Posted December 24, 2016.

OPA 2016 Fall Contest Winners



Categories & Judges

  1. Poet’s Choice — Scot Siegel
  2. Members Only — Kelly Eastlund
  3. Traditional Form, Pantoum — Cecelia Hagen
  4. Themed Narrative — Laura LeHew
  5. Open Form — Austin Gray
  6. Oregon/Pacific Northwest — Rodger Moody
  7. New Poets — Quinton Hallett







FIRST PLACE:  “Things You Know But Cannot Explain”Doug Stone  (Albany)


SECOND PLACE:  “August” — Michael Wynn  (Corvallis)


THIRD PLACE:  “Missive” — Stacey Vallas  (Portland)




1ST: “Hey Jude, Hey You” — Linda Ferguson (Portland)


2ND: “Nobody Cares if You Write a Poem” — Jay Schroder (Medford)


3RD: “To the people we date in our twenties”  —  Krissy Mulpeter  (Eugene)


Judge’s Comments:


Gregory Orr writes that poetry can save us. I sat with these poems, nearly a hundred in all, for several weeks with this ambition. At the time, the US general election descended like a black cape, or a plague, and the standoff over the $3.7 billion Dakota Access Pipeline came to a head. Dreamer that I am, I was looking for poems that might offer some solace, words both timely and timeless that speak to the soul.


The First Place poem, “Things You Know But Cannot Explain,” lives up to the challenge articulated by the title in celebrating the life of the late Oregon artist and Wiyot Tribal member, Rick Bartow, whose bold and evocative paintings draw on transformation mythology. This poem, with its conversational tone, is a joy to read; and in the storytelling tradition it succeeds at transfiguration, perhaps the highest honor that an artist can bestow on another artist.


In Second Place, “August” is a modern fable of redemption, as told by a wise beekeeper who’s lived a tough life. The poem invokes Beethoven and botany in equal measure.  “Missive”, the Third Place poem, is addressed to the beloved. Here sailing is a metaphor for a long marriage that has run aground. It reminds us that love persists, even when its vessel is broken.


The three honorable mentions are all strong. Each applies humor or aphorism to deliver a unique and memorable message.


Scot Siegel

December 5, 2016









FIRST PLACE: “Wasp”  —  Pepper Trail  (Ashland)


SECOND PLACE: “Dia De Los Muertos” — Linda Ferguson (Portland)


THIRD PLACE: “#EmilyDickinsonSaveMeNow” — Nancy Flynn (Portland)




1ST:  “What Sets It Apart” — Nancy Christopherson (Baker City)


2ND:  “Late Autumn at the Finley Bird Refuge” — Doug Stone (Albany)


Judge’s Comments:


Compression is a key element in all good poetry; however, it is especially important and challenging in short poems. Every word and line must do serious heavy lifting. Within such a small frame, it is understandable that many of the poems submitted to this category focused on a brief personal memory. While many succeeded in creating vivid portraits, the three I chose as winners went beyond portraiture, transmuting the personal into universal.


“Wasp,” the first place poem, is a heartbreaking and compassionate look at abuse. While it’s unclear to me whether the fugitive in the poem is a child or animal, it doesn’t really matter; this is where the poem shifts into the universal: touching on archetypes of abuser and victim, and uncovering the emotional warping that results from violence. On second reading I appreciated the wasp and grape metaphors, and how deftly they foreshadowed the painful discovery at the heart of the poem. And all of this was accomplished in nine intense lines!


The second place poem, “Dia De los Muertos,” works on multiple levels – a snapshot of a season and an ancient ritual juxtaposed to modern-day routine. Through carefully chosen words and sharp images, the reader is lead from melancholy to a playful, defiant joy. The result is life-affirming.


Historical and present-day worlds collide inventively in the third place winner as well. #EmilyDickinsonSaveMeNow, pays homage to the famous American poet in style and tone, while revealing a quiet, modern desperation. The narrator’s sense of guilt and ennui is palpable in the final lines “age spots / of privilege, flecked.


Each of the poems selected for honorable mention succeeded in conveying a passionate response to the world with sharply focused language. It was a pleasure and honor to read all of the entries.








