Read the Winning Poems from OPA’s Traditional Form Category

About the poems from judge John Witte:

The formal poem at its best pleases the ear not with its cunning but because it is organic. We can see that bilateral symmetry is the norm in nature. Consider the snowflake, or the heron, not to mention our own bodies. Thoreau opined that we should come upon a poem as we would a leaf lying on the ground, and so “read” it. And Robert Frost, the master of effortless rhyme, proposed that “the horse is happiest in harness.”

Accordingly, the winners in this year’s category of formal verse capture this pleasing symmetry, delighting the ear without losing the ease of spoken language.


First: “Diamond Craters” – Nancy Knowles

Second: “Two Sides of the Window” – Joy McDowell

Third: “Peace Rose” – Connie Soper

Honorable Mentions:

First: “The Race” – John McPherson

Second: “Mistress Luce’s Soliloquy:

              Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130, Plan B” – Susan Morse

Third: “Finding Love Online: — David Hedges

Congratulations to all the poets. And good luck with your writing,

– John Witte

John Witte’s poems have appeared widely, in publications such as The New Yorker, Paris Review, Kenyon Review, and American Poetry Review, and has been included in The Norton Introduction to Literature, among several anthologies. He is the author of LOVING THE DAYS (Wesleyan University Press, 1978, THE HURTLING (Orchises Press, 2005), SECOND NATURE (University of Washington Press, 2008), and DISQUIET (University of Washington Press, 2015). For thirty years he was the editor of Northwest Review, as well as of numerous books, including THE COLLECTED POEMS OF HAZEL HALL (Oregon State University Press, 2000). The recipient of two writing fellowships from the NEA, a residency at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and numerous other grants and awards, he lives with his family in Eugene, Oregon, where he taught, until recently, at the University of Oregon. More may be found on his website:


Knowles, Nancy, “Diamond Craters” – 1st Place, Traditional: Shakespearean Sonnet

Diamond Craters
Southeast of Burns, Oregon

From basalt rim of lava craters, fall-
ing seems an inevitable by-blow,
akin to falling in love. We backpedal
disintegrating ash, our vertigo

just fascination with failed flight. Even
the crater itself leans over the edge,
imagines falling. And if we fell,
the crater would watch, an impassive judge,

the parent knowing this has happened before,
as crumbled boulders far below attest,
arrested mid-slide. Melted earth contorts,
subsides, in awkward ridges manifest.

But, these craters also imply older truths:
as rocks once danced, so can the falling fly.

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 second place in the Theme: The Sea category and honorable mentions in ghazal and dizain categories from the Oregon Poetry Association.

McDowell, Joy, “Two Sides of the Window” – 2nd Place, Traditional: Shakespearean Sonnet

Two Sides of the Window

Fourteen ways to describe the bitter cold
Folding itself around a body at work
Splitting firewood, stacking, exhausted, old,
Blazing against dense fog and winter murk.

Hands of the beloved stiff in mid-stitch
Work her coiled yarn into mittens, a cap.
Humming a tune. Fingers weave without flinch.
Snow boots stomp, glove at window, a love tap.

Fourteen ways to express adoration
With axe and crochet hook, two hearts
Labor beyond cause for calendar notation.
In home and wood, partners at precious core.

Spent youth, gained wisdom, together for more
These lovers share passage to their next shore.

Joy McDowell is a native Oregonian and University of Oregon graduate. She writes from her home on Sky Mountain. Her poems have short stories have been published nationally and internationally.

Soper, Connie, “Peace Rose” – 3rd Place, Traditional: Shakespearean Sonnet


During the German occupation of France in 1940, a rose breeder near Lyon was forced to uproot his plantings for a Nazi “victory garden.” He was able to smuggle out a new hybrid he had developed to the United States for safekeeping until the war ended.

Madonna cheeks, a pearly luminance.
Lemon-chiffony skirt/ pink lipstick kiss—
a tender bloom born in war’s disturbance.
Budwoods married into something new, this                                                              

bundle—sticks in burlap/soil from Lyon—
stashed in leather pouch for the attaché.
He carried it as a child of his own,
smuggled to Italy, and USA.    

Fertile fields uprooted, seedlings tossed;
roses ripped from earthen beds, cedar bark.
This one survived— not forgotten nor lost;
named when Berlin fell, lifted from the dark.

Now Peace calms gazebos/gardens; sublime
haloed-scent, once slipped over enemy lines.

Connie Soper is a poet and walker living and writing in Portland and Manzanita, Oregon. Her first full-length book of poetry will be published by Airlie Press in the fall of 2022.

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