Thursday, January 27, 2022

CSPS Poetry Letter No. 1, 2022 - Winners of 12 CSPS Monthly Poetry Contests in 2021

Pam Coulter, "Still Life with Oranges" 

California State Poetry Society is pleased to publish the prize-winning poems for the year 2021 in its blog and the Poetry Letter No. 1 of 2022.  Below is the list of winners with links to the blog posts where the poems are published. January through March winners appeared on the blog twice and April through May once in the blog posts linked below. The poems for July through December are posted below the list of all 2021 winners. Congratulations to the poets and many thanks to Alice Pero, our Monthly Contests Judge.

As illustrations on this blog, we are presenting the artwork of Pam Coulter Blehert, still life paintings and landscapes. The artist who died in 2021 was born in Evanston, Illinois and lived in Northern Virginia, the subject of many of her landscapes. She completed various Postgraduate courses in art: American University, Corcoran School, Odeon Art School (LA), Paris and holds a B.A. degree from Antioch College in Humanities/Studio Arts (1965). She participated in 17 solo exhibition in 1988-2007 and in 34 group exhibitions in 1999-2011.  She also received 25 grants and awards over the course of her career that included teaching art at various institutions  and  having her artwork represented by several noted galleries. You can find more information on her website at

Pam Coulter, "Hanover Avenue, Richmond, Virginia"


January 2021 - Theme: Nature, Seasons, Landscape

First Prize: Dr. Emory D. Jones,  "Sanctuary" 

Second Prize: Marlene Hitt, "Summer of Fire" 

Third Prize: David Anderson, "The Coming Snow"

February 2021 - Theme: Love

First Prize: Claire J. Baker, "Speculation"

March 2021 - Theme: Open, Free Subject

First Prize: Julia Park Tracey - "Just One Thing"

April 2021 - Theme: Mythology, Dreams, Other Universes

First Prize: Jerry Smith "Aboriginal Americans"

Second Prize: Teresa Bullock "Plain Air, Oxford"

Third Prize: Ruth Berman "Praxilla's Folly"

May 2021 - Theme: Personification, Characters, Portraits

First Prize; Louise Kantro "Is That a Bird?"

Second Prize: Elaine Westheimer "Mending Its Own Business"

Third Prize: Elizabeth Kuelbs "The House Knows"

June 2021 - Theme: The Supernatural

First Prize: Gail White, "The Ghost in the Restaurant"

July 2021 - Theme: Childhood, Memoirs

First Prize: Corey Weinstein "Mezzrow's Mistake"

Second Prize: Keala Rusher "On Butterflies"

Third Prize: Chryss Yost "Canid"

August 2021 - Theme: Places, Poems of Location

First Prize:  Ahmad Aamir Malik (from Pakistan) "Montreal from a Departing Plane's Window"

Second Prize: Eileen Carole "Caribbean Dreams 1 & 2"

Third Prize: Lynn M. Hansen  "Anacapa, Island of Mirage"

September 2021 - Theme: Colors, Music, Dance

1st prize: Catherine McCraw, "Blue Plate Special"

2nd prize: Carla Schick,  "Other Miracles I Failed to Notice.(Remembering Coltrane's Dear Lord)"

3rd prize: Jonathan Ansley Ward, "Are Islands Alive"

October 2021 - Theme: Humor, Satire

First Prize: Joan Gerstein, "A Day of Races"

November 2021 - Theme: Family, Friendship, Relationships

First prize: Marilyn Robertson, "Cannery Row Mural, 1946"

Second prize: Cathy Porter, "Insatiable"

Third prize: Jeff Graham, "Ode: the 2020's"

December 2021 - Theme: Best of Your Best (award-winning or published poems)

First prize:  Lynn M. Hansen, "Storm Spiders"

Second prize   Elizabeth Kuelbs,  "Flower Moon"

Third prize    Louise Kantro, "By the Campfire, Borrego Desert"

Pam Coulter, "Sunflowers and Pears"


Mezzrow's Mistake

What was I thinking,
what was thinking anyway?
In high school I thought a lot
about who was doing what to whom,
And how did I fit in or out.

