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Poetry Contest

We asked Oregon-based poets to bring their works for our annual contest. Below are the winners!

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The Source Weekly's annual poetry contest—a collaboration between the Source, the Deschutes Public Library and the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program at Oregon State University-Cascades—is always a beloved event around these parts. Not only do we get to review the wonderful and creative works from Oregon-based poets, but we get to look forward to them reading their works, too!

To arrive at the winners, we ask the budding professionals from the OSU-Cascades MFA program to judge in the first round, followed by a final round of judging from faculty, alumni and other community members in the literary arts. The top winners are then awarded a cash prize, courtesy of the Deschutes Public Library!

COURTESY SEAN CALDARELLA/SOURCE WEEKLY
  • Courtesy Sean Caldarella/Source Weekly

Read the winning adult and youth-category winners below, and then be sure to catch them during our live poetry reading, happening via Zoom on Saturday, Nov. 20. Find out more about the live reading at deschuteslibrary.org/calendar/event/64315 or on the Source Weekly's calendar.

1. DAD AT NIGHT

By Ben Ward

An empty mind at ease

with tea and six strings

the night welcoming inner

brain and heart cage.

Sleep is soon but the scale is

yet to tip from the peaceful weight

of amber memories

woodstove nights in the cabin

where kerosene flame cast long

shadows beyond your brown nose

and dark's dry chill surrounds

shack walls, wisely patient and

amorphous it seeps beneath doors

once the embers relinquish

and slide like current around the dogs

who curl as stones

unconcerned with dawn or any other pleasure

but the floor.

Notes from the judges:
This poem is an example of how language and imagery build an atmosphere and scene together—a place, a time, and a feeling captured beautifully. And after the musical buildup of most of the poem, the speaker slows down their pace to focus on a single, significant image, which will last in my memory and changes the way I've looked at an otherwise domestic moment. —Kaci Rae Christopher, OSU-Cascades MFA in Creative Writing alumnus

2. Pretend…

By Ellen Waterston

you're an envelope with a note inside written
in the form of a prayer. The all of you, your em—
dash laugh, your run-on mistakes, is the orison
penned by the Poet in an elegant metaphysical hand,
then folded and placed inside the envelope that is you,
and gently mailed into the world when you are born.

Your devotion is written within the within of you.
The infinite space between each you-word is where
heaven abides. Petitioning a distant deity is not required
for the gift of light is everywhere, the palace of love
and Nature is within. Prayer is a reporting, a telling,
the quotidian celebration of your imperfect perfection.

Every day, if you can, turn more and more inside-out
so the you-prayer is nurtured by more and more light.

Notes from the judges:
I read this as a love letter, written by someone who truly treasures other people. It reminds me of speaking with my mentors, and the way they can see and value more about me than I can, in one given moment. This is a love poem that I will share with many others. —Kaci Rae Christopher, OSU-Cascades MFA in Creative Writing alumnus

3. Night Visitation

By Linda Wilken

I dreamt of you last night – warm flesh and coursing blood again
     after twenty-seven years dispirited beneath cold
     Midwestern soil.
I dreamt of you last night – your signature haunting the old farmhouse,
     endorsing your return.
In the dream, you swept me – four years old once more – into your arms
     burying your head in my shoulder.
          although your touch soothed me, I had never seen you
          cry in temporal life,
          Father.

I dreamt that our ancestors linked arms across the portico,
     effecting an unearthly barricade,
     separating me from you.

Outside, I dreamed the clear sapphire night, the steadfast amber moon,
     the unburdened silvery air.

I slept with the roosters on their perch, unstirred by the moonlight.
I lay exhumed between steaming furrows of freshly turned earth,
     drinking in night dew,
     awaiting the dawn.

I dreamt of you last night — never dreaming I'd be touched by you again,
     never again to touch your relinquished, earth-born spirit.

I dreamt of you last night – I dreamed a slight, fleeting resurrection
     of you.

Notes from the judges:
This poem is hauntingly evocative, as the speaker remembers in a dreamlike state the memory of someone lost. Beautifully turned images reinforce the meaning of the poem: "clear sapphire night," "steaming furrows of turned earth..." —Connie Soper, Oregon poet

4. Self Portrait

by Ama Garza

I have dreams of unwanted touch
I am afraid women will hate me
But I fear much more of men loving me
I smoke cigarettes just to feel complicated
They actually make me incredibly nauseous and I hate the smell

I wear glasses in hopes it will make my nose look smaller
I am the woman who has never been "in love"
I feel most flattered when dogs pull on their leash to come see me
Sometimes I have a glass of wine, other times I have a bottle
I am good at making others feel good

Poems I spend hours writing and seconds deleting
There are moments I am my favorite person
Drinking from mugs with no handles feels like a risk to me
Going from buzzcuts to long braids
Trying so hard to look like I'm not trying hard

I am okay at a lot of things but not particularly great at any one thing
I will never have a six pack.

