Fall 2020 Winning Poems for the New Poets Category
Judge: Eleanor Berry
First Place: “The Outcrop” by Vicki Pedone
Here I am again, on the dry shoreline of this dying lake,
gazing at your immutable hardness
with frustration and not a little anger.
How many years must I come while you haughtily guard your secrets?
You are so young, less than 30 millennia.
You can barely call yourself a rock.
I have done battle with real rocks, those that have
weathered hundreds of millions of years of Earth history.
You know nothing of the titanic battles of plate tectonics,
the sweeping changes of climate and sea level,
the evolution and extinction of millions of species.
And yet, you are still a worthy adversary, a geological enigma.
Will this be the year that you relent and reward my devotion,
let slip the answer to the mystery of how you formed
on the remote shore of this desolate lake?
I hear only the wind. There is no eureka moment.
I will return next year,
still seeking answers,
to find you as always
smug in the superiority of the inanimate object.
Judge’s Note: This poem is artfully and wittily constructed such that the perspective—that the speaker is addressing an inanimate object (the outcrop named in the title)—emerges only after several lines, and the relationship between speaker and addressee is then only gradually revealed.
Second Place: “Her Eyes” by Robin Havenick
...something weak strengthens until they are more and more it like letting in heaven” Kay Ryan’s “Age” It wasn’t like that old barn the way it fell into itself till what was holding it up was less than what had given in this old crooked man strolling his wife in a wheelchair across the foot bridge, runners and bikers dodging the out-of-time pair -- when he turned her out of the traffic to face the river and beyond smiling only when he caught her eyes only her eyes, something weak strengthened.
Judge’s Note: This poem prepares beautifully for the lyric moment on which it focuses, so when it arrives in the final lines, it has maximum impact.
Third Place: “English Composition, 1962” by Daniel Hobbs
I've forgotten why it came up in Composition class and not in English Lit where it properly belonged, with all those passionate, doomed Romantics. Almost unheard of in that respectable community, when it did occur, adults lowered their heads, spoke in hushed tones, avoided certain phrases. That day, two or three students ventured opinions, then someone said the words we all had heard, somewhere: "coward's way out." Without warning a girl in the front row—star student, neatly dressed, in all the right clubs—burst from her desk and spun toward us, her face twisted: "No, it's not! It's not!!" and ran, sobbing, from the room. Mrs. Ross excused herself and for minutes and minutes, like struck bells we hung over an abyss ringing with questions not spoken, while deep within us, so deep it hardly registered, something shifted uneasily in its dark sleep. Mrs. Ross returned, spoke softly— "She'll be all right."— then eased us back to the solid ground of English grammar with questions of relative pronouns, dependent clauses. In the still ringing air, each answer lurched into the room like a guilty thing, shouldering its uncertain way around the empty desk in the front row.
Judge’s Note: The pacing and order of revelation in this narrative poem is expertly managed, and the situation subtly but clearly evoked.
Judge’s biography: A past president of OPA and of NFSPS, Eleanor Berry has taught literature and writing at Willamette University, Marquette University, and other colleges and universities. Her poetry and essays on free-verse prosody have appeared widely in journals, and her poems have been collected in two books, Green November (Traprock Books, 2007) and No Constant Hues (Turnstone Books, 2015), and a chapbook, Only So Far (Main Street Rag, 2019).