Judging a Poetry Contest…

Nancy Flynn Apostrophe Blog Archive, Awards, Writing, Writing Contests

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Musings on Writing and Life.

In Fall 2012, I volunteered to be the judge for the New Poets category of the Oregon Poetry Association (OPA) contests. The OPA definition of a new poet is someone with no more than two poems published in print or online journals. Anything self-published or posted on a personal website or blog also counts as published. The poems are all submitted to the contest anonymously; as judge, I had no clue who had written what. I think at the time the limit for this category was thirty lines.

I can’t remember now how many entries I read through to come up with the top three winners and five honorable mentions. Probably at least one hundred thinking back. I do remember that the poems I eventually selected as the winners stood out from the rest of the pack pretty darn quick. I also remember being surprised by the poems that I ended up choosing as winners— a good thing. Below are the comments I wrote when I sent my selections to in to the overall contest chair. The names of the winners are listed below as well. It was a fun exercise to read, reflect, select, and then think about the “why” of what makes a winning poem.

1st Prize           “untitled 3”

A subversive take on the oh-so-clichéd love poem. This understated poem with its absence of capitalization deploys periods in five strategic spots to end-stop lines throughout its mere eleven lines. To me, these period placements said stop, pause, reflect on what I, poem, have just uttered to you. The poem as a whole offered a sly, subtle commentary not only on love but on the nature of and desire for faith—a controversial subject in the news these days as we ramp up to the 2012 Presidential election. In spare, clean, economical language, a position is conveyed. I liked its sureness, its surprise, its chatty invitation to the reader to step into the poem, read and identify if you can, as you must. I liked the enigma of the numeral 3 in its title, too—as if one could write and write dozens of these and still never be able to definitively name the “truth” of love. Or faith.

2nd Prize          “bob wrigley and orange dream have to wait”

Being a fan of punctuation and capitalization, this long, continuous “sentence” of a poem—with its rushing around, forward, ahead—had to do something else lively and surprising with language in order to catch my attention and keep it. And indeed it did. A portrait of the compromise and sacrifice necessary when you are the parent of young, schedule-defying children, it layered that quotidian narrative with a cool, singular poetic diction, effective repetition, and fresh word choices (especially fun verbs) throughout. The poem contains, too, a bit of rapture for poetry itself—the distracted narrator so much wants to climb inside Robert Wrigley’s book of poems, her “booty” from the library that those wriggly children keep her from reading. And I learned what an Orange Dream is, too!

3rd Prize          “Rock and Root”

This poem pushes beyond what so often is the cliché-ridden “nature poem” to add something new to the conversation. For me, it was about ways of seeing, the multiple versions we can have of any given “seen thing”, and the subsequent privileging of one narrative about the world (and the words we choose) over another. And the ways we “body” the landscape around us. Very cool stuff. The poem’s poetry is also strong thanks to singular verb/noun word choices including homonymic play and surprising juxtapositions throughout. Assonance, consonance, rhyme and slant-rhyme are all used to effectively support the narrative and make the poem’s free verse zing and beguile as the reader walks alongside the poem’s “we.”

HM1    “Supplication”

HM2    “On the Late Shift”

HM3    “streetcar ride in spring”

HM4    “Surfaces”

HM5    “Safety Net”

New Poets – Nancy Flynn

First Place: “Untitled 3” by Brad Canfield
Second Place: “bob wrigley and orange dream have to wait” by Rebecca Hardin
Third Place: “Rock and Root” by Tricia Knoll

Honorable Mentions

“Supplication” by Susan Ryan
”On the Late Shift” by Michael McFetridge
”streetcar ride in spring” by Katharine Quince
”Surfaces” by Jerri Elliott Otto
”Safety Net” by Diane Nichols

Nancy Flynn
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