenwich Theatre in London. Subsequently, his poem “song for us” appeared in the Poeming Pigeon, and his poem “Steel Refineries — Gary, 1954” was published in Ink to Paper.

Judge’s Comments – Lynn Otto

Thank you to all who submitted poems. Reading them while practicing social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, I felt connected to humanity in all corners of Oregon and beyond. I was surprised to see that the three poems that rose to the top of the stack for me all made use of patterns of rhyme and rhythm. “Arachnidæa: Line Drawings” (each section plays with rhyme and rhythm a different way), poem feels like a carefully made gift, not some fussy frou-frou thing, but the result of a real craftsperson’s sensitivity to language and high regard for the reader. The poem’s form suits its subject, a close observation. These poems’ images are strong and memorable; and each poem felt consistent in quality from beginning to end.

2020 Spring Contest Winners: Poet’s Choice: 3rd Place Winner

Mind Gloss

David Hedges

Mind in its purest play is like some bat

That beats about in caverns all alone,

Contriving by a kind of senseless wit

Not to conclude against a wall of stone.

—Richard Wilbur, from “Mind”

Mind in its purest play is like some bat

That magically connects with knuckleballs.

No matter what the pitching staff contrives,

Changeup, slider, inside curve, the calls

Result in singles, doubles, triples, drives

Across the outfield fence that knock the hat

Off some poor unsuspecting fan who sprawls

The asphalt, all aghast. The pitcher strives

To fry the batters in a pan of fat.

Mind in its purest play is like some bat

That beats about in caverns all alone,

More like a horde of happy-hour drunks

That beats about in taverns, or a batch

Of cracker-barrel clowns, a bunch of monks,

Pure intellection at a coffee klatch

Replete with undercut and overtone,

Final exams that everybody flunks,

Leading scholars, in a fit, to scratch

Advancement from their list of goals. The drone

That beats about in caverns all alone,

Contriving by a kind of senseless wit

What targets to home in on, thrives on fear;

The weave and flitter draw a steady stream

Of ready answers, none of which is clear.

Prescient ones are poised to skim the cream;

Resplendent to their heart’s content, they flit

About the blackest air until their Lear

Jets’ landing gears explode—a primal scream

On impact after guidance systems quit—

Contriving by a kind of senseless wit

Not to conclude against a wall of stone.

Mind’s more a metaphor for catcher’s mask,

Deflecting fouls that otherwise might force

Professors to object, and take to task

Doubtful similes for changing course:

Wading knee-deep in the Twilight Zone,

Benighted, tippling from a pocket flask,

Concocting gobbeldygook without remorse.

Mind plots with grace to overthrow the throne,

Not to conclude against a wall of stone.

Poet Bio

David Hedges has placed poems with Poetry, Measure, Poet Lore, and others. His book, “Prospects of Life After Birth: Memoir in Poetry and Prose,” appeared in 2019. He is past president of the Oregon Poetry Association, and serves on the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission. He co-founded the Oregon Poetry Collection at the University of Oregon’s Knight Library, and received the 2003 Stewart H. Holbrook Literary Legacy Award for his contributions to the state’s literary life.

Judge’s Comments – Lynn Otto

Thank you to all who submitted poems. Reading them while practicing social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, I felt connected to humanity in all corners of Oregon and beyond. I was surprised to see that the three poems that rose to the top of the stack for me all made use of patterns of rhyme and rhythm. “Mind Gloss” (four stanzas that follow the rhyme scheme abcbcabcaa, each beginning and ending with a line from a stanza of Richard Wilbur’s “Mind”) feels like a carefully made gift, not some fussy frou-frou thing, but the result of a real craftsperson’s sensitivity to language and high regard for the reader. The poem’s form suits its subject, a playful, musical riffing. These poems’ images are strong and memorable; and each poem felt consistent in quality from beginning to end.