Oregon Poetry Association – Fall 2015 Contest Winners

vincePoet’s Choice. Judge: Karen McPherson

1st Place: “The Good Nurse”  by Nancy Carol Moody, Eugene
2nd  Place: “Cryopediology” by Marian Shapiro, Lexington, Massachusetts
3rd Place: “the wonder and terrible” by Liz Robinson, Phoenix

Honorable Mentions:

“Among the Things You deserve” by Emily Ransdell

“Live Music” by Dan Kaufman, Central Point

“Central” by Marjorie Power, Denver, Colorado

I read the eighty submissions in this category with great appreciation and admiration over several weeks of summer and into fall. With each successive read-through of the reshuffled pile, I would notice new details and appreciate different voices, forms, perspectives, and approaches. Many strong and compelling poems floated into the pool of my current favorites and it was not an easy task to choose from among them in order to come up with the three winners and three honorable mentions.

I picked “The Good Nurse” as first-place winner because it kept surprising me. It offers the directness and predictability of a well-told story while holding at bay another story that is raw and painful and not being told. Like the good nurse with her fists “brimming with bandages,” the poem applies itself as unguent and palliative until the very end, when the other story comes whispering through. The shift of perspective (gaze and voice) and the shared hurt in the last three lines bring the two stories powerfully together.

The second-place poem, “ Cryopediology,” takes a very different and structurally innovative approach to telling a story. I particularly appreciate how it vibrates between the familiar and the strange, weaving together and juxtaposing fragmentary and suggestive poetic strands. Months, weather, clothing, a relationship distilled. This poem is rich in its apparent simplicity.

The poem I chose for third place is “the wonder and terrible.” It isn’t easy to write a successful poem about writing poems. I kept coming back to this one because of its urgency and the skillful way in which the poet finds each stanza’s energetic center.

I also chose three Honorable Mentions. “Among the Things You Deserve” (after Dan Albergotti’s poem “Among the Things He Does Not Deserve”) is one of the most startling and effective list poems I have read in a long time. “Live Music” is precisely what its title offers: an excellent example of musical ekphrastic. “Regrets Sent from Central Mexico” had me hooked from the moment I read the first two lines: “Thank you, my dear, for inviting me/ to hone my craft.”

Each of these six very different poems struck a chord with me, bringing recognition, surprise, delight. I thank and congratulate the poets.

Karen McPherson


Members Only. Judge: Paulann Petersen

1st Place: “Nutmeg” by Nancy Carol Moody, Eugene
2nd Place: “That Morning” by Margaret Chula, Portland
3rd Place: “At Twilight” by Linda Appel, West Linn

Honorable Mentions:

“Rules of the Empire” by Jesse Ford, Philomath
“Early Morning with William Stafford” Donna Hein, Eugene
“Drought” Linda Gelbrich, Corvallis

Inordinately fond of short poems, I marvel at how the successful ones can encompass, can accomplish, as much as they do with the few lines and words they use. My first, second, and third place choices each employ 28, 54, and 26 words, respectively. Impressive compression. Each may take up only a small part of a page, but each fills and overspills the page’s edges with resonant images and music. “Nutmeg” swiftly takes us to its essence: “core/ of stone milk. O burl that grinds// to sweet—.” “That Morning” quickly places us in a world where a coyote is “parting the desert air/ into haves and have nots.” “At Twilight” creates a vision that includes the ascending moon, “that silver mirror// climbing the vapor path….” The six poems I chose for recognition offer a spectrum of tones: that of ode, political satire, elegy, and eco-poetics. My choices reflect the notable range present in the submission pool.

— Paulann Petersen


Dueling Judges. Judge: David Biespiel

1st Place: “And There Were Lacewings Everywhere” byNicole Chvatal, Portland

A gem a dream poem on self-reproach. The poem has what all fabulous poems about the Jungian recesses of the mind have, archetypal complexity. To begin a poem with “I don’t have a child” and end it, childless, with “sleep next to me” is a master-stroke.

2nd Place: “False Dawn” by Michael Hanner, Eugene

A wonderful, dense portrait of the “distended” hours of living in a dangerous and difficult time that reminds us of the many ways we move in the world: creeping, walking, oscillating, dancing, ticking, streaking, bumping, and swaggering.

