Oregon Poetry Association – Spring 2015 Contest Winners

Oregon Poetry Association
Spring 2015 Contest Winners 

OPA congratulates all the winners below, and thanks them
and all the poets who entered for sharing their work.


1) Poet’s Choice. Judge: Maxine Scates

1st Place: “Provenance” by Karen McPherson, Eugene
2nd Place: “Plea for Understanding” by Helen Sina, Lihue, Hawaii
3rd Place: “Degeneration” by Meagan Johanson, Corvallis

Honorable mentions:

“All of Us” by Angela Allen, Portland
“Boy on a Skateboard” by Michael Coolen, Corvallis
“The Silence of Kansas” by Michael Hanner, Eugene

I think long poems are hard to write so my primary criteria in judging these poems was how well each of these poets held the elements of the poem together. Since long poems are often narratives, as these were, the poet must move the narrative forward while also maintaining a nuanced imagistic thread throughout, a kind of echoing that lets you both remember where you’ve been but which also satisfyingly foreshadows where you’ve arrived by the poem’s end–even if it’s surprising. Thus, my criteria here was how well these poems did just that, while, of course, embodying the poem’s emotional content.

“Provenance,” the first place poem, is a meditation on a photograph of a painting, that image in and of itself, a fairly distanced representation, but what the poet does is evoke the history of the speaker’s relationship to the painting until by poem’s end, the distance closed, this exploration of image and memory has fully transformed the painting from photograph into self– “where each saw/ what the other saw/ and how it holds us there.” The second place poem, “Plea For Understanding,” is also a poem of memory, this time of landscape, the almost Eden of the speaker’s childhood foregrounding the present of logged forests turned to fields and worse, a rural dumping ground, all of which is rendered in compelling and vivid imagery. “Degeneration,” the third place poem, traces the speaker’s relation to his or her father from childhood to adulthood. Here, the dominant, and very evocative metaphor of pears, how they look, smell and taste, guides the reader throughout while embodying the poem’s emotional flow.

I found much to be moved by in all of these poems, the Honorable Mentions and also the many other fine poems that were entrants–it was a pleasure to read them.

–Maxine Scates

2) Members Only. Judge: Ingrid Wendt

1st Place: “Just Add Water” by Ann Farley, Beaverton
2nd Place: “Frida” by Kathleen Dunn, Ashland
3rd Place: “Partly an Affront” by Carolyn Martin, Clackamas

Honorable mentions:

“Finding Assurance” by Leah Stenson, Portland
“Koi Dreaming” by Helen Sina, Lihue, Hawaii
“Uninvited” by Judith Edelstein, Corvallis

I always greet requests to judge with a mix of happy expectation and dread—expecting I’ll find things to respect in each and every poem, be it a philosophical stance, an allegiance to beauty or to one small moment of wonder; be it words that radiate generosity and human kindness; be it a skilled and playful use of craft. And this task will also make me sad: I’ll have to say “no” to so many poems which will come within a hair’s breadth of winning: poems on subjects that matter.

And so it was here. I read each entry twice, at least, loving the heart that went into each one, saddened that small things kept many worthy poems from turning into winning ones. Some poems tried a little too hard to be sure we’d “get it.” Some poems had one or two lines not as clear as they might have been. Sometimes cleverness stole the show at the expense of meaning. In such short poems as those in this category, one false move, just one cliché, can be the Achilles heel that brings a fine poem down.

Yet what pleasure to find these six small, lovely gems shining bright, in their finely-tuned balance of content and craft. I delight in the various levels on which “Just Add Water” succeeds: the contrast between the first and last lines, the musical language backing up the central image, the steady movement towards hope. In “Frida,” the poet’s plea for strength is beautifully countered by the poem’s sureness of voice and effective use of line. And in “Partly and Affront” the rocking rhythms echo the push-pull of the poet’s internal response to an early Spring.

Many thanks, all of you entrants, for an afternoon of pleasure and for the privilege of reading your work.

