Oregon Poetry Association
Spring 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 – John Sibley Williams, Judge
1st Place: “Dear Any Soldier” by Tess Thiringer, Oceanside, California
2nd Place: “After Jack-in-the-Pulpit No. IV, Georgia O’Keefe” by Michelle Morouse, Macomb, Michigan
3rd Place: “Light on Fire” by Claudia Savage, Portland
“Matins for the Poet” by Maggie Blake, Atlanta, Georgia
“My Sister’s Hen” by Joan Dobbie, Eugene
“Field” by Gigi Cooper, Portland
So many of the submitted poems stirred me to contemplate, to feel, to make connections to what seemed disparate. As we all expect beauty, fluidity, authorial voice, and attentive structure from poetry, I tasked myself to seek something more: ambition. What larger questions are being asked, and how subtle are they? Does a piece rise above the level of anecdote and speak to the universal in us? Does it employ language that is crisp, confident, and unique but also organic to the subject matter? Does the poem in some way break me yet in breaking mysteriously leave me more whole?
Of the winning poem, “Dear Any Soldier”, the accessible language and imagery betrayed one of the more difficult human concepts: empathy. How not to judge and make “other” something you don’t understand? How to write to a stranger, an “anyone”, with all the intimacy of family? Small matters of birth and timing/Separate us. Perhaps the pivotal moment of the poem, these lines draw a long, structurally sound bridge across the only river that has ever really divided us. “Whatever race, religion, nationality, political affiliation, you are so very close to being me,” implies the poem, “and because I could have as easily been you, there is inherently a lack of judgment between us.” In many ways, I found “Dear Any Soldier” a Whitmanesque plea to embrace that forgotten unity.
Of the ekphrastic “After Jack-in-the-Pulpit No. IV, Georgia O’Keefe”, I was moved by the abstract qualities of the poet’s conversation with Ms. O’Keefe’s work. Instead of providing us with gratuitous description or personal anecdote, the poet created a mood, jointly based in high concept and surreal natural imagery, that sweeps us over some brave new threshold.
“Light on Fire” is simply an explosion of elements. Over five confidently fragile sections, all loosely based around color, we are presented with powerful imagery, brave exposition, intimate encounters, and big questions that never cease to awe.
— John Sibley Williams
Free Verse – Annie Lighthart, Judge
1st Place “Out West” by Lisa Baldwin, Grants Pass
2nd Place: “A Stone in Her Mouth” by Jerri Elliott Otto, Corvallis
3rd Place: “Schrödinger’s Mother” by Andrine de la Rocha, Portland
“Iridescence” by Pepper Trail, Ashland
“One Month Since” by Carolyn Martin, Clackamas
“Early Lessons” by Donna Hein, Eugene
It feels very fitting to have read the entries for this contest while spring began here in Oregon. I read the poems many times — sometimes in heavy rain, sometimes in sun — and each time was aware that these one hundred plus poems were bringing in new life and new light.
Edward Hirsh says that poems “breathe deeper meaning into our lives,” that they are a way “of honoring our solitudes, of recognizing our interdependencies.” Reading these poems, I couldn’t agree more. Here are many voices speaking out of many different kinds of solitude, each one connecting us, bringing words and meaning to the world in a new way. Each of these poems breathes with the words of its poet, and it has been difficult to choose between their images, thoughts, and emotions. To the poems and poets published here, I send thanks and congratulations: I’m honored to have read your work and look forward to more. To the poems and poets who wait behind these pages, I send thanks and congratulations too: you have a reader here who is very glad you are writing, and grateful that you and your work have brought a hopeful spring.
— Annie Lighthart
Members Only – Donald Dunbar, Judge
1st Place “Leaving Bones Upon the Sand” by Andy Durrenberger, Hillsboro
2nd Place “My Birth” by Joan Dobbie, Eugene
3rd Place “No ordinary” by Liz Robinson, Phoenix
“The Fish in the Field” by Toni Hanner, Eugene
“Her Name Was Jane” by Penny Hetherington, Portland
“Happy Hour” by Claudia Lapp, Eugene
Leaving Bones Upon the Sand – Though I read at least a dozen worthy poems, no other poem was able to create such a visceral presence in my mind as the beacon house in this poem. I love how its task is dispelling a mystery first in the reader, and then in the fish, and then how it points past us to a greater mystery. A beautiful thought to a beautiful image.
