Read the Winning Poems from OPA’s Members Only Category

October 24, 2022



1st Place — Breaking, Jennifer Rood

2nd Place — Still Life, Linda Drach

3rd Place — Audaciouse, Joy McDowell

1st HM — At Harriet Tubman’s Grave in Fort Hill Cemetery, Auburn, New York, Nancy Flynn

2nd HM — The Day I Die, Dale Champlin

3rd HM — Sleep Walking in the Jewish Cemetery in Prague, Vivienne Popperl

Judge’s Comments:

“Breaking”: This is an exceptional poem. The setting is vividly described and the poet uses imagery in fresh and exciting ways “the parched earth forgets how to swallow” – a terrific image on its own, but coupled with the wilting flowers in the next line, sets up the reader for the turn that comes so powerfully in the latter part of the poem. The poet takes us in a direction we don’t expect: “Somewhere in Florida, cancer has arrived like a hurricane in my aunt’s body.” The ending is another subtle shift, bringing a universal turn to what seems to be a very personal poem.

“Still Life”:This poem describes the painter, the subject of the poem, sketching in details in a concise and economical way. The painter, perhaps past his prime, still has other possibilities open, some revisited from his youth, weaving in rich details. These striking lines give the reader a vivid portrait “He might learn to use Twitter/or get high and play every one of his Dylan albums/in chronological order, listening to Blonde on Blonde twice.” The poet uses examples from nature to suggest the passage of time and the aging process, rounding out the process. The closing lines in the poem leave the reader with a final image, unexpected and sharply observed. A poem worth returning to more than once.

“Audacious”:This poem is a delight to read, surprising the reader along with the speaker of the poem as she recounts her friend’s shocking and revealing words. Told in a conversational tone, we get insights into the friend’s personality as well as the speaker who is mildly shocked, curious, and perhaps a little bit jealous. It’s a poem that will have you smiling and nodding in recognition at human behavior.

“At Harriet Tubman’s Grave in FortHill Cemetery, Auburn, New York”: I admire the poet’s economy of language, control of the line, and the subtle yet effective way that the strands of the poem are woven together. The use of rhyme also lends a musicality to the poem that is very pleasing. The ending of the poem “One arrow shot into the Milky Way/at night, arrayed.” in particular captured my attention and imagination.

“The Day I Die”: I like the startling, sometimes surreal imagery in this poem especially the line comparing sex to “the kaleidoscopic push and pull.” It’s never easy to write about death (especially your own), but the poem presents new ways of thinking and coping with the inevitable. I admire the structure of the poem, three lines stanzas staggered with italicized passages. There’s also alliteration and other sound devices that enhance the poem. And the subject matter and the poet’s use of the word tulle bring to mind Emily Dickinson. A very strong poem.

“Sleep Walking in the Jewish Cemetery in Prague”:With its use of lines from Carolyn Forche’s poem, dark imagery, and references to the Holocaust, the poem weaves a spell on the reader not unlike the paintings of Chagall which the poem describes. I liked the structure of the poem, the five quatrains, each one building on the next, and moving to the human contact in the penultimate stanza. The final stanza brings the reader face to face with the specter of a fate with no rescue in sight.


Breaking  — 1st Place, Jennifer Rood 

The day is hazy, hot, and still. Thunderclouds bloom in the far distance behind dark mountain silhouettes. I go / out to water, but days like this, the parched earth forgets how to swallow, and water just runs along the ground / looking for a hiding place. Flowers wilt by afternoon, and I have to let them because I don’t know the spell to / say to break the heat. They say rain is coming, but I can’t feel it yet, and right now it’s about as useless as hope, / anyway. Somewhere in Florida, cancer has arrived like a hurricane in my aunt’s body. She is dying, and there’s / another spell I do not know: I don’t know how to break disease from her. I don’t think a prayer works the same / as a spell does, although I have wished it would. It’s all I can do, though. So I say a prayer of breaking. For her. / For us all.

Jennifer Rood has taught English, art, and social studies in Southern Oregon for the past 30 years. She has been previously published in Verseweavers, as well as in other journals and anthologies. She also served on the OPA Board from 2018 – 2021, including a year as President.


Still Life  — 2nd Place, Linda Drach

Of all the paintings he made in his life,

the round-bottomed pears, the Chinese lantern pods

artfully crouched around bottles of wine,

only a few remain, and the studio has grown dusty.

He could go in there if he wanted, pick up

a brush with arthritic fingers, imagine

a fresh place to start.

He may still read War & Peace

or drive the six hours to visit his brother

or perfect his barbequed ribs.

He might learn to use Twitter

or get high and play every one of his Dylan albums

in chronological order, listening to Blonde on Blonde twice.

But the light is waning. The maples are turning to scarlet

and caramel.

Winter advances.

He might paint her an apple that looks so real,

she’ll fill her mouth with dry canvas.

Linda Drach is a poet, public health program analyst, and volunteer writing group facilitator for the nonprofit Write Around Portland, Her poetry has been published in CALYX, The Write Launch, Clackamas Literary Review, The Timberline Review, and elsewhere. In 2018, she was awarded a writing residency at PLAYA Summer Lake in Oregon’s Outback. She is the current poet laureate of a small ranch house in Oregon, where she has an audience of one human and one exceptionally attentive pug.


Audacious – 3rd Place, Joy McDowell

Before the speaker begins a PowerPoint presentation

on alligators in the Everglades, a friend leans in and whispers,

I’ve slept with five men in this room.

My lips are sealed with a nod and a weak smile.

All through gator snout pattern photos I wonder.

The teacher, probably. The marine scientist, I would bet.

The aging city maintenance worker—maybe a long time ago.

The alligator man. Oh, yeah. That, leaves one more. And the

screen lights up with boas, those nasty invaders dining on

vanishing swamp critters. I put my final chip on the veterinarian.

She shifts in her chair. Her wide-open brown eyes bathe

the speaker with seductive luster. He clicks his remote device

and a deer appears. Then come photos of snail kites, ibis, roseate spoonbill

and herons. The wood stork is silhouetted against a landscape of bladed grass.

The broad shoulder of the veterinarian cuts into view.

I tilt to see the screen. The speaker cannot abandon biology. Sexing alligators

presents challenges, he explains. Only smaller specimens can be held on their back

while a researcher examines their genitalia. She is gone before I have a chance

to invite her for a cup of coffee. I want the list. But she is off,

out in the dark parking lot hunting her next meal.

Joy McDowell lives on Sky Mountain outside of Springfield, Oregon. She writes story poems, short stories and traditional verse. Her alma mater is the University of Oregon. She has a new kitten named Dorito, a gift from one of her grandsons. 


JUDGE Michael Minassian is a Contributing Editor for Verse-Virtual, an online poetry journal. His poetry collections Time is Not a River, Morning Calm, and A Matter of Timing are all available on Amazon. A new chapbook, Jack Pays a Visit, was released in 2022. For more information:

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