Oregon Poetry Association
Fall 2014 Contest Winners
OPA congratulates all the winners below, and thanks them
and all the poets who entered for sharing their work.
Poet’s Choice. Judge: Sam Roderick Roxas-Chua
1st place: “Very Old Man With Enormous Wings” by Sandra Rokoff-Lizut, Corvallis
2nd place: “Over Breakfast and the News I Wonder” by Hannah Thomassen, Cottage Grove
3rd place: “Whom Shall We Blame” by Susan Clayton-Goldner, Grants Pass
“Break Out” by Penny Hetherington, Redmond
“…yet Donatello’s Magdalene” by Ruth F. Harrison, Waldport
“The Garden of Dogs” by Pepper Trail, Ashland
The selected poems for the Fall 2014 Poet’s Choice category have been read aloud to the ocean, to a ten-year old, and to a November fawn. Now I offer them to you dear reader in hopes that you continue to read them aloud. Tear the pages off this book, make copies, share them with a minnow, the small of someone’s back, an ear, a river.
Dear “Very Old Man With Enormous Wings”: Thank you for reminding me about the small fibrous wings in paper, thank you for giving them your memory of Gabriel, your words anchor me. When I was a young boy, I was forbidden to speak directly to the color black—I was forbidden to draw her many hues on paper, or color her sky. I couldn’t touch charcoal, squid ink, or midnight rain. Your poem has shaken a mountain.
Dear “Over Breakfast and the News I Wonder”: I think of your dolphins aligned along a shore. Make them touch our eyelids with their rostrums as we sleep, to remember the marketplace of love. I am lifted by you.
Dear “Whom Shall We Blame”: Sometimes it is through silence that we are able to listen to the loudest of bombs. I think of the impermanence of life and the language we use to prolong or shorten it. Your poem slowed my day down and allowed me to pay attention to the deeper hues of our red, white, and blue. Thank you for your beautiful poem.
Thank you dear poets, your voices were heard.
– Sam Roderick Roxas-Chua
Members Only. Judge: Penelope Scambly Schott
1st place: “The Language Vest” by Sue Parman, Hillsboro
2nd place: “Good Morning” by Pamela Wilson, Corvallis
3rd place: “Spanish Lace” by Linda Ferguson, Portland
“Palindrome for Robin Williams” by Sandra Rokoff-Lizut, Corvallis
“A Mountaineer in Florida” by Dave Harvey, Talent
“Initiation” by Donna Hein, Eugene
I picked “The Language Vest” as first prize winner because its ten lines are as jam-packed with wit as the hypothetical vest is crammed with nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and verbs. The poet puns about those verbs, “…at night/they sneak out and conjugate.” The clever moves make this poem a delight.
“Good Morning” received second prize for its effective retelling of a cute story about a grandchild. What the kid says and does is funny, but what makes the poem effective is how skillfully the poet handles tone, how perfectly the reader is being set up.
“Spanish Lace” receives third prize for its well chosen specific details. We can see “the imprint of my imperfect teeth in a slice of orange cheese.” Of all the childhood images, the silent doll speaks the loudest.
– Penelope Scambly Schott
Dueling Judges. Judge: Andrea Hollander
1st place: “Call It Water, Call It Rain” by Jeanne Morel, Seattle, Washington
2nd Place: “Zoology 401” by Hannah Thomassen, Cottage Grove
3rd Place: “Streamline” by Dan Kaufman, Central Point
“Navigation” by Toni Hanner, Eugene
“Unremarkableness” by Jean Adams, Winston
“Who Can See the Wind” by Jon Sinclair, Portland
My assignment was to choose three winners and three honorable mentions from the sixty-three contest entries, which I read and reread with real interest. One-third—eleven poems—stood out enough to be placed in a group I labeled semi-finalists.
The poems that did not make semi-finalist status failed for a variety of reasons, prevalent among these (1) the diction lacked vitality, (2) the syntax was monotonous, and/or (3) the poem’s journey was predictable.
Of the semi-finalists, I chose eight finalists. The writers of these poems succeeded because, more than anything else, they understand that words are more than their meanings; that language has texture and syntax rhythm; and that the way the poet places a poem on the page (in lines and stanzas) signals how the poem is to be uttered and, thereby, heard. In short, the writers of these poems understand how to deliver a poem the way good music is delivered—memorably.
Finally, I chose the winning poems plus three honorable mentions. These six poems I read at least a dozen more times each (aloud, the way I read all poems throughout the judging process). As far as I’m concerned, they’re all winners.