3rd Place: “Food Chain” by Catherine McGuire, Sweet Home

A fierce attack on consumerism and American hurly-burly that renders the “race, race, race” of our noble identities in a new way and a fresh music.

Honorable Mentions:

“Tilt” by Charlotte Abernathy, Ashland

A tour de force of nostalgia where the games of childhood become the conduits to reckoning with mortality.

“Sway” by Linda Kennedy, Mechanicsville, Virginia

The myths of our lives are fabulously catalogued in this poem as a sway of bird song and bard song — as with these killer lines: “…mortarboard and sporran tassels, / a pendulum, a parachute, a spider suspended on its silk…”

“Eleanor Park, Albany, Oregon 1964” by Doug Stone, Albany

A keen narrative about the imagination as metaphor for want — want as in lack, and lack as in desire for thriving in the night and calling it a night.


Dueling Judges. Judge: Wendy Willis

1st Place: “False Dawn”, Michael Hanner, Eugene
2nd Place: “Resurrection”, John Sibley Williams, Milwaukee
3rd Place: “The Virgin Poem” by Joan Dobbie, Eugene

Honorable Mentions

“She Was Convinced the Black Dots on Her Mother’s Skin Were Where the Ants Came From” by Vargus Pike, Beaverton

“Time Flies” by Rosemary Lombard, Hillsboro

“A Way of Seeing” by Carol Lantz, Corvallis

The watchword for the winners is vividness! These three poems popped with detail and quirk and surprise.  It feels as if the writer of “False Dawn” peeled the refined veneer off the streets of Paris and gave us a peek into a wild subculture that tells jokes and dances and rots beneath the surface. The poem teems with memorable lines. Who could forget: “before lifting the skirt, the loud scudding of the clouds?” And “Resurrection”–with its crazy turn at the end–leaves us both unsettled and satisfied in the very best ways. I will also say that I am not typically a fan of ars poetica, but “The Virgin Poem” had me when it compared itself to a pretty two-headed calf. All of the honorable mentions–and indeed all the poets–took themselves and poetry seriously in an era when we are exposed to cynicism and cravenness at every turn.  The poets who entered this contest offered me, as a judge, tremendous hope for the continuing arc of our cherished art. And for that, I am enormously grateful.

— Wendy Willis


Traditional Form, Haibun Judge: Toni Hanner

1st Place: “Raspberries in June” by Tricia Knoll, Portland

The layered landscape is the visceral body cavity of a surgical patient and the outer landscape of “June sun” and the “redbud’s heart-leaves.” The poet’s language in describing the surgery: “scoop,” “speckled-egg ovaries,” “sluiced her gut,” is surprising and strangely beautiful. The turn near the end of the prose, “It’s solstice,” leads back to the ripe raspberries of the title. The haiku give us another image of something torn: “the spider’s web” / “in the sprinkler’s blast.”

2nd Place: “Cannery Row” by Nancy Carol Moody, Eugene

A familiar landscape with excellent sensory details, especially smell. The language is fresh, including rhyme such as “skim/swim,” “scrimshander/clipper,” “wrappings/raspberry/racks.” The haiku at the end connects us back to the shadow in the poem’s first line.

3rd Place: “Known” by Liz Robinson, Phoenix

The poet describes an interior journey with external details. The phrases “exacting edge of shadow” and “wildflowering meadow and the antler clashing field” blew me away. A fierce attention to sensory detail is reflected in the haiku.

Honorable Mentions:

“Train” by Donna Prinzmetal
“Leaves in August” by Samuel Seskin
“Along the Road” by Joy McDowell

I read each of these poems three times. First, to get an overall impression. The second time through, I marked those that stood out for me in any of a number of ways: how well the poem followed the category guidelines, original language, and the relationship of the prose with the haiku. After the second reading, half the poems were marked as stand-outs.

I again read each of the 30 poems, looking for that ineffable quality that spoke directly to my heart or my gut. This third reading left me with nine poems. I moved these nine around like puzzle pieces, finally assigning places to them by combining the category’s guidelines with my personal score.