My Birth – The confusion and practicality of the end of life–the repetition of memory, the slow walk into oblivion–abruptly turns into shouting, and abruptly turns into silence. I found myself rereading this for its emotional movement and heft.
No Ordinary – This poem–a discombobulating dance through a domestic scene–very quietly sets up traditional expectations, and then pulls one along through it at such a cadence that the footprints at the end of the poem seem our own.
— Donald Dunbar
Weather – Scot Siegel, Judge
1st Place: “Snow on Western Hemlock Forest” by Penny Hetherington, Redmond
2nd Place: “I Do Love a Summer Storm” by Charlotte Abernathy, Ashland
3rd Place: “Autumn Rain” by Susan Bucharest, Portland
“Dire Warnings” by Margaret Chula, Portland
“Rain, Croatia, September 30, 2013” by Toni Hanner, Eugene
“Funny the Difference a Small Thing Can Make” by Carol Ann Lantz, Corvallis
The top three selections all have strong imagery and creatively use metaphor and other poetic devices to invoke the weather. The poems are accessible, enjoyable to read, and memorable.
First Place: “Snow on Western Hemlock Forest” is a short, sensual, imagistic poem that is less about snow and trees than close observation of subtle movement. It uses the metaphor of ballet to convey the shifting moods of winter weather. The poet succeeds in transforming the trees into dancers, subtly rendering three believable scenes in just nine brief lines. In short, this first-place poem embodies Wallace Stevens’ insistence in “The Snowman” that: One must have a mind of winter.
Second Place: “I Do Love a Summer Storm” is a narrative poem that uses form and internal rhyme to give it life. The speaker, both literally and figuratively, becomes a vessel for the weather as it rapidly changes from summer heat to cold rain and chases her into the house. Once inside, the storm is cleverly sequestered in a cup of tea, then in the eyes of a cat.
Third Place: In “Autumn Rain” we glimpse through a gap in a fence a horse in the rain and recall the memory of someone dear. Though written in the first person, the poem is not overly sentimental; it does not personalize the memory or reveal too much. The fence with missing slats, the rain shower, and the steam all work together to remind us of the uncertain and fleeting nature of memory.
I’d like to acknowledge the following poems receiving honorable mention: “Dire Warnings”, for its intriguing characters and convincing dialogue; “Rain, Croatia, September 30, 2013”, for its geographic diversity and historic range; and “Funny the Difference a Small Thing Can Make”, for its fine metrical work and entertaining end-rhymes.
— Scot Siegel
Experimental Poetry – Ger Killeen, Judge
1st Place: “Embracive Night” by Jerri Elliott Otto, Corvallis
2nd Place: “From the Greek penía (poverty, need)” by Alida Rol, Portland
3rd Place: “Still-Life, Falling” by Jonathan Travelstead, Murphysboro, Illinois
“Who and the fragile” by Liz Robinson, Phoenix
“Linda Lovelace’s Contact Lenses” by Joy McDowell, Springfield
“Five Tones of Black” by Margaret Chula, Portland
There is a sense in which all good poems are experimental, where our reading of them impresses us with the poet’s effort to think and feel her way into meaning, however provisional and elusive that meaning may be. A good experimental poem, I think, has a special alertness to the conditions, context and materiality of its own creation: it has an appreciation of both the possibilities and limits of poetic conventions, it implicitly interacts with and questions discursive traditions, and has an enlivening scrupulousness, even suspicion, with regards to the expressive potential of its language, its textual presence. Personally, as a reader, a good experimental poem walks an uncanny line between being an event and being a text, works as a trouble-maker in disturbing the neat categories I often bring to the reading of a poem. The poems I chose as winners were those that best slaked my thirst for such heady liquor.
