Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Winners of CSPS's 34th Annual Poetry Contest, 2020

The 34th Annual Poetry Contest of the California State Poetry Society was managed by Joyce Snyder and adjudicated by Kaecey McCormick, Poet Laureate of the City of Cupertino, California. The results are as follows: 


1st  Prize — “Respite” by Anara Guard of Sacramento, CA 

2nd Prize  — “Low Sun Angle” by Susan Gunter of Santa Rosa, CA 

3rd Prize  — “Boundaries” by Barbara Allen of Palo Alto, CA 

The prize-winning poems have been published in the California Quarterly, vol. 46 no. 4 in December 2020.  https://www.californiastatepoetrysociety.com/2020/11/california-quarterly-vol-46-no-4-winter.html


“The Gain” by Hilary King of Los Altos, CA

“More War Than the One Staying Alive Demands of Us” by Abby Bogomolny of Santa Rosa, CA

“April, 2020” by Mark Meierding of Rohnert Park, CA

“For My Twelve Students Absent on Halloween” by Kathleen McClung of San Francisco, CA

“Covers” by Greg Gregory of Antelope, CA


Reading poetry requires curiosity and a willingness to learn. Each piece is a lesson, each line a challenge to one’s subconscious biases. Every poem submitted this year offers something unique, and choosing the winners was not an easy task. I am grateful to each contestant for sharing their creative spirit and am honored to have learned from these wise and honest writers. 


A meditative and pensive piece, this short poem lingers long after the reader sets the page down. “Respite” demonstrates the ability of poetry to transport the reader in mood and place. The first two lines both pull the reader in and slow the reader down, setting the rhythm and tone of what is to follow. Simple yet powerful imagery planted in lines six and seven allow the reader to celebrate along with the speaker, and the language choice evokes a sense of timelessness. The entle command of the third stanza is a call to action, an offering for the reader to seek respite in nature again. As a whole, this well-crafted poem succeeds in delivering what the title offers. 


A modern sonnet, this poem begins and ends with strong imagery. The soft, slow language in the second line contrasts with the blunt language in line three, setting a pensive and reflective mood. Concrete language grounds the poem, making the images accessible while the lexicon evokes a sense of discomfort, contemplation, and loss. The steady rhythm leads the reader deeper into the reflection, and sound plays an important role. The couplet works to solidify the theme, yet the soft hiss of the final word (“space”) adds to the simile’s power and brings the poem to a soft, slow close. 


Deceptively simple, the poem’s short form and lines hide a powerful and effective metaphor. The title leads the reader into the poem and plays a key role in unlocking the poem’s message. The 30 words in the poem are so effectively selected that those few present succeed in creating a vivid image and compelling analogy. The kitchen references set the scene, evoking a sense of familiarity and continuity through the shift in stanza two. While the message of the poem is straightforward, it is skillfully realized, highlighting how a short poem can showcase complex themes. 

"Redwood Creek" by Karen Winters,  20 x 16", oil
karensblog.com; karenwinters.com


In deep woods, 

language slows down: 

first the tongue, 

then the mind. 

With reverence, we gaze: 

oh, the red soil, 

oh, the fern’s green. 

We thank the cobblers and knitters 

who outfitted us, 

the trail makers, 

the grove savers. 

Into this silence, listen well. 

Fresh words will arise,

unhurried thoughts, 

allowing us to ask 

the right questions 

when we return.  

Anara Guard  

Sacramento, California 

First Prize Winner 

Anara Guard grew up in Chicago where she studied writing at the Urban Gateways Young Writers Workshop with Kathleen Agena and Sterling Plumpp, at the Columbia College Story Workshop, and at St. Joseph’s College with Stu Dybek. While attending Kenyon College, she was awarded the John Crowe Ransom Poetry Prize and the Doris Crozier Award. At the Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts, Guard studied with Norman Corwin; in the fiction workshop at Bread Loaf Writers Conference with Robert Cohen and Alix Ohlin. In 2016, she attended the fiction workshop at Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. She lives in northern California with her husband David Hutchinson. 



The hours weight the winter light down,

dried daisy stalks sashaying in the wind. 

I’m flattened by my own history, 

trying to compost a past I can’t revive. 

Today my memories nag at me, 

that empyrean of years, felonies 

of mind like so many bees mining 

the purple starred rosemary blooms. 

My tongue licks words for the honey 

of remembered tunes, for the nectar

of winter afterthoughts, those blue 

candles I can’t quite snuff. 

Old age is like that: thoughts like 

spider webs, trailing into space. 

Susan E. Gunter   

Santa Rosa, California

Second Prize Winner 

Susan E. Gunter is a professor of English emerita and a three-time Fulbright scholar in American and gender studies. She has published poems in America (Atlanta Review, Louisville Review, Paterson Review, Poet Lore, and many other journals), Bulgaria, England, Montenegro, and Sweden. Her reviews of poetry have appeared in American Arts Quarterly, Crab Creek Review, and The Harvard Review. She has also published three academic books on the Henry and William James family. She lives in Santa Rosa, where she paints watercolors, plays golf, and helps care for her grandchildren. 

"Vineyard Valley" by Karen Winters, 18x24, oil on linen


She wished for me 

to hold her pain 

in my red ribbed mixing bowl, 

balanced on my belly 

just beneath the heart. 

I offered her instead, 

my arm outstretched, 

a teaspoon.  

Barbara Allen 

Palo Alto, California 

Third Prize Winner

Barbara Allen’s interest in poetry began as a child reading weekly from “101 Famous Poems” to her visually impaired great aunt.   Her fascination with poetry continued throughout her four decades of elementary teaching career.  Upon retirement, she joined an adult education poetry appreciation class and began attending various writing workshops and retreats.  In 2014, she established Palo Alto’s first Poetry Post outside her kitchen door, posting a classic or contemporary poem weekly for the community’s reading pleasure. Reading poetry has become a daily practice, as she seeks poetry for The Post that reflects a particular time or season. As a writer, Barbara is enchanted with the hunt for “just the right words in just the right order.” Boundaries is her first publication and award.


Kaecey McCormick, the 2020 Contest judge, is an author, artist and educator who was named 2018-2020 Poet Laureate for the City of Cupertino. She holds degrees in Anthropology & Psychology from UCLA and the University of Maryland, and an MFA in Writing from Lindenwood University. Her poetic work has been featured in numerous journals & anthologies. Her recent chapbook, Pixelated Tears is currently available and her book The Creativity Blueprint is forthcoming. 

"June Lake Sunset" by Karen Winters, 24x30, oil on linen


This contest is open to all poets, whether or not they are members of the CSPS. Poems must be uploaded to our website or postmarked from March 1st through June 30th. Reading fees for all entries, domestic or international, are $3.00 per poem for members and $6.00 per poem for nonmembers. There is an 80-line (two page) limit for each poem. Winning entries are announced on our website, blog, and in the CSPS Newsbriefs included in the fourth issue of the California Quarterly in a given year. 

Poets winning 1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes receive $100, $50 and $25, respectively. As many as five Honorable Mentions may also be awarded. Placing poets are published in the fourth issue of the CQ in the contest year. The Honorable Mention poems and other submissions are forwarded to the CQ editors for possible inclusion in the subsequent issue. Contest results are posted on our website.  If submitting by mail, send a cover letter with all poet information and a list of submitted poems, one copy of each poem with no poet identification, plus an email or SASE for contest results, to:     

CSPS Annual Contest Chair 

3371 Thomas Drive Palo Alto, California 94303 

Photos from High Sierras, CA - near Huntington Lake by Maja Trochimczyk
Artwork by Karen Winters, California painter based in La Canada.

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