FIRST PLACE: “The Glenn Gould Variations”Dan Kaufman (Central Point)


SECOND PLACE: “The Darling Buds of Barbara Bush” — David Hedges (West Lynn)


THIRD PLACE:  “Pantoum for Franklin’s Bumble Bee” — Pepper Trail (Ashland)




1ST: “Stripped” — Kelly Osborn (Eugene)


2ND: “The Neighborhood” — Michael Hanner (Eugene)


3RD: “Mother with a Rabbit, a Memory” — Cathy Cain (Lake Oswego)


Judge’s Comments:


It was a real treat to delve into the world of pantoums—not only to familiarize myself more fully with the 15th-century Malaysian form with its repetitions and lapping lines, but to read the variety of submissions the OPA received.  Picking winners and runners-up was less of a treat: how to rank poetic efforts?


Still, when I knuckled under to the task I could justify my choices, at least to myself; the ones I selected struck me because of their deft handling of the pantoum’s demands and its implicit invitation to bend the rules, to repeat with variation, to find multiple meanings in the same word. And they affected me the way good poems do—I felt opened up, surprised, changed by reading them.


“The Glenn Gould Variations,” the first-place poem, tells a story about seeing the famous pianist at what would turn out to be his last performance. The performer’s quirks and eccentricities are reflected in the poem’s own fugue-like repetitions.


The second-place poem, “The Darling Buds of Barbara Bush,” describes four rose bushes named after well-known women. All the plants “thrived on Alaskan salmon oil,” though only the one named in the title survived the winds of a “howling gale.” This poem’s humor and well-tuned meter won me over.


The third-place winner, “Pantoum for Franklin’s Bumble Bee,” relates how this particular animal became extinct “through no one’s fault but the system’s” – a chilling line that stings our complacent acceptance of the wide-ranging effects of agri-business. This poem uses the complex and limiting form of the pantoum to educate, inform, and mourn.


In the Honorable Mentions, “Stripped” is a breathtaking revelation of loneliness and determination. “The Neighborhood” has a wonderful chumminess in its voice, which we follow into bizarre situations and winking self-commentary. And “Mother with a Rabbit, a Memory” is a tender poem about making about painting, about light, and about the persistence of memory.


So many of these poems moved me, and the number of submissions was a testament to how strong and viable poetry is in Oregon. It took some of the bite out of winter’s long nights for me to spend time with these many wonderful poems.









FIRST PLACE: “Lost In Trout Creek Mountains” — David Hedges (West Lynn)


SECOND PLACE: “Circle of Twenty Apes” —  Stephen Jones (Corvallis)



THIRD PLACE: “I am Icarus” —  Don Kunz (Bend)





1ST: “The Story of Lopsided Bob” —  Barbara Blanks (Garland, Texas)


2ND: “Hard Way Home”  — Charlotte Abernathy (Ashland)


Judge’s Comments:


Narrative poems tell a story. Like a novel or other longer works of fiction there is an arc to the narrative with a beginning, middle (typically with a turn) and an end. Narrative poems have characters, plots and settings. Their goal is to entertain.


I read through all my poems on a road trip down to the San Francisco Bay area. I read them in rest areas, restaurants and hotel lobbies. The weather was fine as were these 60 poems. The poems themselves offer up a diverse group of styles and subjects. My second read through was on my trip back when I stopped for the night in Mt. Shasta. Initially, I reread them outdoors at a lovely coffee shop moving indoors as the weather cooled. Then I put them down and let them percolate. I brought them back for a third reading over Thanksgiving weekend. Narrowing and narrowing until I came up with my final selection. It was hard. There were so many fantastic poems.


FIRST PLACE: “Lost In Trout Creek Mountains” — David Hedges


Initially, I am drawn to the poems form. Orderly unrhymed tercets with medium-long lines of approximately the same length. Clear and crisp I anticipate a well thought out linear poem. It does not disappoint. With the use of imagery and figurative language this poem leads me in gently with an interesting description of driving through Harney County. Soon I am methodically shown the characters—narrator and son. The plot—the narrator’s divorce, a time away with a child. The turn in the poem, getting lost. The pivot into laughter and the reconnection of a relationship. From roots withered in drought to weathered basalt we, like the characters, are fulfilled.