- ‘Embracive Night’
In this lovely prose poem, the one long meandering sentence encased in a stolid typographical column makes the reader an active accomplice to its meditation on time, place, perception and representation. It impresses me how from the beginning the language works to undo the Romantic associations of moonlight, and sets the reader on the path of what I can only call, paradoxically, an enchanting disenchantment. The poet does a marvelous job of unspooling “the whole broken story we’ll never know the all of” in terms of the unending recurrence of the moon’s changes, enacting in the text the constancy of inconstancy, the interpenetration of whole and part, while acknowledging and critiquing our desperate cultural representations of these. A very accomplished poem.
- ‘From the Greek penía (poverty, need)’
What I really like in this poem is its vigorous defense of language and meaning rooted in an authentic, difficult relationship with the past. I think it was very brave of the poet to question the facile experimentalism of some kinds of contemporary poetry while enacting her/his critique in a poem that is quite disjunctive in places and has plenty of linguistic wildness. This is a bracing and thought-provoking piece of writing.
- ‘Still-Life, Falling’
This poem impresses me with its wonderful balance between control and novelty: it catches perfectly a sudden instant of freefall and inscribes it into the diction, syntax, and typography of the poem. Plain descriptive language abuts rich metaphor at exactly the right moment; the lines break out to a new typographic dimension before returning to how they were; the syntax becomes less standard at the end where everything is changed and the same. A lovely poem.
Limerick – David Hedges, Judge
1st Place: “Beauty Contest” by Liz Robinson, Phoenix
2nd Place: “Fat Floats” by Kate Marsh, Burns
3rd Place: “Every Time” by Catherine McGuire, Sweet Home
“A woman vacationing in Venice” by Andrine de la Rocha, Portland
“Student Musician” by Janet (Jan) Mittelstaedt, Portland
“Grandpa’s Got It Figured Out” by Marilyn Stacy, Dallas, Texas
I once gave my late friend Wallace Sawyer a book entitled 1001 Limericks and asked him for an assessment. His response? “There were one or two good ones in there.” Wally was a master of the form, and I learned everything I know about the limerick from him — that is, everything beyond the five basic requirements:
1) Five lines of humorous verse. 2) Rhyme scheme AABBA. 3) First, second, and fifth lines must have three metric feet. 4) Third and fourth lines must have two metric feet. 5) It must scan perfectly.
Perfect scansion means strict adherence to anapestic trimeter — nice, of course, but not necessary. In my humble opinion, content wins out over style every time, if there’s a toss-up between the two, as this limerick, author unknown, instructs:
The limerick packs laughs anatomical
Into space that is quite economical;
The good ones I’ve seen
Are seldom so clean,
Whilst the clean ones are seldom so comical.
As Don Marquis wrote, “There are three kinds of limericks: Those suitable for recount in the presence of ladies, those utterable in the absence of ladies but the presence of clergy, and limericks.”
The latter was Wally’s type — and is mine, though both of us put wit before overt smut. Word play can add zest to an otherwise inoffensive limerick. Euphemisms. Puns. Double entendres. Even typographical symbols, as you’ll discover in a minute.
After my first cursory reading of the entries, I went back and eliminated the five-line poems that weren’t limericks, including those that stumbled over too many, or too few, metrical feet.
Traditionally, limericks are untitled, but since most of the entries were titled, I ignored that particular tradition. In one case, the title was integral to the reader’s understanding of the poem, making it a six-line limerick. Gone. And I ditched several that made no sense; nonsense is acceptable only if it’s literate.
This left me with 17 poems to pal around with in the pool, until that point where I found my six finalists and I were swimming synchronistically. I relate to the top three winners on a first-line basis:
1st Place: “There once was a gal with grand tetons” — Anatomical and comical, with monumental word play. Well done!
2nd Place: “A lady in the Tenakee Baths” — Again, anatomical and comical, leaning heavily on its punch line.
3rd Place: “It’s all in that new CD disc” — Neither anatomical nor comical, but amusing, not only for the universal truth it reveals, but also for the clever way it does so.
The three honorable mentions all have their virtues, which is to say, their vices. The first turns an STD into an infallible weapon. The second drops a rustic pun, a genuine eye-rolling groaner, on the unsuspecting reader. The third dons a cold-hearted gold digger’s in-your-face attitude.
— David Hedges