Read the Winning Poems from OPA’s New Poets Category

Fall 2021 Adult Poetry Contest Winning Poems in the New Poets Category

Judge:  David Hedges

JUDGE’S BIO:  Oregon City author David Hedges has placed poems with Poetry, Measure, Poet Lore, Able Muse, Light Quarterly, and, closer to home, Calapooya Collage, Left Bank, and Windfall.  His seventh book, “Prospects of Life After Birth: Memoir in Poetry and Prose,” was published in 2019, and his novel, “The Changer,” appeared in 2021. He is past president of the Oregon Poetry Association and serves on the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission. He co-founded the Oregon Poetry Collection at the University of Oregon’s Knight Library and received the 2003 Stewart H. Holbrook Literary Legacy Award for his contributions to the state’s literary life.


     I heartily encourage writers, especially those who are new to what Dylan Thomas dubbed the “craft or sullen art” of poetry, to enter contests. In my view, there is no better stimulus to polish a poem to perfection, to make it say precisely what you intend.

     I recall how thrilled I was to accept my first award, an honorable mention in OPA’s 1981 fall contest. I walked out of the banquet room of the Imperial Hotel in downtown Portland with Dr. Walter Kidd (aka Conrad Pendleton), who had also won an HM. I floated on Cloud Nine, while he muttered about the hundreds of top awards he had won over his 50-year career. I still treasure that moment: I was no longer a New Poet!

     That’s why I was pleased to have been invited to judge the New Poets category. I like to think the six poets whose work I’ve selected will view their awards as important steps on their own journeys through the ever-unfolding landscape of writing and publishing.

     After my initial reading of the 26 entries, I realized many of the poets are “new” only in in the sense that they’ve never won an award. I was delighted to discover work that evoked a range of emotions, that made me think, that led me to see the world through fresh eyes.

     Once I had whittled the number to 12, I found the task exceedingly difficult. The top three rose in due time, but I felt all nine HM candidates were genuinely worthy of recognition. I might still be rearranging them on my dining room table if the deadline hadn’t loomed.

     To everyone who entered, know that other judges might well (and likely would) have chosen other poems. Have faith in yourself and keep writing!

First Place:  “Black Hole” by Louhi Pohjola

I dont know, I dont know…

            she mutters her barely audible default
            as we speak of the state of the world

                        Who can know the precise singularity
                       when her mind crossed the event horizon
                        on its way to extinction?

            Thats something, she sighs, shuffling

                        her syllables like worn slippers
                        across sanded wooden floors

                                    No light escapes her watery blue eyes,
                                    lank hair free falling to the center as particles
                                    disappear from her brain’s sealed vacuum.

                        Where I go now? She grips her walker,

                                    deforming space-time as she navigates
                                    the corridor’s innermost circular orbit

                                                She doesn’t remember leaving the Kármán line,
                                                sailing free, solar winds at her back

                                    What you call that?  What that is?

                                                I don’t know, I don’t know what
                                                the tips of her neurons are searching for,

                                                            my decoding skills eroding daily
                                                            as I watch her spaghettify like a star devoured.

Judge’s Comments – First Place: “BLACK HOLE

This poem begins, “I don’t know…her barely audible default,” suggesting a bewildered, perhaps elderly woman. Then the surprise: “…the precise singularity / when her mind crossed the event horizon…” Not just an astrophysical metaphor, but the first of a succession drawn from physics, astronomy, and physiology! Then a superb simile: “…shuffling / her syllables like worn slippers / across sanded wooden floors” And I’ve barely touched on the poem’s emotional impact. Bravo!

Poet’s Bio:  Louhi grew up in Montreal, Canada, and the U.S. Midwest, and has lived in Portland for many years.  She was a research scientist on the faculty of Oregon Health Sciences University and then a high school teacher in southern Oregon where she taught both sciences and humanities.  She is an avid fly-fisherwoman and lover of the natural world.  For these reasons, her poems are often focused on the intersections of science, art, and nature.

Second Place:  “In the Back of the Closet” by Laura King

There it was behind the shoes, beneath
the shelf of hoodies that would never warm him
again, and below a box marked “Winter”.