–Ingrid Wendt

3) Dueling Judges. Judge: Kate Gray

1st Place: “War Makes Cannibals of Us All” by Betsy Tighe, Portland
2nd Place: “Reconstruction” by Graham Murtaugh, Portland
3rd Place: “Familia” by Dan Kaufman, Central Point

Honorable mentions:

“Didi Does Vegas” by Sandra Rokoff-Lizut, Corvallis
“Tang” by Suzanne Burns, Bend
“Letter” by Eileen Kennedy, Amherst, Massachusetts

The attention to language in the submissions for this category was sharp. Most of the poems really attended to compression and sound, and made reading these poems delicious. The subjects varied considerably as revealed in the winners. What distinguished the top three winners was their unique perspective, their powers of observation, their way of seeing what most of us might miss. In particular, the first poem reveals a power we hope never to know, a choice we never want to make and an action we could never shake. It reveals a terrible truth about war. The other winners took body parts and acts of generosity and gave them new life. All these poems did what good poems do: offered the readers a lens to see new things with very clear focus. It was a privilege to read them.

–Kate Gray


Dueling Judges. Judge: Jennifer Richter

1st Place: “Tang” by Suzanne Burns, Bend
2nd Place: “Grief Is a Primitive Art” by John Sibley Williams, Milwaukee
3rd Place: “The Haiku Form” by Maureen Addington, Portland

Honorable mentions:

“A Reconciliation” by Tammy Robacker, Philomath
“Pulling the Rope” by Nancy Flynn, Portland
“Out of the Woods” by Rachel Barton, Corvallis

General comments:

It was truly a pleasure spending time with all these beautiful poems. Every one of the submissions I read—every one of these strong, evocative, diverse voices—made me feel proud to be a poet in Oregon.

1st, “Tang”:

This poem immediately rose to the top of the stack. From the first lines—“Maybe I paint my nails the color of Tang/to bring out the astronaut in you?”—this smart, sweet love poem surprised and delighted me. I really admire the poem’s swift, deft movement—how it covers miles of back roads, neighborhood blocks, war zones, decades, and galaxies to land finally, solidly, in the “you” at home.

2nd, “Grief Is a Primitive Act”:

Dear poet, you had me at the title—in my mind it remains its own little stand-alone poem. But of course there’s plenty more to admire here—wise lines like “Should the light source/be celestial/or inherent to our hands?” This powerful poem has found new words for our shared experience of grief, reminding us that, in the grieving process, there are often more questions than answers.

3rd, “The Haiku Form”:

Bravo! Dynamite
three-line ars poetic.
Wish I’d written it.

–Jennifer Richter


4) Traditional Form. Judge: Ruth Harrison

1st Place: “Yellow Moon” by Michael Hanner, Eugene
2nd Place: “Puck Unrequited” by Kelly McDowell, Waldport
3rd Place: “Year of the Swine” by Marjorie Power, Corvallis

Honorable mentions:

“Dimensional Dementia” by Jean Adams, Winston
“When Summer Rises” by Donna Hein, Eugene
“Safe Distance from the Flame” by Shawn Aveningo, Beaverton

Kudos to every poet who tackled this challenging and somehow off-putting form. It’s a form calling for courage, syllable-counting patience, and persistence, along with inspiration, to make it happen successfully. Everyone who attempted it is solidly grounded in her craft, and honors his medium.

#1 earned that spot with masterly use of language, fine imagery, telling details, paying unobtrusive heed to all the rules, and finally, dealing with the identifier-couplet in an unusual way.

#2 offers excellent sensory appeal as well as colorful images, to satisfy the old form in new ways.

#3 offers an engaging back-story and a pleasing stretch of the language to create a strong poem.

All three honorable mentions push the boundaries of the form to fulfill its potential, and present lively, memorable details and phrases: sinking ship, “when summer rises,” and the unforgettable charred broom.

