Fall 2020 Winning Poems for the New Poets Category

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

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,
				"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).

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