Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Poetry Letter No. 1, Spring 2024, Part 2 - Sonnets by Konrad Tademar & Three Book Reviews (Ewa Lipska, Judie Rae, & Millicent Borges Accardi)

Maybe grapefruit? by Maja Trochimczyk

In the second part of the CSPS Poetry Letter No. 1 of 2024 (spring), we present sonnets by Konrad Tademar Wilk and three book reviews.  The first part of the Poetry Letter contains winners of 2023 Monthly Poetry Contests. Since most, if not all of the awarded poetry is in free-verse format, I invited Konrad Tademar Wilk (one of the editors of the CSPS California Quarterly) to contribute some of his sonnets and to write three sentences about “why writing sonnets today?”  

Instead of answering my question in prose format, Konrad wrote a sonnet about sonnets and replied to my inquiry by reductio ad absurdum. Thanks for the freedom of expression and the blessing of creativity! Best wishes to all poets. Share the joy! 

~ Maja Trochimczyk, CSPS President 


Bee and Grapefruit to Be by Maja Trochimczyk


                         For Maja…

Why write sonnets today? Why not? What else—

—would you wish to do? Play golf or bridge?

Ride a gondola down Venetian canals?

Walk along the Campo de Hielo ridge?

I dreamt once of a sonnet in outer space

Full of metaphors like asteroids, and bare—

—planets filled with craters of meaning, a trace...

What is a sonnet good for? It's not fair…

The questions suggest justification

As if the ancient tradition needed:

"modernity's approval," sensation—

—of progress and speed, as though conceded....

...that a sonnet belongs to an antique—

—era... a touch of the older mystique.

March 13, 2024

Konrad Tademar Wilk, Maja Trochimczyk and Nicholas Skaldetvind in Maja's garden, March 2024


Elected to the Board of Directors of the California State Poetry Society in May 2020, Konrad Tademar (birth name Wilk) is an American poet living in Los Angeles. His works range from single sonnets to epic poems on themes including current events, myth, and philosophy. In addition to American subjects, his work is strongly informed by international events and history, especially those of freedom and oppression. Tademar's early childhood was spent in Poland where he was particularly influenced by the rise of the anti-communist Solidarity labor union.

Following his return to the U.S., he studied philosophy and literature at Los Angeles City College where he was president of the Poet's Platform. He then went on to graduate from UCLA. His poetry book Fifty Sonnets, titles like labels only get in the way... is available for purchase on-line.  Other poetry chapbooks are out of print. He is currently working on two epic poems "Prometheus" and "Trafficking In Time" - scheduled for release in the near future. He has appeared in Los Angeles venues such as the Onyx, Ground's Zero, Magicopolis Theater, Wilshire Art Gallery, Bolton Hall Museum, and Pig and Whistle. In 1991, he founded the Witching Hour Poetry Gathering which has met continuously for over 20 years. 

Additionally, he is a founding member of the Pecan Pie Organization, dedicated to artistic promotion and stage performances.  Mr. Tademar recently served as the artistic director for Warsaw 80/75 performance of poetry, dance and music, celebrating the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of WWII (German attack on Poland), and the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising in 1944.  The event was held at the Santa Monica Playhouse in September 2019.

The eight sonnets are taken from his book of 164 sonnets, entitled Trafficking in Time and forthcoming from Moonrise Press. Written as a-day-a-sonnet in 2013, these poems are diverse reflections on events of each day and their broader contexts. 

Steel Stream - by Maja Trochimczyk



To quiet the soul enough to think, to feel, to know 
To give those men and women of your heart a bit 
To honor, to recall, to shout like angry crow
The cursed, the forgotten, the banished, the unlit 
Diffused in the temporal flow of history
Stricken from the record of school pages, untaught 
Truth rises from the dead, resurrected and free 
The Eastern Soldiers who after Yalta still fought!
Not mere men, nor mere women, Titans, legends, saints 

“Do not go gently into that good night” Thomas –
…was right – fight! Fight! Against the blood red restraints 
Shatter the Hammer and Sickle… though the dawn alas –
… is far away, that you will not see freedom rise
Fight, fight! For all of mankind: fight! And do not lose! 
We, the children, the grandchildren, brought up on lies
We will thank you after your unmarked graves – false truce –
… of “History is a lie agreed on” – have been lost 
And we will light that candle, born again to the sun 
To illuminate the moonless night of the crossed–
–out… the accursed, blotted, excised, like Akhenaton…
Żołnierze Wyklęci – here I lower my knee, pray
We will not yield so long as after night comes day.