–Ruth Harrison


5) New Poets. Judge: Amy MacLennan

1st Place: “Shuffling Through Leaves” by Eric Le Fatte, Lake Oswego
2nd Place: untitled by Andrew Smith, Portland
3rd Place: “How the Seasons Change” by Jennifer Dorner, Portland

Honorable mentions:

“In F Major” by Sherry Wellborn, Eugene
“Garden” by Sara Freeman, Tigard
“Black” by Michelle Cristiani, Portland

1st Place: Shuffling Through Leaves: A wonderfully constructed poem – tight and evocative. So many of the lines are elegant and give the perfect tone of contemplation: “one river bathes one foot once” and “sheds its innocence simply / by running in place.” This is a quiet piece, and the line breaks are artful. The move from observation to the involvement of the speaker in the poem works very well with “We took an evening stroll anyway,” and I felt pulled in to the speaker’s musings effortlessly.

2nd Place: untitled / first line: “angels fall down without warning”: The unexpected images and exceptionally strong voice make this poem. I was taken in immediately by the first line: “angels fall down without warning.” With specific, unusual imagery, the poet builds a sense of urgency for the reader. The lack of capitalization and precious little punctuation (just some eclipses) gives the sense of a headlong run through each stanza. The final two lines snap this poem shut.

3rd Place: How the Seasons Change: A beautifully contemplative piece. With a single stanza comprised of six long sentences, it’s a meditation on seasonal transition and the effect on the speaker’s psyche. Striking metaphors and similes fill this poem: “Like an overhead mirror we live under / until it cracks, I can’t see what we’re leaving” and “a sudden / shade pulled down fading the light” capture the essence of transformation.

1st Honorable Mention: In F Major. This poem is a fantastic mix of sadness and beauty.
2nd Honorable Mention: Garden. Gorgeous imagery in this poem.
3rd Honorable Mention: Black. A wonderfully tender work with a lovely last line.

It was a pleasure to judge this contest, but also difficult to winnow the pool down to the winning poems. I appreciated the craft exhibited in so many of the entries, and the passion in writing was evident.

–Amy MacLennan


6) Themed: Endings. Judge: Cindy Williams Gutierrez

1st Place: “Eating at the Small Table of Graces” by Graham Murtaugh, Portland
2nd Place: “Seamless” by Keli Osborn, Eugene
3rd Place: “Hard Frost” by Suzanne Burns, Bend

Honorable mentions:

“Day one as a volunteer in a memory care center” by Carolyn Martin, Clackamas
“Denouement” by John Sibley Williams, Milwaukee
“Sixteen Chickens, Three Boxes” by Jenny Kerr, Corvallis

There were 58 entries to the 2015 OPA Themed Poetry Contest. I looked for imagination in adherence to the theme, as well as skillful craftsmanship. I read the poems once, one after the other, and created a pile of poems that I wanted to reread. In doing so, poems immediately stood out for the way the poet used language and structure to create an experience for the reader. The three poems that initially attracted my attention were the same three that I returned to during subsequent readings.

“Eating at the Small Table of Graces”

Again, I am drawn in by the title—this time by its beauty and humility. Along with the poem’s economy, I admire the use of metaphor and simile: “…The kitchen is slabs/ of light.” and “…Weather has turned/ around a wooden post like wire barbed/…” The poem is cinematic: I can see and feel what happens as each line deftly unfolds. Following “…This all will freeze…,” flowing sentences freeze into the solidity of terse fragments: “A frozen sky in the street./…/ …A robin on the doorstep.” Imaginatively, the poem arrives at the rebirth pangs of “…The world waiting/ for the right moment to shatter and groan.”


This poem creates a constant, low-fevered dissonance: “She wears men’s slacks to the office/ …/ smears vivid color on her lips/ every evening at home.” Through the skillful use of juxtaposition: “She begins to toggle/ between sturdy shoes and plain pumps,/ button-downs and silky blouses,” the poet arouses our curiosity. By stanza 4, the poet captivates us with this revelation: “(bangs inching downward/ sideburns vanishing/ into a softening face).” And by stanza 6, “Long after she buries/ the tattered Boy Scout manual/ and Army dog tags/…/ she will find herself,” we realize the significance of the title. This poem was one of the most imaginative treatments of the endings theme.

