Monday, April 1, 2024

Poetry Letter No. 1, Spring 2024, Part 1 - Winners of Monthly Poetry Contests in 2023


 Aloes by Josephine Joy. Smithsonian American Art Museum, ca. 1935-38, No. 1971.447.43

The first issue of the Poetry Letter of a given year presents all prize-winning poems from Monthly Contests of the previous year and these poems fill the majority of its pages. I interspersed poetry with illustrations taken from the Smithsonian Museum of American Art: folk art by Josephine Joy (1869-1948), anonymous rural paintings, and California landscape art by Elmer Wachtel (1864-1939), Paul Dougherty (1877-1947), and Edward Bruce (1879-1943). 

The majority of paintings come from the oeuvre of Josephine Joy. According to the Smithsonian, “Josephine Joy grew up on an Illinois farm, where she loved to sketch birds, trees, and flowers. Circumstances prevented her from following her artistic calling until 1927, after her children were grown and her husband had died. Joy lived in California then, and the WPA's California Art Project afforded her the opportunity to work gainfully as an artist.”  Her paintings are in a folk-art style reminiscent of the French Henri Rousseau or the Polish Nikifor. She painted what she saw and how she saw it, without succumbing to artistic conventions about how art “should” look like, that changed in time like women’s fashion styles. Folk artists encapsulate the freedom of self-expression, and the happiness of creativity. 

Maja Trochimczyk, CSPS President

List of Monthly Contest Winners of 2023 

Alice Pero, the CSPS Monthly Contest Judge selected the following poems from submissions received each month. The first prize is a minimum of $10. Congratulations to all the winners!

January (Nature, Landscapes):  

♦ 1st Prize: Gurupreet K. Khalsa, "Slip Your Mind Into the Water" 

♦ ♦ 2nd Prize: Joel Savishinsky, "Orchard in Autumn" 

♦ ♦ ♦  3rd Prize: Colorado Smith, "Spirit-Bears of British Columbia"

February (Love)

♦ 1st Prize: Jean Varda, “Lover” 

♦ ♦   2nd Prize: Erin Garstka, "In the Twilight"

March (Open, Free Subject):  

♦   1st Prize: r g cantalupo, “The Art of Poetry”

 ♦ ♦  2nd Prize: Ed McManis, “Thirtieth Anniversary”

April (Dreams, Mythology, Other Universes):  

 ♦  1st Prize:  Lucia Kiersch Haase, "I Have Dreams"

 ♦ ♦  2nd Prize: Gurupreet K. Khalsa, "Provisional Identity"

May (Personification, Characters, Portraits):  

♦   1st Prize: Allison Burris, "Two Good Witches"

June (The Supernatural):  ♦ No Prizes. 

July  (Childhood, Memoirs):  

♦ 1st Prize Jane Stuart, “When Memories Fade”

August (Places, Poems of Location):  

♦ 1st Prize: Jiang Pu, "Hakone Garden"

 ♦ ♦ 2nd Prize: Michael Shoemaker, "Stargazing at Capitol Reef"

September (Colors, Music, Dance):  

♦ 1st Prize: Joan Gerstein, “Grayscale of Truth”

 ♦ ♦ 2nd Prize: Stewart Breier, “Hellstorm, Stars & Angels” 

 ♦ ♦ ♦ 3rd Prize: Kevin Madrigal Galindo, “the rhythm of the wind”

October:  ♦ No award. 

November (Family, Relationships):  

♦ 1st Prize: Mia Kernaghan, “A Strange Chance”

 ♦ ♦ 2nd Prize: Jeff Graham, “Though”  

♦ ♦ ♦ 3rd Prize: Carla Schick, “Today I Could Be Something I've Never Been”

December (Back Down to Earth – Time, Seasons): 

 ♦  1st Prize: Thomas Feeney, "Fall Afternoon"

 ♦ ♦ 2nd Prize: Jane Stuart, "December Melody"


Stag at Echo Rock, Anonymous folk art, oil on canvas. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Herbert Waide Hemphill, Jr. and museum purchase made possible by Ralph Cross Johnson.




