Read the Winning Poems from OPA’s Theme Category

Judge’s Biography: Inaugural Clark County Poet Laureate Christopher Luna was born and raised on Long Island and misses his home surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean every day. Luna has an MFA from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics and founded Ghost Town Poetry Open Mic in 2004. His next book, Exchanging Wisdom: A Guide for Parents of the Autonomous, will be published by The Poetry Box in December.

First Place in the Theme Category: “The Diver” by Louhi Pohjola

In the Ocean of Shadows I swim with slime-slick seals
and sway with giant turtles in sea lettuce meadows

I stroll among marketplaces of warming littoral depths,
admiring lusty polyps bursting from their pink coral stalls

and giant anemones ornamented with clownfish, flaunting
themselves in the cool water breeze as jellyfish motor

above and below with balletic moves that hypnotize
me into a languid stupor, a feeling of near ease.

The curious double-crested cormorants look down
through the water but cannot fathom my intent:

to read the runes in giant kelp, the sea urchin spicules,
the algal denizens, the soft underbelly of starfishes

A plucky penguin porpoises above to escape
an orca that blinks twice but then turns to me

and sings a hymn in the briny landscape, in the
Ocean of Shadows: a song of loss, its own wild lament.

Poet’s Bio: Paula 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 Theme Category: “Songs of Salt Water and Celestial Bodies” by Nancy Knowles


Near Balboa Pier, my daughter climbs
a jungle gym, sun plunging over the line
of ocean, the eclipse of my marriage
a diamond ring aflame in Ruby’s window.
I raced through gridlock to arrive on time,
but diners had already drawn the blinds.
Over the surf, a single-prop plane tows
a banner reading heartbreak, heartbreak
littered like sand and salt on castoff novels.
Debtor Balboa chased slaves to the sea,
preserved in bulky island mansions built
on betrayal and mud flats, sewage and silt.


Yet, a childhood sun still warms my bones
in a raft, slung in the surf, perfectly poised
between retreating tide and rising swell,
my hands and feet in the lazy waves, the bluffs
neither growing nor shrinking, peace enough
to lull the lifeguards into idle sentinels.
I bike around the Back Bay to the beach:
remains of mammoths cradle halophytes—
salt lovers—submerged in the infinite
salt marsh: perhaps like buckwheat we
adapt to amputation, that lost limb
unfurling as the stars begin to swim.


On wooden pilings, orange starfish climb.
My daughter flings herself into a line
of trim December waves, hair knit with sand
and seaweed, knowing even big waves
are best met by diving into them.
The ferry drifts sideways across the bay
to dock at the Balboa Fun Zone.
The Ferris wheel inserts us into sky.
Moon-drawn and awed, we pause high,
compartment swaying like a metronome,
Newport arranged below. Dusk arrives,
and on the eaves, a thousand lights revive.

Poet’s Bio: Nancy Knowles teaches English and Writing at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande, OR. She has published poetry in Toyon; Eastern Oregon Anthology: A Sense of Place; Torches n’ Pitchforks; War, Literature, & the Arts; Oregon East; Willawaw Journal; Grand Little Things, Amethyst Review, and Wild Roof Journal. She earned honorable mentions in ghazal and dizain categories from the Oregon Poetry Association.

Third Place in the Theme Category: “The Chronic Tempest” by Wendy Thompson

Lime heat startles and shouts bitter darts,
an assault on her winter skin. Hibernating squint
into the imminent past. Tears salt the edge of fear
and sweat seeps down her susceptible spine.
Across stark sand, over clamoring waves,
a bruise-purple storm hangs in suspense,
cloaked but familiar, tsunami ready
to drown her in unexamined history.

Poet’s Bio: Wendy Thompson, MFA, is a poet, educator, hiker, kayaker, singer, and all around ARTivist who employs the arts for transformation and healing. She is a teacher in the Vancouver schools and board member for the Transformative Language Arts Network. Her award winning poetry has been published in Arnazella, Poet’s Ink, Synapse, Song of Ourselves, VoiceCatcher, and Spoleto 2000. She’s also published in Teaching Tolerance, Science & Children, Impulse Journal & Chrysalis Journal of Transformative Language Arts. She performs her poetry in spoken word venues across the nation.

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