About the poems from judge Sherri Levine:
To the poets:
It was such an honor to read your poems. I read many of your poems while sitting in my backyard listening to the music in my backyard—the Northern Flickers drumming their beaks against my chimney, the trilling songbirds in the bushes, and the squirrels scurrying across our wooden fence.
I chose “Ithaca” for several reasons. It’s a beautiful well-crafted poem of place precisely detailing a long car ride both inside the car and outside during the stops. There is so much going on in this poem from the music of Willie Nelson to trespassing in a cemetery. I was moved by the last two lines where the poet states: “We balance on the barbed wire with empty beers bottles—one foot in the cemetery and the other in our backyard.” Aren’t we all, in a sense, doing this too? I love this poem, and I’m excited for others to read and enjoy it.
I chose “Uprooted” for its well-crafted story with such intricate details. I admire the poet’s attention to detail which the poet does exceptionally well. It really drew me in, as I read it several times. The strength of this poem lies in the details of the poet’s observations. Even though the image of the fire ants crawling through the cracked eggshell attacking the hatching, I found disturbing, because it evoked an emotion in me, which for me, made for a winning poem.
I chose “Dead People’s Things,” for the interesting details and description of the eccentric Aunt and the content of her box that the poet discovers. I love this poem because it has heart and humor. I especially laughed when I read the line written to her Aunt: “Thank you for your submission. Please try again.” Ironically, this advice does not apply to this poet!
All three honorary mentions were enjoyable to read—some whimsical others more profound. Truly all remarkable.
First Prize: “Ithaca” – McKayla Gallup
Second Prize: “Uprooted” – Ulrikka Haveron
Third Prize: “Dead People’s Things” – D. George Dreiszus
First: “The Tetons” – Christopher Foufos
Second: “For Jacques” – Marianne Bickett
Third: “Pink” – Rin Ehlers Sheldon
Sherri Levine has published poetry in numerous journals, such as Poet Lore, Clackamas River Review, Driftwood Press, Worcester Review, Timberline Press, Jewish Literary Journal, Mizmor Anthology, and others. She was awarded the Lois Cranston Poetry Memorial Prize by Calyx in 2019. She won First Prize—Poet’s Choice and second place Members Only, awarded by the Oregon Poetry Association Biannual Contest in 2017 and 2020. She published her chapbook In These Voices by Poetry Box in 2018. Her first full length poetry collection, Stealing Flowers from the Neighbors, was recently published by Kelsay Press. Sherri is the creator and host of Head for the Hills, a monthly poetry reading series and open mic. She has taught English to immigrants, refugees, and international students for over two decades. She escaped the harsh winters of upstate New York and has ever since been happily soaking in the rain.
McKayla Gallup, “Ithaca” – New Poets, 1st Place
We’ve been sitting for 10 hours in the state we left 10 years ago swapping stories and the steering wheel
Letting Willie Nelson waft through the cracked window and waver over the highway with the heat
The asphalt here has summer splits and winter warping where nothing has been sealed since the bypass
We stop at the shell station and drink Big Red until our teeth stick together when we try to talk
The gravel turns to dust while we lean against the produce sign with the chipped beige brushstrokes blurring it
A four acre bruise of beargrass and I can’t find a single stray sunflower but rosemary still spreads from the shuttered stand
The back window by the rusting steel sink creaks when I push on the glass but there are some places I will not crawl back to
We drive down County Road 3210 I count the cattle guards we cross and mourn each oak tree lost to mistletoe
The creek is full now and when we walk past the No Trespassing sign I see swallowtails settling on the granite headstones
We balance on the barbed wire with the empty beer bottles – one foot in the cemetery and the other in our backyard
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.
Ulrikka Haveron, “Uprooted” – New Poets, 2nd Place
She mentioned they were getting married,
that soon we’d move to his house in the sticks.
We said farewell to the familiar, transplanted
ourselves promptly to his half-finished home.
On his land, cedar trees consumed every drop of rain,
The scent of gin expelled from Juniper berries.
The rocky ground was strewn with prickly pears,
deer bones and patches of chigger-filled grass.
I transformed his unfinished bathroom into my bedroom;
Threw a thick rug on the concrete, changed the toilet
into a chair. My mother made vegan meals just for him.
He said no music, no phone calls, no showers after 8 pm.
At night, flesh toned scorpions crawled the walls,
fist-sized moths adhesed themselves to the screen door.
An orchestra of cicadas filled the thick, hot air
with their melodic song and the zip of the bug zapper.
There was no school orchestra, no French class.
My viola grew cobwebs dormant in the corner.
But there were shirtless boys in trucks by the river.
I could smoke joints with them instead of going home.
Once I found a hatching chick out on the land,
fire ants crawling into his cracked shell, stinging
him through his wet feathers before he was even born.
I picked the pissants off my new pet rooster.
In a fog of pot smoke and my headphones on,
I hovered above the sticks in a bubble of daydreams.
Young roots too tender to penetrate the rough terrain,
could shrivel or toughen on the rocky ground.
Ulrikka Haveron is a writer of poetry and short stories who lives in Portland, Oregon. She is originally from a family of artists in Texas. She was a performing acrobat and choreographer for 10 years and now spends her time as a lactation consultant, writer and mother. You can find her work in VoiceCatcher and Star Dust Review literary magazine.
D. George Dreiszus, “Dead People’s Things” – New Poets, 3rd Place
Dead People’s Things
Where does it go, the fluff of life. The big chair
for sitting, numb in comfort, the books to read someday.
Affirming photos with lost meaning, papers, so important.
The box came, from hand to hand until it stopped
with me years later. “Here. I don’t have room.
It was your Aunt’s.”
Eccentric, childless, married to a man with paper skin,
they seldom left their barren home. It was said she could have
done better. They always had a cat.
It sat dusty for months, until an idle day.
The wedding picture bright with promise, clipped obits for Mom and Pop,
several letters from home, just across the river.
Then neatly typed, in a yellow room over decades,
her poetry. And with that a note:
“Thank you for your submission. Please try again.”
Buried now, the cemetery near her childhood school.
Sounds roll past from the playground of youth, the swings
alive, the bright, pure voice of immortal youth bursting like rockets.
She lives now through her words, birthed and held dear,
then set adrift through indifference to land in my soul.
Aunt Lilly, your children are home.
D. George Dreiszus attended Oregon State University, Western Oregon University, and Babson College. He worked for many years as a technical writer and program manager for various Oregon technology companies.