Notes from the judges:
In his novel, "Freedom," Jonathan Franzen writes that everyone secretly loves to smell their own farts. Similarly, "Self Portrait" records an honest, nearly searing, reckoning with the self. It is a poem about the things we do and feel when no one is looking and the things we do and feel when they are. The speaker boldly outlines the ways in which they fall short, cover up, and compensate for their most human tendencies—fear, jealousy, pretention, trying. In its minute particularities ("I feel most flattered when dogs pull on their leash to come see me" or "Drinking from mugs with no handles feels like a risk to me") the poem opens towards the universal. —Jennifer Reimer, OSU-Cascades MFA in Creative Writing Program Lead

5. SUN LOVES MOUNTAIN

By Ben Ward

I await each morning,
Longing to lift upon itself your hem of darkness,
My blush reflecting your brilliant pink,
Your hips of snow and peaking breasts
Aroused to sprawling sky

Notes from the judges:
Simple, succinct, sweet, sensuous...I love how this poem paints an intimate scene in just a few lines.—Connie Soper, Oregon poet

YOUTH WINNERS

1. My Life is a Movie

By Mo Rose App-Singer

my life is a movie
it's honestly is more of a short film,
seventeen years long, but quick as closing your eyes
at a horror movie jumpscare or gore or a gratuitous rape scene,
i will direct and star and write and produce it,
like a manic agent of mediocre chaos,

a nonbinary MPDG with a word heavy platform
to make my sick, skin-pricking, autistic art.

my movie will visualize some sort of
coming of age manifesto just radical enough
to sell tickets and pack my people,
the pdx punks dressed in unwashable patchwork,

the midwestern emos wilted from fentanyl and fatherless behavior,
the tiktok alt kids spiraling downward into monster energy dependency
into capitalist megaplex movie seats.

this is a movie about nowhereville, utah, kidnapped girls, flight risks,
best friends and fights long forgiven by diseased distance,
a forced fleeting found family of misgendered misfits.
but that is only the chapter-long prologue.

this is a movie where bad dogs don't die, or go to heaven, or anything.
they instead get sent away, to concrete cages where
there are no beloved stuffed animals to destroy
and no chubby baby ankles to gnaw.

my movie is an overwritten plot dependent on suspended disbelief
and melodrama. it will be scored by death grips
kanye west, nirvana, lorde, phoebe bridgers,
"inside" era bo burnham,
ke$ha before she dropped the dollar sign.

in my story, the main characters get to
live in beautiful houses, because of course they do,
these buildings are angled enough to be MOMAs.
everything we do is an unsellable,
yet somehow overrated creation.

the opening shot will be me, toiling over a poem,
ripping off each and every one of my acrylic nails,
as if pain is a form of safe nostalgia.
this poem under my sore hands is half formed and insipid.

so, i run out the door
into an empty road backed by suburban
death cult sprawl.
i walk down my street,
i metastasize like a pathogen.

i wipe my ringed septum
with bleeding fingers,
the credits roll against
a dead, warm sky.

no one gets better in this movie.
they just make it through.

Notes from the judges:
It was the musicality of this poem that first caught my attention—the breathlessness, and then the pauses. And even after reading it again and again, ("as if pain is a form of safe nostalgia"), I still have questions about myself, as a reader, in this complex world. I always feel energized and charged after reading this poem. —Kaci Rae Christopher, OSU-Cascades MFA in Creative Writing alumnus

2. Argument for a Vaccine

By Paris Woodward-Ganz

I went on a field trip
One day at the zoo
And then I was licked
By a cow going moo.

You really don't know
What a terrible fright is
Till you've been diagnosed
With cow-look-alitis.

I started to change
And grew terrible spots
All I could think was
I should have got my shots.

As I started to look
More and more like a cow
I couldn't fit in
I didn't know how

I was taken to a farm
Away from my friends
I couldn't help thinking
Is this the end?

One year later at the family supper
A little boy asked, "Mom, where's my brother?"
She looked at him with a face almost pleading
My dear little son, shut up and keep eating.

Notes from the judges:
Don't be fooled by the nursey rhyme meter and Shel Silversteinesque end rhyme in this poem! Beneath the sing-song and barnyard animals lies dark, dark satire. In this young poet's modest proposal, regret and alienation puncture the poem like the shots the speaker laments not getting. And the end?! The cannibalistic turn is both commentary on the inevitably dehumanizing trajectory of American consumption (watch any zombie movie for proof that, in the end, we'll all end up consuming each other) and a morbidly hilarious denouncement of vaccine refusal. —Jennifer Reimer, OSU-Cascades MFA in Creative Writing Program Lead

Writers Reading: The Source Poetry Contest
Live reading from winners of this year's Poetry Contest
Sat., Nov. 20. 2pm
Join at: deschuteslibrary.org/calendar/event/64315

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