Friday, July 30, 2021

CSPS Monthly Contests Winners, January - June 2021

Congratulations to all the winners of our Monthly Poetry Contests in the first six months of 2021. The prize-winning poems, selected by our Annual Contest Judge, Alice Pero, are posted below. 

The second half of the year will have the poems posted in January 2022. All Monthly Contest Winners will also be listed in the California Quarterly 48:1, Spring 2022, in the Newsbriefs section. All prize-winning poems published in the Poetry Letter No. 1, 2022, Spring 2022.

January 2021 - First Prize Winner


by Emory D. Jones

Bent grasses hint

at the passing of unseen winds

and spirits.

Spires of black spruce,

 rise out of moss

and point skyward,

their broken branches draped

with a haunting thin gauze

of lichens.

Poisonous red capped mushrooms stand

like miniature tables and chairs—

fungus furniture

that some secret night

might have hosted

the “little people”

so important in the folklore

of the native Ojibwa.

Something spiritual lives here,

something dark

something old.

January 2021 - Second Prize Winner

The Summer of Fire

by Marlene Hitt

... only a few clear days to see mountains

that summer of smoke. 

It blew north to south, west to east,

then due westward with a thick canopy

veiling the sky.

That one morning, dawn sun

rose red as a bloody yolk

fiery as those flames 

that devour ridges and ranges

licking them clear of chaparral.

That sun spread orange on the sheets

where we lay while orange flames

covered thickets and nests.


You have such a terrible craving

reducing cedar and pine to

blackened stumps, sumac to ash.

We pray for rain to bear you downhill

to melt the rage of you.

This morning in the orange light

air is pungent;

the smell of black brush,

the fear of live creatures.

After the night of fire 

I do not fret over the smell of

last night's onions

nor do I light a bathroom candle

but gaze out to yellow-grey,

watch the mountains disappear. 

January 2021 - Third Prize Winner

The Coming Snow

by David Anderson

The lone buffalo grazes

            ninety feet away

                        from a single giant pine.

This landscape hangs


                        by the haze of a coming storm.

Coated with ice

            the buffalo

                        continues to bite

the short grass

            we cannot see

                    under the shifting layer of slush.

Spare winter feed belies

            the flourishing tree

                        which, like the buffalo,

stands alone

            and catches the diamonds

                        of the oncoming snow.

February 2021 - First Prize Winner


by Claire J. Baker

                  I learn by going where I have to go.

                                       ~ Theodore Roethke

My love & I are a blink

in time's polished mirror

a tinkling of bells

a sprinkling of savvy

filled with drama, trauma

& triumph.

In the center of our story 

we gather anise

& rosemary for soup. 

After reading The Waking

we realize we read

each other easily. 


we will love forever,

clinking glasses 

surely makes it so,

& so for now

we gloriously come and go.

March 2021 - First Prize Winner

Just One Thing—

by Julia Park Tracey

Between two trees, a pretty 

patch of light like sun on water, firelight on walls—

like rain against the window, where every gleam’s

a jewel—

Mica in concrete. Ice crystals. My

wedding band with a diamond for each child.

William Carlos Williams’ broken glass

and Lucy in the sky, all shining with that

unbearable beauty, the only thing

that keeps my two feet moving when I should otherwise 

collapse. A sparkle so bright it 

waters my eyes. A light so delicate and sharp

like the first breath on a January morning.

Strange that’s all it takes some days to endure.

So little. So much.

April 2021 - First Prize Winner

Aboriginal Americans

by Colorado Smith

A windblown iris-blue sky,

flint chips and black-on-white shards

are peppered among red-rock spires

where, centuries of centuries ago,

yucca-fiber sandals pressed braided tracks

into this barren barranca

leading down to a sulfur spring.

Summer monsoon mud

and smoldering sun seared their trace

into castellated CaƱyon del Muerto

in the Dragoon Mountains.

A fevered history and sacred legends

from the People’s Chantways

speak of spiritual geography:

ancestral burial cists,

shamanic blessings;

of salt-pilgrimages to the Sea of Cortez,

of crossing windswept sands

and silver playas;

of parched, desert dreams:

mesquite-bean mortars,

palo verde,

and Sages.

April 2021 - Second Prize Winner

Plein Air, Oxford

by Teresa Bullock

There. Near the pinking apples

stands a giant chestnut shading the yard.

On the ancient wall crusty with lichen,

a resting cat sits sentry. Plush gray,

a boat cat by trade, he stops by

for a lap of milk and tummy rub

before padding  home

 to his long boat on the Isis.