 Clinging by the tree-equivalent of fingernails,

roots forsaken by sandy shoreline

surrendered companion lying in a tangle,

of slimed branches, the broken old oak

leans heavy above the water,

draped in swaying Spanish moss

like an ancient woman, bent and shuffling

in her drab dressing gown, waving

farewell to each friend in turn, waiting

for her time to fall into watery depths

to become a colony of barnacles.

And if you forget the cycle

to descend into your own dream*

you can slip your mind into the water.


* Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me, p. 108


Gurupreet K. Khalsa, 

First Prize, January 2023 

Published in Mocking Owl Roost BlogSpecial Poetry Issue, 1 September 2022.



Nothing seems to be what it is.

The carrots are like cardboard

Tomatoes: tasteless. Too many

mealy melons. The world has

taken a chemical bath, and

my taste-buds admit to

a failure of nerve.


This is not my orchard, and I

 have a say only in its sadness.

Beyond the borders where

the trucks and spray do not reach,

a rogue tree, sidelined, overlooked,

limbs angled like arms crossed in anger.

It mimics a crone, overgrown,

whose suckers proliferate,

the mature apples now barely

the dimension of young·breasts

or swollen plumbs, still sweet

but tart, almost embarrassing in

their small, geometric hope for salvation.


How many more years will these offerings

keep their virtue? How many more years

will I be able to hike this far to find

their weeping crowns, the edges graced

by the blasts of October storms,

the windfall at their swollen feet

turning the soil into apple-earth?


Perhaps this is another creation's

Tree of Good and Evil, its roots

snaking beneath the boundary

between abuse and neglect,

the latter-day witness whose

autumn fruit embodies the Fall itself,

last resident of a paradise from which

one would welcome the relief of exile and

the exchange of innocence for character.


Joel Savishinsky

Second Prize, January 2023


When all animals spoke the same language,

 the first Moksgm'ol* showed a human

which plants were edible,

and how to catch salmon,

leave their remains in forest

so their nitrogen nourishes trees.

 About to teach the human how to hibernate all winter,

the white-bear was killed by another human 's arrow.

Now we bum wood all winter to live.

-Kitasoo Legend


      In the spruce forest, to the thump of the shore-break,

      shaman-song purls from a stormy petrel's burrow.

      Muskeg tea tumbles downstream to the strait

      as foamy spume from swells

      surround a sperm whale's stifling stench

      as it rots on the rocks—


      its purple tongue almost gone

      and cavernous cavities eaten into its creamy blubber.

      On black sand under a huge hemlock,

      a white bear and her white cub* sleep-off their feast.


      To the rasping cry of Stellar jays,

      dippers and crows harvest salmon eggs

      from the riffled edges of the muskeg stream.

      Bald eagles on cedar perches await

      silver silhouettes in the Pacific

      or unsuspecting shorebirds.


      At dusk when the tide is out,

      the white bears savor salmonberries,

      search the sea wrack for kelp and crabs,

      then CRUNCH acorn barnacles off the rocks ... 


*Over I00 white black-bears live on the islands

in the Great Bear Rainforest.

 They're not albinos: both their parents

 had a recessive no-melanin gene.


Colorado Smith

Third Prize, January 2023

William Henry Holmes (1846-1933), On the Coast of California, watercolor, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Dr. William Henry Holmes, n.d. Catalog No. 1930.12.8.




          your body

          and my body

          and the sun

          that rises

          between us

          and melts

          my mind


          my heart

          body of

          bird song

          clear wind

          on the



         I am a cloud


         against you


Jean Varda,

First Prize, February 2023


                                     ~ for Mark

I want to go back to the moment we met

and make the ocean lie still on the horizon,

light and shadows bathed in blue haze,

my only thought that you cannot be too near.


I want to see your blue eyes in the twilight,

two stars in the long vanishing trail of memory,

your hair wild as a tumbleweed and golden

as sun in the heat of an August afternoon.


I want to hear your voice in my ear so soft

it sends down a deep shock of desire stinging

the tip of my heart and startles my breath

from lungs easing into o's of ecstasy.


