Read the Winning Poems from OPA’s Poet Choice Category

Fall 2021 Adult Contest Winners in the Poet’s Choice Category

Judge – Paulann Petersen, Oregon Poet Laureate Emerita, has seven full-length books of poetry, most recently One Small Sun, from Salmon Poetry in Ireland. Her poems have appeared in many journals, including Poetry, Prairie Schooner, Willow Springs, Calyx, and the Internet’s Poetry Daily. A Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, she received the 2006 Holbrook Award from Oregon Literary Arts. In 2013 she was Willamette Writers’ Distinguished Northwest Writer. The Latvian composer Eriks Esenvalds chose a poem from her book The Voluptuary as the lyric for a choral composition that’s now part of the repertoire of the Choir at Trinity College Cambridge.

Judge’s Comments: OPA poets submitted 136 poems in the Poet’s Choice category. And from those 136, I had to choose just 6 poems to be honored. Egads! Too many strong poems. Too few prizes I could award. So … instead of a general statement about the entries, here’s my shout-out for a few more of the worthy poems entered. Kudos to each of these poems: “Alfresco,” “Bandon Remembered,” “The Dark Blue of a Steller’s Jay,” “Forecasts,” “From Inside the Heat Dome,” “Martin’s Lot,” “Peonies,” “There’s a poem in this place—in the heavy grace…,” and “Veterans.” These, and many more among the 136 submissions, deserve praise. OPA members are richly talented. May the work of OPA poets continue to thrive! — Paulann Petersen

First Place: “Salt” by Grace Beeler

I have a simple longing, one which
falls well within the realm of women:
a shelf of blue glass,
an open kitchen window,
sunlight, and a fruit tree
cherry or apple,
something that will ruin the lawn
with its bounty in the fall.

And all the salt in the house
in one wide mouthed canning jar on the counter
whiter than bleached bones
to be carefully measured:
a scant ½ teaspoon
for a golden lump of dough.

You remember how it feels,
the breeze on your arms
as you work the rolling
pin across the surface,
each fingerprint
disappearing under the
smooth wood,
reemerging reborn,
pure as fresh butter
and almost as yellow.

Judge’s Comment on the First Place Poem: The rich, resonant imagery in “Salt” is irresistible. This poem’s “simple longing” evokes language so potent that “one wide mouthed canning jar” can contain “all the salt in the house,” just as this brief poem can contain a whole flood of sensation and memory.

Second Place: “Me and My Abracadabra Snapped in Half” * by Linda Ferguson

my whining puppies in a basket
my let’s get this over with
my thrash and gallop
my make it stop
my if only that and this
my whirligig hopes
my burrow and sniff
my frenzied dust and dancing computer screen
my I give up
my I won’t give up
my you can’t make me
my enough is enough
my father who art in heaven
my unmasked mother, Mary
my red state brother
my blue state brother
my sun-scorched state
your sun-scorched state
our withered rivers
our flinching mountains
our oceans
of angst
of sirens and sweating cheese
of a bloody lip and baby teeth
of you asked for it
of you’re not as nice as everyone thinks
of my happiness snuggling in a convenient quarantine
of don’t look back
of remember when
of melting pumpkins on the porch and sequin-and construction-paper stars
swaying from the fir limbs
of ice cream and card games and Carol Burnett mugging on TV
of flannel pajamas and fuzzy slippers shaped like puppies and bear cubs and bunnies
of blankets smelling of kittens and delicate scratches and Sunday’s chicken
of ready or not here I come
and olly olly oxen free
and come out, come out wherever you are
and half-hearted attempts to capture your flag
and we’re all falling down and don’t need any more red rover bullies
or blindfolds bluffing reality or trampling dreams
in shades of red and gold, black and bronze, white and green
all playing for the same team
in the dawn’s early light
on our fruited plains and under our spacious skies and over our shining seas
in our country, our country, our country,
tis of thee.

(*after Chen Chen’s “Me, My Sadness & My Mango Smoothie”)

Judge’s Comment on the Second Place Poem: This long listing poem jumps off the page, exhorting its reader, exhorting its poet to read it aloud. The lines call for chanting, for quick and powerful voicing. This is a performance poem poised for its audience.

Third Place: “Big Boats, Backyard Bunkers and the Next Big Bang” by Robert Nordstrom

Perhaps I shouldn’t judge
but when some guy
with more money
and more time
than I
has a bad dream
involving a lot of water
so builds an ark
to prove once and for all
that man and his minions,
(aka women and beasts here)
could have been saved,
and thus, by a curious leap of logic
whereby the conditional becomes factual,
were saved
by way of a 95-foot-wide x 410-foot-long x 75-foot-tall
five-story Yahweh-designed yacht
as specced out in Genesis 6:15,
I do get a bit leery and weary,
though, all things considered,
it might make more eschatological sense
and is considerably more ambitious
than crouching ostrich like
beneath a desk
fingers laced over the back of your head,
or diving into a backyard bunker
to fork down canned peaches
and stewed tomatoes
while waiting for the next big bang
to signal world’s end
so we can begin again,
which sadly we seem to do—
wait, keep waiting
for the end
to begin

Judge’s Comment on the Third Place Poem: In one long sentence, this poem cascades down the page, delivering its eschatological humor and wisdom with ease and satiric grace.

Honorable Mention Poems in the Poet’s Choice Category:

1st Honorable Mention: “Leaving” by Mallory Kellum
2nd Honorable Mention: “Thinning the Seedlings” by Alida Rol
3rd Honorable Mention: “Fryer’s Quality Pie” by David Pickering

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