“Call It Water, Call It Rain”.
This poem explores the notion of vulnerability—human and planetary—through precise detail and a juxtaposition of focus, as well as a balancing between the inner and outer world.
This poem demonstrates beautifully—and in language whose presence is musical as well as meaningful—how a person can be impassioned by knowledge.
This poem by a writer with a fine ear for the sound of language describes a small moment rich with urgency.
– Andrea Hollander
Dueling Judges. Judge: Elyse Fenton
1st place: “Sweeping: Three Scenes” by Sandra (Ellston) Mason, Seal Rock
2nd Place: “Evidence, Occurrence” by Nancy Flynn, Portland
3rd Place: “Navigation” by Toni Hanner, Eugene
“Senõr Moment” by Ruth F. Harrison, Waldport
“Zoology 401” by Hannah Thomassen, Cottage Grove
“Timelines” by Marvin Lurie, Portland
I sat with this sheaf of poems first in a yellow manila envelope, then in a loose fan on my desk, and finally spread across my floor so that I could best witness and gauge each poem’s insistence to be seen, to be heard, to be picked up and held in my hands. I scrambled and shuffled and read and notated, then scrambled and shuffled and read and notated a whole lot more. September turned into October; the Oregon rain held off; the grass held its brown breath; the poems held on and held on.
So many poems not singled out here are noteworthy for the small moments they illumine, the invitations they offer the reader to listen, to watch, to see anew, and equally, for their impulses to disrupt what we think we see.
The winning poem, “Sweeping: Three Scenes” called to me with its meditative quiet, its careful cobble-by-cobble composition, and the way such quiet and care yields to luminous openings: “This is his way to make love,/ centering first like a pot on the wheel/ then clearing a path/ for the day to proceed as it will.”
I admire the second place poem, “Evidence, Occurrence” for its tendency toward disruption and disorder, its willingness to see chaos in beauty and not just the other way around. This poem hurtles its breathless self: “because the branch bearing a body gone fruit shaded the flashbulbs underneath/ because the pulp from inside got looted, bargained, sold.”
“Navigation” offers an ars poetica for the elegy, holding me in the long, falling breath of its final lines: “…When your father died, you tossed// his ashes off the bluff overlooking Puget Sound,/ they drifted over the salmonberry bushes// and wild sweet peas, waiting for the next/ good rain to feed them into the earth.”
– Elyse Fenton
Traditional Form, Litany. Judge: Sandra (Ellston) Mason
1st Place: “Codicil for Grief” by Keli Osborn, Eugene
2nd Place: “Between” by Liz Robinson, Phoenix
3rd Place: “Even Presuming” by Christopher M. Wicks, Silverton
“Fragmentation” by Pepper Trail, Ashland
“An Optimistic Mother” by Lisa Baldwin, Grants Pass
“Growing Up in Small Town USA” by Carol Ann Lantz, Corvallis
“Codicil for Grief” This poem draws us in to a mystery of narrative in its litany of events and their emotional impact on other lives, lives that remain. The speaker chronicles those details, which ultimately construct the telling moments of our lives and their chains of causality. Many of the details are perplexing, surprising–revealing a satisfying poetic logic as connections are discovered through ordering and juxtaposition. The poem is both deeply personal and richly cultural, an attempt to piece together the sense of a family, each line like the beam of the flashlight, a highlight that ultimately fails to illuminate the inscrutable truth of the matter.
“Between” The power of this poem lies in its movement between an archetypal galactic perspective and the inner personal working of mind and spirit. What constitutes a life, where does the self reside, what determines right action? We exist in contexts of moments here and gone, elusively experienced, remembered, reconstructed–the invisible as powerful to our sense of being in time as the rotations of the stars and the grinding of the magma under our feet. What remains is the moment of now between the cycles of creation and destruction.
“Even Presuming” Bearing the element in litany of oral affirmation, this poem moves forward ironically through a series of negations that pinpoint the shortcomings of words for full expression. The speaker “presumes” precise inadequacies in understanding and articulating human joys and mysteries. Yet the prayer ends in bold belief that grace is redemptive and all will be well.