I want to make love beneath a saucer of a moon

with the tide at its full and the last ship lost,

every woman who ever loved singing from my bones, 

every man who ever fell beneath a siren's spell answering.


Erin Garstka

Second Prize, February 2023

Josephine Joy (1869-1948), Irish Cottage, oil on canvas. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the Newark Museum, ca. 1935-1938; Catalog No. 1966.31.8.

MARCH 2023


I usually get where I’m going 

without knowing how I got there. 

I’m driving, but it’s not me fighting 

traffic, it’s someone else, someone 

who’s infinitely better at such tasks. 

No, I’m usually drifting along on a song 

elsewhere, listening to Bix Beiderbecke 

on the coronet say, or Bechet on his 

moaning clarinet. I’m here following a 

burst of pure expression, gazing up 

through the windshield at a splash of 

wild, lime-green parrots, while my double’s 

out there cruising through amber lights, 

negotiating a horseshoe curve. And yet it

is in those moments, in that space between 

habit and desire, that suddenly a phrase 

will come, a cluster of sounds, a line or two 

or even a whole poem, written in my head, 

or scribbled on the back of a grocery list 

as my other continues squiggling down

the mountain. You might think there’s 

more to it than that, a kind of alchemy

to the way I multiply from one to three, 

into this one braking into a turn, that one 

watching a flight of green wings, and this 

last one scatting to the notes of a sweet 

horn—a magic say to how one street shifts 

into another until—poof!—I am there!—

parked in front of a grocery store or a pet 

shop. But, that’s not the way it happens 

really. My pen simply rolls forward toward 

some place I’ve never been before, (or I keep 

revisiting), and I, I just go along, surrender 

to the mystery

r g cantalupo

First Prize in March 2023

First published in Wisconsin Review



      She dreams

      of onyx, I’m

      pretty sure,


      a beach

      in Mexico,

      with a child


      who sells carved

      elephants, jingles

      pesos, pans


      for American gold.

      Before she wakes

      I rub lotion


      on my hands

      and feet

      as if I were


      an apostle,

      an awkward

      clumsy one

      with wrinkled

      sandpaper skin,

      a long memory.


Ed McManis

Second Prize, March 2023

Paul Dougherty  (1877-1947), California Cliffs, oil on wood. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Carleton S. Coon, after 1935. Catalog no. 1968.148.

APRIL 2023



Watching Britain By Beach, the ocean gleams

reflecting a quaint writing shed in Wales

and I'm not there, but surely I have dreams


where Dylan Thomas wrote midst winded beams

of windowed sun so near to sea bound sails.

Watching Bntain By Beach, the ocean gleams.


Reading Under Milk Wood and thinking of themes

for poems. Inspiration never fails,

and I'm not there, but surely I have dreams


just as a famous Wales poet, it seems

writing wave length verse, telling of his tales.

Watching Britain By Beach, the ocean gleams.


A far away place, yet a closeness streams

in quiet sea currents of metered scales,

and I'm not there, but surely I have dreams.


In the mind of a poet, there's always schemes

to follow in one's mind like beachy trails.

Watching Britain By Beach, the ocean gleams,


and I'm not there, but surely I have dreams.


Lucia Kiersch Haase

First Prize, April 2023


For whatsoever from one place doth fall, 

is with the tide unto another brought

for there is nothing lost

 that may be found if sought.

--Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queen

Sliding around on the surface of a soap bubble (also known as the Universe), seeking purchase. Experi'ence the bubble as two-dimensional. Piercing the bubble to vast interior emptiness brings about annihilation


             in infinite space

             room enough.

In traversing the bubble's surface I run and run to reach conclusion or understanding but end up where I began. Do you believe in this life? What if is the was of what shall be, Lao Tzu said, remember how time past meanders into time present and becomes memories that linger through unforgotten years, dispassionately seeing to the core,


            with heaven 


            no break


            to quiet.