A jock, yes  that barn door right  tackle,
The pride of Little Warsaw, Polsky Tech,
Lumbered dumbly right up to us stoners,
Da ya know where I ken get sum, y a know, sum.
A doobie lookin' for a doob, yes,
Dope, dank, bud, boo, giggle stick, weed,
Joy by many names,
Herb, cabbage, reefer, shake, In so many ways,
Ganja, da kine, Cheech and Chong, skunk.
His Jay Tokenstein to my Mezz Mezzrow,
My 420 every day to his can't name the day.

Dare I on a dare, I did dare, I swear.
In the hall, swivel eyes, arms at sides,
palms fast and smooth, cash and goods,
A dime bag, he'd never know it was Oregano.

Let's just say, He Knew.
What was I thinking!


On Butterflies

One day, I woke up
Just like every other
But this day, I was no longer
Sixteen or seventeen or eighteen.

Instead, the lettuce in the planterbox
had bittered and bolted
Shooting up flowering stalks,

While the air smelled of soil
And warm tomatoes
 Fresh off their vines in mid July.

If I spoke to my past self
And she asked me if true love exists
I would tell her yes,
Because I know it myself.

Though, it doesn't feel like
heartracing and insects,
however beautiful,
The way people say it does.

More so a letter with good news
You were not expecting,
Sweet tea, and a fleeting breeze
That carries scents you can't begin to place,

But recall all the same.



This story begins with low sun and low tide.
The shadows pulled across on the sand,
rolled out like butchers' paper.
        The blue-grey brush strokes evening.

Tbis is the story my dog tells himself,
of shadow wolf in the wilderness,
running with his fierce jaws and arch
        of feathered tail projected onto sand.

And the shadow of me, long-limbed
giant wobbling south, with the tide
and the darkness snarling over
           who will get us first.

Pam Coulter, "Great Falls in Autumn"


Montreal from a Departing Plane’s Window

The buildings and bridges that were so bright and so towering yesterday
               with a thousand lambent flickers receding like an irreversible lament.

City lights that often spoke of home, of her, of tears hidden no longer
               breathing in fragile shimmers the way teardrops do.

Somehow, I know the wistful agonies that vacillate in the city air
        after an hour of rain; somehow, I know the petrichor of moist yellow leaves
               rising from the street sides around St. Denis tomorrow morning.

In a few hours,  
         I’ll be a line of burning frost in the sky,
                a contrail of wonder for a child lying in the dying November grass.

                                                    And now I can see all the streets I never saw,
                                                                                all the people I never knew,
                                                                                                     all the lives I never lived.


Caribbean Dreams 1 & 2

I have felt no tropical breezes
Blowing through my sister locks
Have sipped no Caribbean concoction
With coconut and tiny umbrella
Have eaten no plantain, much less rice and curried goat
I have walked no sandy white beaches
Whether by day or moonlight eve
I have shopped no marketplace for baskets and shells and such
No tall, dark and handsome island man
Has whispered sweet nothings in my ear
I’ve not the money to have the travel agent book the fare
I sit landlocked and stateside I fear
So, my Caribbean fantasy is just that, a dream
St. Lucia, Antigua, Jamaica… all too far away it seems

This is my equinox, my season of content
A Spring, eternal on my horizon
The onset of sunshine, warm days and Caribbean nights
My season of glory and community with earth and sea
Barefoot in the sand and skipping along the shore
Basking in Spring and longing for Summer
Spring is my opportunity to reinvent myself
To evolve into my higher destiny
In this place is my time to come alive again
Leaving Winter’s discontent
And the cold, synonymous with closure
I have come to the island to retire, yet live again
I've come into my equinox, my Spring, if only in my dream!


Anacapa, Island of Mirage 

Emerging from coastal fog
Anacapa, known by the Chumash
as Anypakh, Island of Mirage,
appears as one island
but is actually three
separated by water.