Downy cygnets paddle around his boat,

bobbing and weaving for slick grasses.

Sculls swoosh by like needlefish.

Look again. Up river

 a cow herd cools under

long lashes of willow. Port Meadow

glows golden in the late sun. The palette:

Mud Brown, Tree-Canopy Green, Sky Water Blue,

Shadow Black. For the cows -

quick strokes in white and rust.

April 2021 - Third Prize Winner

Praxilla's Folly

by Ruth Berman

Sicya — a fruit like the cucumber

Or the gourd

Eaten ripe.

In Cucumber Town

In Sicyon near Corinth

Praxilla mourned Adonis in the spring.

Her Adonis, sprouting in the garden,

Spoke of what he missed,

Being dead:




     Ripe cucumbers



Silly as Praxilla's Adonis!"

Men in other

Cities hooted

Shocked that an idiot woman dared

Put cucumbers on a par

With the celestial glories

In Cucumber Town


Ate fresh salad

Her bite of immortality


With earth-born flavors.

In the land of death, Adonis

Waiting for the spring

Remembers sunlight on the garden.

May 2021 - First Prize Winner

Is that a Bird? 

by Luise Kantro

Well, Joan Miro.

I don’t get it.

A moon.  A star.

Five, maybe six, wacky, tilted heads.

I see no birds.

Crazy gymnasts, birds are.

The air.  The cloudless sky.

That weightless sensation.

Really, I see no birds.

Why call your painting

Women and Bird in the Moonlight?

As for the heads –  

mere faces with eyes

nose and mouth. 

Are they the women?

Where are the boobs

the painted nails

the wombs?

The shapes part I get.

Round, pointed, curved.

Shapes are cool.

      Oh my, is that thing a bird?

And those colors, orange and gray.

I can almost feel sun’s warmth touch my skin, 

loamy earth crumble in my fingers.

Best of all, through memory’s eye,

I see the marvelous drawing my son,

at five, made of a child sitting at a table

watching his orange juice fly across the room.

May 2021 - Second Prize Winner

Mending its Own Business

Elaine Westheimer

Mending Its Own Business

Slick, midnight black, big as Poe’s 

imagination, bird claws wood

where leafy tears flutter like 

green crystals under a jay-blue sky.

Seems nothing like a writing desk* 

as I spy its folded span amid tree 

sway and sprawl, a warrior hunter 

alert for prey and insurrection.

Beak snaps off a sizeable twig, 

I guess for a nest, and then takes

flight; my wild-thing thoughts 

turn to domesticated musings.


 *Why is a raven like a writing desk?" 

is a riddle proposed by the Mad Hatter 

during a tea party in Lewis Carroll's classic 

1865 novel, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.  

May 2021 - Third Prize Winner

The House Knows 

by Elizabeth Kuelbs

The house knows this baby’s zipping her bags 

bound for some wild place riddled with termites 

or leaks or views of cracked bricks. 

All the babies are the house’s favorite 

so she sings remember like a circus at the end of the world 

tumbling lavender Easter eggs from under the sofa, 

sunshining the floor with golden nap patches, 

percussing the stairs with ghosts of first steps and high heels, 

breathing fresh sourdough and butter from the kitchen, 

cajoling flocks of orioles to trill in the backyard poplars, 

and plinking scraped knees and triumph on the worn piano. 

But this baby, bound for some wild place, 

just kisses the front door, then rolls her bags down the walk 

where the weeping cherries froth blossoms at her nonstop 

and the grass greens so hard, stretching pluckily skyward—  

you hear me, baby? the house calls,

you stretch skyward always, 

lawnmowers or no damn lawnmowers

June 2021 -  First Prize Winner

The Ghost in the Restaurant 

by Gail White

If I'm not fit for heaven, let me haunt 

Venice, I prayed. And now I have a front 

Row seat at Florian's, facing St. Mark's square, 

To start again my oldest love affair. 

It's true the waiter never comes to take 

My order - understandable mistake 

Since I'm not visible - so what's the use 

Of showering the servants with abuse? 

People sit down around me. I don't care­

Catching the pageant from my vacant chair, 

I see the paving stones grow bright with rain, 

The pigeons cluck and stutter, twilights wane 

To starry nights. I watch, while thanking God,

God, the changing lights that turn St. Mark's facade

from gray-green stone into a sheet of gold. 

Don't sit down suddenly. You'll feel the cold. 

Southern California photos by Maja Trochimczyk: Venice Beach, Hermosa Beach, Big Tujunga Wash

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