The leather case abused with cuts and slashes,
a heavy patina bruised its steel clasps.
She doubted it was playable

after the four-and-a-half decades
since she’d last heard him play
at that family picnic when the strap snapped

and her uncles squeezed the instrument
around him with an old rope and fed him shots
of whiskey through the night. His right hand

stretched along the blacks and whites,
but she really loved his left that pressed the buttons,
its bent pinky broken in a fight, and the wedding ring,

proof that her father would stay for a lifetime.
How she’d watched as her mother danced and sang
and laughed and drank until she kissed

another man and her father’s face whipped cold
as gunmetal; how they plied him
with more whiskey so he’d play and play,

his fingers moving stronger, faster,
the chest of the thing inhaling, then exhaling,
hyperventilating all night long.

Judge’s Comments – Second Place: “IN THE BACK OF THE CLOSET”

Here we have a traditional poem, formatted in regular lines divided into unrhymed tercets. The first tercet suggests the closet’s contents belong to an elderly man. We are then led back 45 years to a family picnic, where the poet adroitly uses the tercet form to add layers of new detail. Then, suddenly, the poem picks you up, the way a sneaker wave would, sweeps you along a beach, and slams you down face-first on the sand. What a splendid finish — like being hit by a freight train! 

Poet’s Bio:  Laura King holds a Masters of Divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary in New York City, and is currently in the MFA program for creative writing at the Rainier Writing Workshop. She is a member of the Community of Writers and the Sacramento Poetry Society, and has studied with Eduardo Corral, David Biespiel and Jennifer Foerster. Laura is also a pecan farmer and a hospital chaplain.

Third Place:  “How to submit a poem to a magazine: (12th Draft)” by Paul Herman

1.   Google “what is infinity?”
2.   902 million results
3.   Set head on desk and feel time as rain down your neck
4.   Wet snakes slither down your cheeks. Medusa just showered and is in the mood…
5.   Hey, eyes down there, buddy, if you know what’s good for you
6.   Go to sleep, if you can (infinity has a looser hold)
7.   Dream, and drip away (ignore the snakes if you can)
8.   Try not to lose The Sound of Rain (your stone teeth, rolling on a tin roof)
9.   Do not fall off into the gutters
            The city grates will devour you, their iron maw to swallow (or call you hateful names like
            *** (idiot) or even [[redacted]]) Go where your next word takes you (but not there). So
10. Evaporate!
11. See what the world looks like from the saddle of a cloud. I can see my house from
            here, box of breathing

12. Buck off! Down and into the sand or dirt or ground. It’s another kaleidoscopic land, of

            words, of course. What is the mind made of? 🙂 (smile emoji)
13. Fracture!
14. Sand is stone without all that extra self. Lucky sons of redactions
15. Find bone hands, bone arms, bone heart. Take them
                                                                        in yours
                                                            and in yours
                                                                        until they are definitely,
                                                            probably yours.
16. Try to understand the dripping away (but don’t do it it’s not worth it, just laugh it off,
            laugh it off)
17. Now write the first thing you want to do (as if you were made of water)
18. Trick people into thinking it’s normal (confidence is key)
19. Next thing you know, the weird is the scene, laughs old-normal off stage-left
20. Submit!
21. Profit big time baby $$$

Judge’s Comments – Third Place: “HOW TO SUBMIT A POEM TO A MAGAZINE: (12TH) DRAFT”

Robert Frost likened Free Verse to “playing tennis with the net down.” He might liken this poem to “playing hockey without a stick or a puck.” This begs the question: “Then is it hockey?” So? What’s not to like about “The Sound of Rain (your stone teeth, rolling on a tin roof)”? Or “What is the mind made of? 🙂 (smile emoji).” So long, Robert Frost, it’s been good to know you. The poem pokes fun at itself. It oozes attitude. And, as the poet observes, “… (confidence is key).”

Poet’s Bio:  Paul Herman was born November 19, 1994 in Salem, Oregon. He studied English and obtained a Bachelor’s of Arts degree from the University of Oregon. There, he developed a passion for reading and writing poetry. He later earned a Master’s of Nonprofit Management and currently lives in Salem, Oregon with his wife.

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