Fall 2020 Winning Poems for “30 and Under” Category
Contest Judge: Marilyn Johnston
First Place in 30 and Under – “Matryoshka” by Bailey Thomas
I am many within myself
Ten thousand days vying for influence
Building to a fractured whole.
I feel you in there, small and unsure
Gangly and filled with hope, anger, fear
Just a song or a smell or an image and we are made
I feel you in the swoop of my stomach
In the stinging in my eyes
In the bittersweet pang within my chest.
I feel your hurt like an echo through time
I see your joy stretched across my face and your
Anger etched into our brow.
With your song upon my lips and your small form
Cradled within my arms, underneath my ribs and
Beneath my striking hand.
How much do I blame you, how much do I thank you, and how much
Do I hold you like someone should have held us?
And when do we turn, each of us into the next, painted faces brightly growing
Identical until we try to look.
Do I hold you too close? Do I let you go too easy? Do I exist if I push you all away?
I laugh at you sometimes and cringe to think
The things you used to wear and the words you thought were real.
I wonder who will laugh at me and hope that they
Remember to be kind to us.
Sometimes, we dream the same dreams, and when I awake for a moment
I forget which one I am, but what I see
Has always been you, and always been me, so there is nothing to prove
How far we’ve come.
Judge’s Note: So much of this poem makes it worthy of a 1st prize. From the first sight of the title, I was drawn into the world of it, the title “Matryoshka” taking me immediately back to this name for my first pair of babushka nesting dolls I received as a child. And even the centered line format seemed to move the lines along, as did the lacquered dolls, as they stacked one into the other. In our present world that often feels unhinged and disconnected, the author’s lines convey promise.
Poet’s Bio: Bailey Thomas is an HR Professional by day and a poet by night (and sometimes also day). Born and raised in Portland, she loves to travel and get inspiration from new places. She is nostalgic almost to a fault and loves to explore themes of memory, childhood, and feeling like an imposter. She lives in North Plains with her partner Matt and their two cat children, Cardamom and Peppercorn.
Second Place in 30 and Under: “They’re Playing Baseball in Korea” by Alex Hart
They’re playing baseball in Korea today.
They’re raking the fields and lifting the tarps
In a silent stadium, a sighing sanctuary,
Its congregation left to imagine homers arcing into
Empty bleachers, those metal pews changing colors
Like stained glass in the dancing light of the Jumbotron…
It’s 2 AM Eastern Time
And the American broadcasters stumble over the
Hangul names like they’re speaking in tongues
But if I close my eyes and listen for the crack of the bat,
It’s like I’m there…
A face among faces,
A body amongst bodies,
A hot dog, a beer passed down the row
Hand to hand
Like some ballpark communion
(This is My bat, broken for you)
The man in black will say what’s fair and what’s foul
While the organ drones on in the background –
Take me there.
Take me to church!
I want to hope again like I used to.
I want to hope like we’re tied going into the bottom of the ninth
With the heart of the order coming up.
I want to hope like we’re one out away from a perfect game.
I want to hope like tomorrow is opening day
With the hallelujahs of the waving masses to remind me
That this is finally our year.
Judge’s Note: This well-constructed poem so effectively captures the passionate followers of American baseball in Korea, as it plays there at 2 AM—the poem, an homage to the empty bleachers. Showing hope for the future, the poet expresses the devotion for a sport that serves to unify us. And even with all that has been lost, using well-crafted metaphor, the poet seems to implore the world to play ball, with all reverence: “Take me to church!…I want to hope like tomorrow is opening day…with the hallelujahs of the waving masses to remind me…”
Poet’s Bio: Alex Hart is a Korean-American poet living in Portland, Oregon. By day, he is a footwear designer at Adidas but, in an effort to stay well-rounded, he has continued to pursue poetry after work. He just finished self-publishing his first ever poetry collection, Neolympia, and with that momentum, he’s excited to see where his next poetry journey will lead him!
Third Place in 30 and Under: “Rebuild with Love” by Sophie App-Singer
my family is so lucky that
i was born in a century where there will always be a pill for my
hurt, a country where my nihilism has become
assent. my mother supports my art because it means change.
for me or america, i’m still unsure, but
every tree knows she grows on stolen land
even if the skinned-knee girl who climbs her doesn’t.
the sky screams my name sometimes, and that’s okay.
we’ve all accepted the roles our skin and circumstance
have made us play. my family is so lucky to be lucky.
we go out to the river. wet moss on our toes.
my father points to a waterbird
like it’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen.
i haven’t died yet because hope is a radical thing.
Judge’s Note: Both spare and complete, this well-arched poem tells an entire novel in just 13 lines. It shouts out to us that hope is a radical thing, with our skin color and circumstance each still serving to define us.
Poet’s Bio: Sophie App-Singer is a poetess, MCU stan, pastry chef and music lover. Her goal in life is to nudge the world through her writing. She attends high school in Oregon, and has previously placed in an OPA contest, alongside being published in numerous online journals.
Judge’s Bio: Marilyn Johnston is a writer and filmmaker. She received a writing fellowship from Oregon Literary Arts and won a Robert Penn Warren writing competition prize, as well as the Donna J. Stone National Literary Award for Poetry. Red Dust Rising, her chapbook of poems about a family healing from war, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize; and a full collection, Before Igniting, was published in 2020. She has a Doctorate from Oregon State University and teaches creative writing in the Artists in the Schools Program.
Thanks for the honor of selecting me to judge this contest category. It was a privilege!