— Toni Hanner


New Poets. Judge: Brittney Corrigan

1st Place: “Silver Creek” by Sally Blatt, Springfield
2nd Place: “Ahmad Jamal’s Ba’albeck” by Susan Whitney, Eugene
3rd Place: “On the Prairie There Is Wind” by Bill Gholson, Ashland

Honorable mentions:

“Zen Reverie” by Donna Hein, Eugene
“Froggy Flamenco” by Norma Wilson, Vermillion, South Dakota
“Pillow Book” by Cathy Cain, Lake Oswego

I chose the winning poem, “Silver Creek,” for its vivid and sometimes startling imagery (in particular, the phrase “minnowed, alien surfacing below the skin” to describe the veins in the subjects’ feet) and the poet’s ability to capture a moment that is at once intimate and infinite. In “Ahmad Jamal’s Ba’albeck,” I was particularly drawn to the way the language conjured jazz percussion as well as giving the reader a strong sense of place and history. “On the Prairie There is Wind” left me feeling haunted, as if the wind being described stole my breath for its own purposes. “Zen Reverie” is a lovely contemplation that spoke to all of my senses, and “Froggy Flamenco” seemed to me to be its sister poem, with its slow detailing of the frogs’ voices and striking final line. “Pillow Book” does a remarkable job of braiding essential life experience with the shared act of dying as the poet weaves words and phrases together to create an astonishing juxtaposition which I found to be both heartbreaking and brave. I thoroughly enjoyed reading all of the poems, and I feel that the six poets whose work rose to the top show great promise. It was a privilege to read work by new poets who are just beginning to share their voices with the larger world.

— Brittney Corrigan


Themed: Longing. Judge: Frances Payne Adler

1st Place: “arkansas river roads”, John Clark Vincent, Portland
2nd Place: “The Old Farm”, Barbara Blanks, Garland, Texas
3rd Place: “Maybe what I miss the most”, Dan Kaufman, Central Point

Honorable Mentions:

“Some Days Are Like That”, Carol Lantz, Corvallis
“Train Station”, Sallie Ehrman, Ashland

What I was looking for, in these poems about longing, was the imprint of that longing. Which poem, with its unique mix of metaphor, music, language, was able to embody itself? Which poet’s heat of longing had called me inside? Thank you to the winning poets for transporting this reader so skillfully to the interior of multiple forms of longing: for the grit toward a glimpsed future along a river road in Arkansas, for the bruising and beloved brothers on an old prairie farm, for a parent’s smile above a kitchen sink in summer. And thank you to all the poets who entered the contest, for your commitment to and belief in the written word.

— Frances Payne Adler


Experimental Poetry. Judge: Dena Rash Guzman

1st Place: “12 Laments for the Old City” by Susan Whitney, Eugene

A gripping and rhythmic tale of change. Phrases such as

People are angry—the core repertory
People are sad, to borrow a term


Says one, “This wave will only swell”
like so much else

manage to impart a difficult message, which is the subtlety with which chaos and fighting can rise, a stark comparison to chaos itself which isn’t ever subtle – “a parable against subtlety”

This experimental piece uses subtlety applied with blunt force to  illustrate the absurdity of subtlety in the face of reality with a rhythm akin to blood rushing through veins. It made me taste adrenalin.

The language is a tight spill – water loses the shape of knocked-over glass. This poem defies reason to run across the table in a perfectly straight stream.


2nd Place: “On the Playground” by Shirley Plummer, Yachats

This poem uses concise story-telling to matter-of-factly tell the tale of how everyday civil order and disorder can lead to riot; it tells a tale of how rapidly police intervention can escalate to harm those who needed help to begin with. It’s chilling in that the police are called to handle simple playground bullying, something simple peaceful verbal enforcement of rules should have quelled. The power of the piece becomes electrifying when the original victim is further victimized. “no, oh no” lament those who knew and chose not to or were unable to nip the victim’s pain in the bud. This is how innocence is gutted. The interspersing of storytelling with police language builds tension and gives contrast. I won’t soon forget this poem. It told me something I always knew but never gave words.


3rd Place: “Sally: frm. Sarah:princess” by Sally Blatt, Springfield

Names are one of humanity’s ultimate experiments. They take on such meaning when attached to a life. Does the life lived by the person named define the name? Sally isn’t Sarah: Sally is loops and attempts at definition. Sarah just is. Sally fell off of Sarah somehow. The names become vessels seeking a place to land in this poem, a complex meditation on simple meaning.


Honorable mentions: 

“In Crayon” by Sharon Munson, Eugene
“Trill” by Stephen Jones, Corvallis
“Prepping For the Test that Matters” by Keli Osborn, Eugene

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