2021 Spring Contest Winners for the Traditional Category (Dizain)
Judge: John Sibley Williams
First Place: “In the Key of Melancholy” by Barbara Blanks
A sigh of shadows slips between the stars,
creates a somber lyric when the sky
and moon are strummed like out-of-tune guitars.
The thrum of sounds, their smoky purrs awry
as restless dreams, provoke and mystify
with wails of sweet sad fever hot with wrong.
The pain from broken promises is strong,
but sorrow moves through darkness, makes a choice.
A heart fileted by love will find new song
when sunlight warms with silken dulcet voice.
Judge’s Note: There’s a subtle musicality to this poem that really resonates with its genuine emotional core of human uncertainty and simple human pain. Each line builds atop the next without calling attention to itself, quietly creating a consistent atmosphere of somber introspection that ends, as so many good poems do, with a brilliant shard of light. Especially important in our rather cynical era, the poem reminds us that sometimes hope and love are choices we can make to hold the shadows at bay.
Poet’s Bio: Barbara Blanks, a former Ft. Stevens resident, is the author of nine books, co-author of one, and published in a variety of anthologies. Barb is known for her exuberant love of life, the liberties she often takes with her reality, and her pursuit of a sense of direction. She is also admired for her stick-to-it-iveness, although she mostly sticks to her unmopped kitchen floor. Website: www.barbara-blanks.com
Second Place: “Knitting Lesson” by Lynn Otto
I pull the needles out from half a sleeve
and wind the yarn back into a soft red ball
quick, row by row, undo the faulty weave,
turn sleeve to cuff—then nothing’s there at all.
It can be hard to make this drastic call,
but compared to love, this is an easy art—
a ball of yarn is nothing like a heart.
This probably need less tension this time round—
it’s worth the pains to take the thing apart.
If only a lover’s wounds could be unwound.
Judge’s Note: “Knitting Lesson” delicately balances a small, mundane, human gesture with larger emotions in a way that feels both natural and surprising. We watch a hand work yarn into and out of, piercing and releasing its fabric, in a way that builds a subtle tension. Then we strike that lovely pivot point of “a ball of yarn is nothing like a heart”, after which nothing will be the same.
Poet’s Bio: Lynn Otto holds an MFA from Portland State University, lives in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and works as an academic copy editor. Her collection, Real Daughter, won a Unicorn Press First Book Award and was an Oregon Book Awards finalist. Publications also include poems in Iron Horse Literary Review, Raleigh Review, Sequestrum, and other journals.
Third Place: “Blind-spots Dizain” by Amelia Diaz Ettinger
Of course, I have a cloud floating in my left eye.
The smudged mirror of my life stands caged
on the fovea, where images should be amplified.
The viscous tissue amalgamates in old age
rendering indecisions even while reading a simple page.
Maybe this floater formed by my own fragmentation,
gardens and children left unattended, without conversations.
There is a sort of justice that I own this blemish
which stands so close to the optic nerve station
the blind-spot, no going back, no redoing my wreckage.
I immediately fell in love with the visceral, biological language in this poem, which introduces the unique metaphor of an eye’s blind spot standing in for what we tend to miss in our lives. Images are amplified. Things most people take for granted grow cloudy and uncertain. These visual fragments become memories, become wreckage from the past. And the poet has the acuity and honesty to finally admit to us, “There is a sort of justice that I own this blemish”.
Poet’s Bio: Amelia Díaz Ettinger is a ‘Mexi-Rican,’ born in México but raised in Puerto Rico. As a BIPOC poet and writer, she has two full-length poetry books published: Learning to Love a Western Sky by Airlie Press, and a bilingual poetry book, Speaking at a Time /Hablando a la Vez by Redbat Press. A historical/environmental poetry chapbook, Fossils in a Red Flag, is being released by Finishing Line Press in 2021. Her poetry and short stories have appeared in literary journals and anthologies. Her short story, “A Girl Like Me,” won honorable mention this year by Ice Colony. Presently, Amelia Díaz Ettinger is working on an MFA in creative writing at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande, Oregon.
Judge’s Biography: John Sibley Williams is the author of six collections, including The Drowning House (Elixir Press Poetry Award), As One Fire Consumes Another (Orison Poetry Prize), Skin Memory (Backwaters Prize, University of Nebraska Press), and Summon (JuxtaProse Chapbook Prize). A twenty-six-time Pushcart nominee, John is the winner of numerous awards, including the Wabash Prize for Poetry, Philip Booth Award, Phyllis Smart-Young Prize, and Laux/Millar Prize. He serves as editor of The Inflectionist Review and founder of the Caesura Poetry Workshop series. Previous publishing credits include Best American Poetry, Yale Review, Verse Daily, North American Review, Prairie Schooner, and TriQuarterly.