SECOND PLACE: “Circle of Twenty Apes” —  Stephen Jones


“While traveling with the Pickle Brothers Circus, my dad was shot from a canon and …” and the reader is immediately pulled into the poem. In fine oral tradition, the narrator recalls the story of the narrator’s life as set out by the narrator’s mother. How the baby, the narrator, is accepted by the family of primates and ultimately is accepted into the circus as family through a time-honored ritual. It is intriguing that only name we learn in this story is that of the eldest primate, Bruni. It adds weight to the telling and is an excellent plot device. I very much enjoyed the author’s use of repetition and rhythm. A prose poem has no line breaks so it must cultivate a keen poetic quality. It is hard to pull off but I found myself reading and re-reading this inventive narrative poem.


THIRD PLACE: “I am Icarus” —  Don Kunz

A meticulously crafted epic tale with an amazing last line. Theatrical.




1st Honorable Mention:  “The Story of Lopsided Bob” —  Barbara Blanks

A ballad of hilarious proportions and possibly the funniest thing I have read in some time.


2nd Honorable Mention: “Hard Way Home”  — Charlotte Abernathy

Like a leaf in the wind this didactic poem is filled with exquisite details intertwined with a sense of longing. A very fine poem.









FIRST PLACE: “Labor Day—  Michael Hanner (Eugene)


SECOND PLACE:  “Between Heaven and Earth” — Carol Brockfield (Medford)


THIRD PLACE:  “The Forager “—  Stella Jeng Guillory (Vancouver, Washington)





1ST: “Foreclosed” — John McPherson (Portland)


2ND: “Waxing”  — Rosemary Douglas Lombard (Hillsboro)


3RD: “Eggshells”  — Dargan Ware (Moody, Alabama)


Judge’s Comments:


Without given forms, these poets haven’t relied on Frost’s tennis net to move from structured game to danger. Instead, they’ve sought, and generously shared with us, forms found within, not applied over, deeply personal material which, to paraphrase Robert Lowell, “…freelances out along the razor’s edge.” I felt honored to read and assess their work.


  • Death, resignation, and a “making ready” acceptance thread through “Labor Day.” As I read it, I thought of Hugo’s “Degrees of Gray in Phillipsburg,” and Ammons’s “In View of the Fact.”


  • “Between Heaven and Earth” turns from frail mortal specifics to imagination, which may be relief and solace after hospital visits, but more likely preludes loss in the “darkening night.”


  • “The Forager” voice transforms collected specifics to resonant symbols, become mysterious sustenance: food for thought and feeling, yet perhaps dangerous in these changes—disappearing and lost as the ghost crab.


  • Humor, fear, and pathos coalesce in the thrown egg, dead grass rug, and “front door” confusions of “Foreclosed,” but the manners and caring mores of the giver might as easily elicit attack by the homeless persons housed briefly in this poem. As implied, delusion in tirade often perceives threat which isn’t. Cornered, the terrified may attack, not just move on.


  • The stymied despair and rage this reader lives in “Eggshells” depict a stasis which cannot hold. One hopes for, but doesn’t expect, a happy ending.


  • The sudden poetic turn from play and game in “Waxing” spins us to inexplicable loss. One should have known, the voice implies, yet how could one know, except post hoc, that playful choices and carnival fears may prefigure tragedy?









FIRST PLACE: “Highway 95” — Michael Hanner (Eugene)


SECOND PLACE: “Motorcycle Ride” — Jay Schroder (Medford)


THIRD PLACE: “It’s a Beautiful Bridge” — Cynthia Jacobi (Newport)




1ST:  “Beach Run”  — Sue Lick (South Beach)


2ND: “Lost but Found” — Michelle Williams (Portland)


3RD: “First Flight Out of Redmond” Kathryn Bold (Powell Butte)


Judge’s Comments:


Poems that arise from a certain place, or a region, can be challenging to cobble together.  As I read aloud the poems I had to review, I looked for work that had a strong seminal first line. With this thought in mind I looked for work that fulfilled the expectations established in the poem’s opening statement. I looked at how the poet organized the disparate elements and for how risks, if any, were handled, or fulfilled by the structure and nuanced flow of the poem’s parts and emotional undercurrent. I read with playfulness and an economy of language in mind. At the same time, it was critical to simply experience the poems on their own terms.


