Read the Winning Poems from OPA’s 30 and Under Category

About the poems from judge Marc Janssen:

When I am reading poetry I am looking for language that surprises and engages. It seems cliché to say it that way. What does that even mean? sometimes poems grab you, they live with you for a while, even if you don’t want them to. After all it is just words, but if put in the right order they sit on paper like bear traps waiting for someone to step on them. All the three of the Under 30 division had that element in them.

Belshazzar draws on two stories. One is the character the poem is named for, Belshazzaar, the Babylonian king who is both tyrant and elevates Daniel to a high office. The second is Tantalus, who was punished by being in a place with food and drink he could not access. There is tension in this poem that invites deep reading.

The twist at the end of Elmer is worth the wait. I enjoyed being led one way then spun around in another direction.

“Tough Cookie” starts pretty rough, but has some real interesting and gripping images before you get to the end. The poem has a stream of consciousness quality I found appealing.


First Prize:  “Belshazzar” – McKayla Gallup

Second Prize: “Elmer” – Christopher Foufos

Third Prize: “TOUGH COOKIE” – Nellie Papsdorf

Honorable Mentions:

First: “This Is Definitely Not A Metaphor” – Brady Pearson

Marc Janssen lives in a house with a wife who likes him and a cat who loathes him. Regardless of that turmoil, his poetry can be found scattered around the world in places like Pinyon, Slant, Cirque Journal, Off the Coast and Poetry Salzburg. His book, November Reconsidered was published by Cirque Press. Janssen also coordinates the Salem Poetry Project, a weekly reading, the annual Salem Poetry Festival, and was a 2020 nominee for Oregon Poet Laureate.


McKayla Gallup, “Belshazzar” – 30 and Under, 1st Place


This is my father’s table but he stands at the foot
Toasts to power and prayer echo off empty bowls
Mix with the incense and steam and then the screams
When my skeleton is scraped from the cauldron
He’ll still call this a curse while he waits for the water to rise
Claws for the apple and tells the gods they always asked for everything
If there is mercy in this myth it is not for Tantalus
I am sacrifice and sacrilege and still simmering

I am not my father but I will sit at his table
Crush the glass with the grapes under my heel
Mull the blood with the wine and let it pool past my teeth
Spill from my tongue to yours until I lose my reflection
Search for it in the shards I cough up into your waiting palms
What warning are words on the wall when they are written under wallpaper
If there is a hand in this haunting it is not holy
We are wicked and weighed and found wanting

I will set my table with salt and silver
Save a place for every soul that seeps through
The cracks and caution tape and caulked windows
And when I find myself coming home by crossroads
Drop the rotting thing in my mouth on the welcome mat
Gut the kitchen and peel back the floorboards until my bones are bared
If there is a spirit in this summoning it is safe now
This is feast and faith and the full moon waning

McKayla Gallup is a PNW transplant who loves everything but the weather here. She recently started attending her local poetry group in Vancouver, WA and began writing again.

Christopher Foufos, “Elmer” – 30 and Under, 2nd Place


I have never seen anyone
confront Father Time with such humility.
After a life of abuse and toil
he braved his twilight with quiet defiance.
Season upon season he endured the elements,
never betraying his post.
He was a sentinel, modest and vigilant;
with a solemnity to his station.
Despite a body and spirit of such sturdy composition,
he too began to decay.
His encroaching departure highlighted the dualities attached to life:

    For one to grow it must also wither.
    Motion cannot exist in the absence of stillness.
    Life carries its intrinsic value, for it is accompanied by death.

The color and vibrancy of his flesh
paled as he navigated his inevitable denouement.
He fell to permanent silence
in a field by the barn.
The golden autumn grass
accentuated his fading blue.
Some called him an old pickup truck;
a disservice to his loyalty.
A 1971 Dodge.
We called him Elmer.

Christopher was born and raised in the small rural town of Dundee, Oregon. He is 26 years old with an undergraduate degree in Social Science with an emphasis on Anthropology and Indigenous Studies. His passions lie in writing and travel, so he wishes to eventually graduate from his oh so romantic position of moving boxes in a warehouse to a career in which he can pursue something in those fields. He ultimately allows the fluidity and unpredictability of life to dictate where he goes and what he is doing, so for now he is content with that process.

Nellie Papsdorf, “TOUGH COOKIE” – 30 and Under, 3rd Place


The dream is dead. Long live the dream.

Into gestalt. Into shortcuts. That tasty moment
where you remember you can look up at the sky.

Isn’t it funny how I forget how good
a good tangerine tastes?

How I can remember?

I will never get this
quite right. I spill everywhere.

So thank dog
for long cons, functional resumes,
pass/fail grades.

The sun for now keeps coming. I keep on
occasion marveling at lone beetles, snowdrops,
a cloudy natural ubiquity. 

If it weren’t for all this world,
I wouldn’t.

The dream is over. Long live the dream.

Nellie Papsdorf is a poet and caseworker from Portland, Oregon. Her poetry has been published in SUSAN / The Journal, HASH Journal, Witch Craft Magazine, and Gold Man Review.

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