Wind-swept and volcanic,
Anacapa grows golden
with a unique floral display
each Spring - giant coreopsis.
At the East end of the island chain,
Arch Rock bends over the sea,
forms a frame for reflection
of our solar flame as it slides into the next day -
its last beams glittering
on the writhing water that slaps
steep cliffs along island sides.

Without fresh water or trees,
western gulls form pairs,
join the largest breeding colony
of their species in the world.
Safe from predators, surrounded
by abundance of food, they build nests
in sheltered depressions of vegetation,
forage in the rich waters off shore,
feed and defend their spotted chicks,
circle overhead keening,
dive bomb human visitors,
appear out of the fog
like ghosts. 

Pam Coulter, "Shack in the Foothills"


Blue Plate Special 

Flying home to Hot Springs
for Christmas

I closed my eyes and recalled
the old Bluebell Cafe, long closed,

which was a few blocks
from my parent's home.

and served "blue plate specials".
I tried to remember the distinct color

of the sturdy china dinnerware ...
at first I thought cornflower

but my memory twisted
to a darker tint, more a deep royal blue,

like a winter evening in Paris,
the time of day the French call l 'heure bleue.

Then my mind segued to the Club Cafe downtown
that served homemade custard or fruit pies

and the waitress who was always there
with the blueblack beehive hair,

wearing the mustard gold uniform
with the cream ruffled apron.

What was her name -
Edith, Evelyn, Esther, Estelle?

I refuse to believe she retired or died,
She was too essential.

I prefer to imagine she slipped through
a lattice-work square in time

and now resides in a black-and-white
Twilight Zone-esque diner

where she doles out slices of blueberry pie
and thick mugs of hot coffee

while she daydreams of sneaking out
back for a Marlboro break.

Then I revert to trying to conjure
the shade of those plates -

cheerful afternoon blue,
or a deep twilight hue?

It's not really true you can't go home again, 
but it is true you can't get home again.


Other Miracles I Failed to Notice.
(Remembering Coltrane's Dear Lord)

Coltrane's sax breaks sound
Each note yearns for the next    

            Walk these hot humid days
            Walk although your body just drifts  

            Who watches?

Strange to view everyone turn in
tears centered in their eyes
clouds drift in and  out
no direct path      of light

           Each note ascends to the next
           unpredictable sequence of chords
           a key no one heard before shudders

I move looking out a window
catch my reflection
yet cannot see

            Each  note turns
             Each note trails above

Unbroken clouds desert lupine
blossoms as though resting
in opened palms-

          Alone and not  I listen again
          did I hear him  crying  or just
          myself shedding skin
          I thought I knew


Are Islands Alive?

Sunrise over Kauai
Blue/Green + Golden sand
The night loses its magic
The day begins to dance

Are islands alive?
Do they breathe in
The warm tropical breezes
Do they exhale turquoise surf?

Is Love like an island—
A warm embrace of wonder
A surrender of the heart
Into a peaceful sea of Light?

Sunset over Kauai
Golden Fire into Green/Blue
The day enfolds into twilight
The stars begin to dance

Pam Coulter, "Autumn Apples"


 Day of Races 

With briefcase in hand and sharpened pencils,
I traverse streets of this coastal town.
In evenings, mornings and afternoons,
I wear sturdy shoes, walk up and down.

I enumerate for the US Census,
going to non-response follow-up homes.
I record the answers they give me,
though I'd rather be penning a poem.

The questions of name, sex, age are easy.
"Are you of Hispanic origin?" is OK,
but I know when I voice the next question,
perplexed people will stare with dismay.

We're almost done, it's the fifth question,
I smile sweetly as I gaze at their faces.
Please look at list D, I say, with dread,
Choose one or more of the following races.

There's Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean,
African American, Negro, Black,
American or Asian Indian,
maybe White if a name starts with Mac.

There's Filipino or Other Asian,
Native Hawaiian or perhaps Samoan.
You could be Other Pacific Islander.
Tell me which ones you have chosen.

I don't really understand, they reply,
I think of myself as Canadian.
With a weary smile and patience of Job,
I say Look and show them List D again.

Where is Estonia,? they inquire.
I'm sorry but I fail to understand.
Using examples I learned in training,
I cite some groups, give a helping hand.