Measureless untouchable source (repeated), music blowing dust. Hum of bass viols in the ocean. I walk on the beach, eyes on patches of sand just ahead of my feet. I am searching for a perfect rock—round, flat, bubble-smooth. What I find is not perfect. A bump on one side, ridges, swirls that could be a fossilized river, slick riparian eddies, islands, layers —

            flow's origin,

            mobius thread,



Rock, warm in my hand. If returned to shore, how long before its swirls, eddies become part of vaster ocean and shore, indistinguishable beginning and ending, yesterday on the edge of tomorrow, measureless untouchable source, found if sought.

  Italics: from Sue Brannan Walker's poem, Yesterday on the Edge of Tomorrow

Gurupreet K. Khalsa

Second Prize in April 2023

Arthur F. Mathews (1860-1945), Spring Dance, oil on canvas. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. David J. Carlson, ca. 1917, Catalog no. 1982.126

MAY 2023



they cool their legs in the little pond,

watch the hopping frogs

glisten and swim, frogs gliding

under the pads, plopping,

lilies bloom & feet sway

back and forth


tell me who you helped today,

tell me the song you sang

to the tune of human foibles


sharing rice cakes,

crustless cucumber sandwiches

cut into triangles,

carrot sticks & cold brewed tea

blended specially to face

another day of kindness


they’ve rucked up blue & gold

skirts past their knees,

dancing feet stilled

paddling, paddling

point with flicking eyes

as the woodpecker knocks

& the fir answers--

they admire his plumage


Allison Burris

First Prize, May 2023

JULY 2023


 What lasts is the wind that followed you home

and the color of my morning star,

your footprints hurrying across wet sand,

my twist of the rain-soaked rope to the moon

and all things that happened that wonderful day

when we said goodbye to children we were

and began our trip to the sky, we said

through marshmallow clouds and hundreds of stars, 

mysterious time not yet written of

but a promised world full of Christmas toys

and books that told of deep rivers and trees

where life's melodies were always sung

and our tracks were easy to follow,

our tracks are so easy to follow.


Jane Stuart

First Prize, July 2023

Josephine Joy, Prisoner’s Plea, oil on fiberboard. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from General Services Administration, ca. 1935-1937, Object number 1971.447.38.




Once in a while

I need to come back to you

pluck my heart out        soak it

in the jade-green wave

                                  of bamboo

rinse off its dust in your pond

set it free

let it swim

                      chase koi fish & a few

                      wandering clouds

                      until cold morning dews

all evaporate

            from the mossy mountains

                              & white-sanded rock garden


I need to shower

in the slow scent

                                of a sweet olive tree

which flickers like incense

                    grandma's wrinkled hands held

and a bell's wavering ringing

from a blue-bricked temple

                       on the other side of the ocean


I need to look up

to a sky dressed with

cherry blossom

                              maple & magnolia          •

to the silent sound of


whispering wisteria

drop a petal


                      or two

 Jiang Pu

First Prize, August 2023



It’s a mysterious nonmystery,

As I contemplate numberless

stars with the same mind

that counts out my correct change

at the checkout stand at the supermarket

I am baffled by the mathematical infinity,

An expanse of beauty I see

and yet I do not feel alone or distant.

There is something right on the outskirts

of the soul that lets me know

I am in some way more a beloved brother

than a rejected outlander

to these living, rotating masses of hydrogen and helium.

I am so glad you are here to hold my hand.



Michael Shoemaker

Second Prize, August 2023


Landscape With Castles and Deer by M. A. Hall, n.d. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Herbert Waide Hemphill, Jr. and museum purchase made possible by Ralph Cross Johnson, 1875, Catalog no. 1986.65.116




Gray or grey


yet a huge range of hues

even fifty sexy shades

supple as silly putty faded drapes

solid as knitting needles     sewing kits

mules hooves flannel suits      a plane

mushroom    hair gray matter brain

elephant and beluga whale

sunning lizards leisurely snails

dolphins cobblestones killer sharks

end of day    just before dark

smoke from a distant fire

charcoal bullet wire spoon

staples drains cloudy afternoon

sardines drab depressed so sad

mold growing on a peach gone bad

a pirate’s hooked hand caste iron will

a cool hip cat whose teeth are grilled

It's monkey bars slide and swings

ashes and squeaky box springs

It's lemur parrot pigeon gull

Unclear undefined distant dull

It's braces tools zipper and needle

Dubious areas that may not be legal


Joan Gerstein

First Prize, September 2023


While the hellstorm beat outside,

There were angels singing on the radio,

And the flickering of theater light,



They descended,

Offering water and nectar to the parched,

In our flame drive land

Stewart Breier

Second Prize, September 2023


song sparrows forced to course correct 

real-time, to get from A to B.

if you gaze upon the earth, 

you'll see a scape of green

& whorled milkweed flowers bloom

dancing to the rhythm of the wind.

