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
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
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.