– Sandra (Ellston) Mason
New Poets. Judge: Stephanie Lenox
1st Place: “Fences” by Amy O’Hearn, Cherry Hill, New Jersey
2nd Place: “Vespers” by Richard Cameron, Portland
3rd Place: “Do Sit Down When You Hold the Baby” by Stella Guillory, Washougal, Washington
“Raising the Rafters” by Michele Bombardier, Bainbridge Island, Washington
“Thinking of Lucy” by Donna Hein, Eugene
I feel honored to have had the opportunity to read the submissions for this year’s contest. Judging the “New Poets” category is particularly exciting in that it reminds me that poetry is a renewable resource. As long as there is love and death and “elk scat poised on the snow crust,” there will be poetry. It made me think, though: aren’t we all new at this, or shouldn’t we at least feel that way when we’re writing and reading poetry? Ezra Pound said, “Make it new.” Each poem gives us this second chance, to renew our love of language, to see or hear something new, to gain new insights and fresh eyes on a world that needs more than ever our fullest attention.
With its read-in title, “Fences” invites us to leap with the poet into woods dense with language and memory. Without the usual suspect of the line break to give us pause, this prose poem leads us deeper and deeper into the poem’s “inner sanctum with its towering reeds” where boys have secreted away their father’s stash of pornographic magazines. This poem trespasses all sorts of boundaries and asks us to do the same, following the clandestine trail of language in and out of this secluded place.
“Vespers” opens with a hushed, charged voice guiding the reader through a ritual to welcome evening. When I first read the poem, I was captivated by the language, the recurring O and the rhyming couplets that give a sense of ceremony and weight to this moment. Ultimately it was the instruction to “inhabit the silence between the stars” that won me over. I see this line as the embodiment of the poem’s theme in specific and an articulation of the aims of poetry in general.
“Do Sit Down When You Hold the Baby” made me sit up and pay attention. The voices in this poem draw me into the tight circle of grandmother, mother, and child. I admire the way the speaker describes this relationship in terms that are both magical and mathematical. The aha! moment for me in this poem was the description of a lei made from flowers from a bush “where gold threaded chrysalises of the monarch butterflies hang.” Through the use of details and images, readers are invited into a specific and stunning moment of wonder in the life of a family.
– Stephanie Lenox
Themed: Fences. Judge: David Oates
1st Place: “Fences/for Sam” by Toni Hanner, Eugene
2nd Place: “North Korea” by Joy McDowell, Springfield
3rd Place: “Night View” by Pamela Wilson, Corvallis
“November Ends” by WENDY THOMPSON, Troutdale
“Sestina: to a Split Rail Fence” by Amy O’Hearn, Cherry Hill, New Jersey
“hands (2): hammer” by Ruth F. Harrison, Waldport
I like how this poem offers, within a formal compactness, an unforced reach toward surprising.
Unexpected subject matter, handled with droll dryness, ends up as a neat tale of suppression and transgression — just what a contest about “Fences” ought to be hoping for.
Long lines link on repeating words like fence-posts, interrupted by a less organized stanza/heap of materials. As an evocation of fencing, it is visually compelling in imagery as well as on the page.
– David Oates
Experimental Poetry. Judge: Dan Raphael
1st Place: “The Taste of Blue Light” by Toni Hanner, Eugene
2nd Place: “A Month of Sundays” by Nancy Flynn, Portland
3rd Place: “Friday Morning” by Michael Hanner, Eugene
“An Ethos” by John Sibley Williams, Milwaukie
“Un-doing” by Cynthia Jacobi, Newport
“None But the Customers Mourn You” by Jeanne Morel, Seattle, Washington
The Taste of Blue Light
Cut up pieces of reality, creative details, good ear “his pale blouse blue incognito.” the tug of mother” mixed with “penguins and literature.” A strong core of energy here that the words, as pieces, orbit while also silhouetting like a ‘follow the dots.’
A Month of Sundays
Laid out conventionally but I immediately get interested—“Those July clouds that jewel/ they lie.” The many sharp turns of language, a word that’s unexpected guiding the curve. Soaring and pulling back together at the end.
The quality of writing and imagery overcame my hesitation about the “begin anywhere” format. Changes of perspective and focus, from section to section, still has an Old West feel.
Strong lines, does some circling around itself—let the language cover more territory.
What’s conventionally understood as ‘experimental,’ but more going on than that. Good word choices and a skilled ear.
None But the Customers Mourn You
‘Experimental’ prose poem. Good word choices, terse, evokes the scene,
Don’t like the “experimental” label, which has often be applied to my writing. Isn’t every poem an experiment—we don’t know if it will work. Trying new things, listening to language & letting it loose, writing in a way that taps into the multiple levels in which language operates. The ‘doing different’ has to be imbued throughout the work—a conventional line chopped across the page is a conventional line, conventional language.
– Dan Raphael