A striped licorice black and golden yellow bee

lands on milkweed petals.

Hopping from one beautiful blossom

to another in an improvised choreography,

it takes a moment to dip every new

partner lightly. They will spring back tall

when the bee is gone.

A strong gust announces itself 

brushing the trees.

This wind has traveled by ocean 

you can tell, the way it uses forest

to mimic the sound of receding waves 

on shimmied sand.

The trees will pay no attention

to the syncopation of birds

chirping, instead they will slow dance 

the day away to the rhythm of the wind.

Kevin Madrigal Galindo

Third Prize, September 2023

Waterbirds nesting, Josephine Joy, oil on canvas. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from General Services Administration, ca. 1935-1939, Object number 1971.447.42


                        A STRANGE CHANGE 

                        Here is an hourglass of our time, 
                        two spirits swirling like a carnival ride —
                        one with silver strands slowly coming undone, 
                       and slips a light year away as we sit palm to palm —
                       the other newborn girl looking out at the world 
                       and smelling sweet as Texas strawberry pie. 

                       Here is where these two spirits meet —
                       at the kitchen table where all sins are atoned 
                       and we wait with teacups half full,
                       watching a thousand crystal grains settle into place
                       to form only a minute’s worth of passage in time.

                       One minute of life almost done and the other just begun —
                       paper thin skin hands turn to stardust under hospital lights
                       and a newborn is carried home for the very first time —
                       this is right before the hourglass is flipped once more 
                       and life is reassured by the sadness, the strain,
                       the change and the flight.

          Mia Kernaghan
          First Prize in November 


Each transparency: worlds of, conceivables beyond.                  
A hundred transparencies: one and none.                    
Transparent mirror: window’s glance at window.              
Transparent wall: rooms unending as they enter.                     

Inevitably, two people, face to transparent face,                     
invariably find themselves in the other’s selves –           
          glimpses amidst and amongst
          coinciding concretias of atmosphere.

Sometimes, infinite existences of and by a fingertip                           
touch another fingertip brimming 
with alternate actualities unending.                          
Nothing changes, everything changes,  
          change changes –                                                     
          change changes change.    
The hand that holds the hand that holds.                    
          Though, no –                       
          two people,                         
          no world.    

Jeff Graham
Second Prize, November 2023

Josephine Joy, Trysting at Evening, oil on fiberboard, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from General Services Administration, ca. 1935-1939, Catalog no. 1971.447.39.



The long breeze with its warning
sweeps down from the woods
heads straight for the lone boy
sprawled half asleep on the steps

Before him, in the yard
the white wind runs mad
swirling, gusting
snatching petals from flowers

He blinks up into the troubled air,
yawns at the gold-touched forest
moving hard upon the house

Patiently his day dreams on
while black-tigered trees laugh
to know
they’ll swallow house and boy by spring

Thomas Feeney
First Prize in December

Published in Breathing in Technicolor, Fall 2013


Tiger lilies

creek side flowers

shimmering drops 

of silver rain

—such cold starlight 

    is this tomorrow

    or today?

Bright and shiny wind 

snowflakes in the air  

winter's golden harp

plays on

in memory

but we wish for more

than yesterday


light the sky

starry moments fall.

On the shore, a fishing net

full of broken shells

...but the sea is far away

Clouds cover the moon 

night's shadows fall 

over a stone garden.

You are planting 

flowers made of glass.

This is time's menagerie

Jane Stuart

Second Prize, December 2023

Josephine Joy, CCC Camp Balboa Park, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from General Services Administration, ca. 1933-1937, No. 1971.447.41