“Hard Frost”

What struck me about this poem is its imagination. In a poem that compares the end of a love relationship to a hard frost, color assumes a memorable presence: “pink forgetting itself, when, not long ago,/ it carried a summer melody better than Sinatra” and “…when you think of me, just once in the snow,/ my body will be the red of summer.” I appreciate the allusion to Rapunzel and the striking use of metaphor: “…my hair/ no longer hair but the rope in stories men long to climb” as well as the poet’s audacity to use the imperative: “Go ahead, take cuts to the front of the line.” Ultimately, the poet has dug beneath the triteness of lost love to find a lost language: “This winter we will neglect words like touch, stroke, contemplate” and then finally the glimmer of a new idiom: “Someday your tongue/ will again long to taste. Then we will speak in words/ like shoulder, glisten, appetite.”

— Cindy Williams Gutierrez


7) Experimental Poetry. Judge: Laura Winter

1st Place: “Insanity” by Michelle Cristiani, Portland
2nd Place: “April Showers Bring May Flowers” by David Hedges, West Linn
3rd Place: “The P air of Us” by Coco Owen, Encino, California

Honorable mentions:

“Demarcation” by Irene Cooper, Bend
“I Am Standing in the Fog When You Accidentally Call” by Suzanne Burns, Bend
“Painting the Canyon” by Michael Selker, Portland

There is a lot of good material written on the progression of experimental poetry and I chose to look at the use of form, visualization of text, and play or disruption of language. Few entries fit this lens, but the three chosen to place all excited me as a reader and performer. In experimental poetry, the ideal result is a finely tuned use of language that exhibits innovation. The innovation may be realized through form, voice, visual arrangements and abstractions through performance. I looked for a surety of the use of experiment as well as a solid poem.

Three poems jumped out at me as I was reading the entries. Insanity. This construction immediately captures the imagination because of colliding shapes and color. Each shape contains words and connects to one or more cells. The cellular structure can be read in a variety of combinations of juxtaposing interactions. The situational choices are an interesting catalogue of places where rather competitive and tense human drama may play out. The lines of text above and below the shapes force control and build a visual wall to prevent the spinning out of control. The one cell that calls for order is the only cell left unfilled with color. I find this piece provocative. First place

Second place. Visually interesting, this piece introduces the concept of multiple voices as the delivery system for repetitive sound. It is an intriguing performance piece. I wonder how many readers would read each word? I read through this piece out loud and discovered a blip in the cadence – plpp. I wondered if this was intentional? The interruption in the sound was jarring – how do you pronounce or emote that word/sound? I made up my own emotive sound and proceeded to the end of the poem. I liked the interaction and would like to hear this performed with all 5 voices.

Third place. I like the possibility of language with this poem. There are multiple meanings through the visual construct of divided words. I enjoyed reading the poem out loud and heard it best when I brought my own enunciation of the many sounds offered through the split of words.

The three runner-ups:

Demarcation: I selected this poem because of the use of form to create a cadence that is interruptive to the poem. I would recommend some fine-tuning around what you what from the concept of “demarcation”. I have a second poem jumping out of the concision of reading the lines that hang out in space.

The above 4 poems represent those that I thought best realized the experimental category. Two additional runner-ups were chosen because they are simply very well written poems. They are not experimental.

Thank you,

–Laura Winter

1 thought on “Oregon Poetry Association – Spring 2015 Contest Winners”

  1. I would very much like to read Kelly McDowell’s poem but cannot find it on your website. Can you please forward his Traditional Form, 2nd place, 2015 spring entry:

    Traditional Form. Judge: Ruth Harrison

    2nd Place: “Puck Unrequited” by Kelly McDowell, Waldport

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