“Highway 95” is a quiet poem that slowly hints at the idea of loss and longing. The poet does a skillful job of using indirection to set up a surprise. The poem has my attention from the first line and continues to build tension in a nuanced way as its list of outwardly unrelated details unravel to reveal the surprise in the last three lines, “Only another hundred miles,/ not too far to go to see/ if she still feels the same about you.”


“Motorcycle Ride” seems to recount a day in which something “big” has taken place.  The opening stanza suggests the speaker in the poem has awoken to find himself or herself in a hospital bed, “Sometimes dark things arrive/ to mug you of your health,/ leave you weeping in a hospital gown.”  The following three stanzas detail events that may, or may not, have happened prior to the accident. There are memorable lines such as the first three from the third stanza, “As if God has scrubbed my eyes,/ I can see an extra twenty miles./ The Willamette River shivers as if struck.” which draw me into the deep waters of the poem. The subtext in many of these lines brings to mind a saying I first heard while an undergraduate, “Experience precedes essence.”


“It’s a beautiful bridge” is almost deceptively quiet as the speaker in the poem recounts the seemingly flat facts that come before an unthinkable act. The poem’s title is intentionally misleading. Each stanza has rich lines that build suspense and steadily hint at the darkness to come. Apart from two commas and a hyphen, the otherwise absence of punctuation lends believability to the playful yet dark final stanza. The understated energy in this poem resonates and tugs me back into its unspoken secrets.


I enjoyed spending time with each of these fine poems. Selecting the honorable mentions from a group of seven or eight skillfully constructed poems was a difficult but worthwhile task. I read all the submissions with interest and found something to appreciate and admire in many of them.








FIRST PLACE: “Hunger”  —  Michelle Delaine Williams (Portland)


SECOND PLACE: “can’t ” —  Leonie Mikele Fogle (Seattle, Washington)


THIRD PLACE:  “Pennies from Heaven”  —  Dennis Gerl (Eugene)




1ST —  “Vanishing Point” — Sherry Wellborn (Eugene)


2ND  — “Loose Fever”— Shasta Meehan (Eugene)


3RD  — “At Lewis River Horse Camp” —  Bruce Parker (Portland)


Judge’s comments:


First Place “Hunger” satisfies on several levels. In 12 lines, the poet sets a vivid “backyard,” scene with a “slide under the mimosa/all frondy and pink,” and unique characterization of family members such as “. . .  om/smoking on the porch lost in gray thought,/ . . .torn between giving/up and her new motorcycle insurance man.” There is a wistfulness embedded here which is never overdone. The last line lifts the poem and speaker with assured counterpoint to the title. I admire the layering of complexity and the poem’s consistent tone. There’s an opportunity to choose other words for at least one of the “blossoms” in the poem, but overall, I find the work concise and evocative, with good sounds.


Second Place “can’t” held my attention through multiple readings for the poet’s going beyond rant or litany of the implacable. The poem’s unusual images and phrasing: “finger-printed dawn” “curtains/coming down in spite.” or “flapping to a pall, their pallid moonlight” and this, “Let my children curl in the grotto of my spine”.  Who wouldn’t want to steal that last line?  The repetition of “curtains” in this poem is successfully ghazal-like because each surrounding phrase offers nuance beyond the literal.  The speaker’s call for clarity in the last line sends this reader to a wish for the ability to navigate with thoughtfulness this ever-complicated world.


Third Place “Pennies from Heaven” stood out for the surprise of its fresh, provocative subject after I’d admittedly made too quick an assumption based on the title. I admired the cut and slice of the narrative, choice of 5-line stanzas, the poet’s take on class, government, and political (in)correctness (especially in the divisive climate of the 2016 elections!).  The final stanza worked both as coda and chilling advisory. There are some great sounds here, too, amid the stingings.


The New Poets category welcomed 29 poems with such subjects as nature, body image, birth, dying elders or the stillborn, politics, mental illness, childhood, and cats. Overall, the poems had energy, distinctive voice and

tone. Most successful were poems that were dynamic in their word choices, in their attention to sound and line breaks, and offered something new even if working with an “old” subject.  A warm welcome to all the poets in this category.




With many thanks to contest judges for all your care and devotion to this project.


Joan Dobbie

Fall 2016 OPA contest chair

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