Pacific Island groups include Tongans.
Other Asian groups are Laotian or Thai.
I say, Aha, there's another category:
Some Other Race, in desperation I cry.

Tell me what you want to call yourself.
I'll write whatever you want me to.
You can be French, Nubian or Russian.
I just want this interview to be through.

Finally they decide what race to pick.
At this address, the Census I complete.
But I bet you dollars to donuts,
at the next home, this farce, I repeat. 

Pam Coulter, "James River Railway Bridge"


Cannery Row Mural, 1946 

Before the factory whistle blows at noon, a blue
lunch wagon pulls into a parking spot beside the tracks.

A passing engine trails its banner of black smoke,
but cannot put a damper on the scene -

all greens and yellows drifting
toward a peach-colored horizon.

Nobody looks anxious here,
wondering what might come next.

The woman in the back of the wagon
slices bologna as usual.

The man on the bicycle steers his loaves
of sourdough to their destinations.

The blonde on the porch railing leans forward
as a soldier lights her cigarette -

his strong arm holding up a weathered post,
his sturdy boots just waiting for instructions. 



ten too many, and the night

just started

as if there are better options

and if you cross me,

don't let the door...

tried to quit -

but daylight kicks that idea

 back with a shot

I won't hold your coat

if you want to dance

the couple in the corner

look ready to fight

they remind me of us 

when faces were young

every party a jet 

ready for take-off

those good days 

line my face

and I swallow 

what's left of the years


Ode: The 2020's 

Sometimes, people enter your life -

what I thought 

of what I thought there was, 

of what I thought there was to say. 

Strand of hay in a needle stack, 

broken by the camel. 

Hat pulled out from the rabbit. 

White mask hoisted atop the mizzenmast - 

sometimes, people. 

Pam Coulter, "Lemons in White Bowl"


Storm Spiders 

Prickly like puncture vine seeds
speckled brown, spiny-backed,
storm spiders undulate
as they ride harmonics
of tropical breezes.

Throwing, running, cutting,
throwing running cutting,
they craft geometry of delicate threads,
communities of silk made visible
in back lighting, or soft mist

Tethered to grass, leaf, balcony,
crouching centrally in their silvery plane,
imitating dead leaves, directing
yellow mammary-like bumps toward
the light, Gasteracantha await prey.

Suddenly, dashed like Hawaii
during hurricane winds of Hele ulu ulu,
a mower slashes gossamer webs,
casts spiders adrift clinging to silken balloons
riding pulses of wild warm air.

Fortunate filaments snag on a shrub,
anchor arachnids who begin again,
throwing, running, cutting,
throwing, running, cutting,
a delicate geometry of thread. 

                           ~ 1st Prize in Nature, Ina Coolbrith Annual Poetry Contest, Oct 15, 2004


Flower Moon

Before dawn breaks, catch the palms:
those dutiful guards, who shade

their little daytime queendoms,
feeding bees and woodpeckers,

in the windy dark, when the jacarandas
lavish blossoms at their feet, and

the roses exhale honey and clove,
and the jasmine trembles like a bride.

Their lush plumes, sequined with stars,
ravish the flower moon.

                              ~published in Black Bough Poetry: Freedom-Rapture Edition, June 2021


By the Campfire, Borrego Desert 

Tonight she writes in lantern light 
apart from the circle of others, in small, tight,
cursive, of how this desert day began 
sunrise-cold and windy, with the smell 
of bacon scrambled into a swirl of 
eggs, potatoes, and onions. 
Clean-up of skillets took a while 
with only sand to scrub and 
a pot of rinse water boiled 
on the Coleman stove. 

She has learned that there is poetry 
in such tasks. In the zero hour 
of the night, well before midnight 
since little brightens the blackness 
she remembers how, when she was young, 
sun, clouds, and black-tailed jack rabbits 
made her giggle and her heart 
puffed up with the dough 
of childhood's promise 
soft with joy. 

                           ~  Third Prize for Northern California Women's Music Festival Contest

Pam Coulter, "Great Falls, Early Spring"

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