March 1, 2013


Divinity is contained in the unknown space 
A mirror onto the soul, algorithm half lost 
A half familiar, half forgotten blurry face
During the Bosnian War they blew up Stari Most

Ungraspable, so much so that it slips from the hand 
Incomprehensible, baffling, bewildering
Beyond the mind's capacity to know, like sand 
Slipping through the fingers, an odd obscure feeling

Does that make sense? A piece of dreams lost and found 
Creation and destruction are casually bound
I look at the child and cannot see: a limit
For birth and death perception needs to omit

Ex nihilo nihil fit — throw open Hell's maws
The event horizon hides the root of love's laws. 

May 30, 2013

Path Geometry - by Maja Trochimczyk

Happiness is a woman drunk on love, real joy
Sultry or too sweet, either way, I don’t much care 
Let it loosen her hair, shatter her reserve — coy
As long as she smiles and swings back and forth, the air—

—of magic in tune with red lips conjuring spells 
Fingers making subtle signs suggesting soft places 
Darting twinkle stars in the eyes — bottomless wells 
Looking at you from across — while making faces

Silly and giddy as happiness ought to be
Freedom from care, time put on a shelf, dance of life 
Happiness is a woman wearing red, you see—
—her place beside her man, far from any world strife

Moment to cherish, a sacredness to defend 
Happiness is a woman’s love holding your hand.

                                                                                                      May 31, 2013 – for Sylvia… 


Now I close the doors of the caravanserai
And let m’soul drink her fill of the waters of life
A sand storm is come — let the new moon shade the sky 
Draw your cloak close, cover your eyes, loosen your knife

The outsiders will seek to pierce your sacred mind 
But they are only dust devils — holy water—
—will scatter their form, a Fata Morgana kind 
Unreal except to cowards made of feeble matter

Steady your gaze as you still your heart, let calm reign 
Miss not a moment nor opportunity
En passant capture the convergence of breath and pain
Cutting the throat of the threat, bleed to see

The flesh is the shore controlled self-knowledge makes whole 
You and I are one at Katra where mind meets soul.

June 7, 2013 – a Litany against Propaganda

A Secret of Forget-me-nots by Maja Trochimczyk 



Between the woods and rustle of leaves beneath the heels
In the shade of sky-struck trees sacred like mountains 
Bordered by parking lots with their automobiles
Crisp concrete and gleaming glass of crowds at fountains

Middle-Eastern beads pray at Turkish coffee pot 
Bescarved women in sunglasses seeking bargain deals 
Far away the Cedars of Lebanon cry not
Even if the child in happy ignorance squeals

‘Tis difficult to view world as the toddler sees 
In innocent curiosity absent malice
Beneath my outstretched palm soil like the bark of trees—
—dry feels, in wonderland’s hope each child is Alice

So small, rabbit hole sized, time stands still in dream world 
To touch it all once again, the future to hold.
                                                                                     June 23, 2013 – Midsummer 


                    UUR XCVII

White stones in a semi-circle along straight lines 
Clearly I am seeing patterns where there are none 
And yet ripples of arcane laws appear as signs 
Unconsciously made in state of true grace; the sun—

—strikes the stones arranged by an innocent child’s hand
And I recognize by some Lamarckian process
Truth in ancestral memory, from distant land…
… violating laws of physics — to my heart flies—

—there to blossom, fester even; hatches sacred—
—patterns, geometry of broken symmetries 
Alchemical design filtering some loose thread
Spun by fate to weave the garden back for its trees

I’d say the words, but I dare not! I’ll map it out—
—instead and then I’ll see the stars vanquishing doubt!

June 30, 2013

                   Dreaming Forget-me-nots - by Maja Trochimczyk



So, let me take you to wide open country, child
For this here concrete and glass steel built bright place
Is just a fancy jail for folks who fear the wild
People who hate the sweep of the horizon race

See the heavy yellow moon tonight? It shines strong 
From outside where there are no boundaries, no limits 
Where the one obstacle is the mind, come along—
—then to beyond, to the gallop rush by one’s wit

Let the stars be your guide, and your backdrop the moon
Set your sights past the clouds, far from here, from man-made—
—things, let go the city and the road, you’ll know soon—
—what freedom means, why hope and truth can never fade

Take my words with you to country open wide; trace—
—a path across the overdark, breathe outer space.

                                                                                                    August 20, 2013 

                    UUR CLVIII

Parallel lines intersecting at vanishing—
—point of infinity constraining the bitter—
—noise of the hurt hummingbird as it fails to sing
Look to the moon, even there mankind leaves litter

Girard Desargues walks lightly… now untouching—
—plane of non-symmetric temporal vibration
A conflation of science and magic, matching—
—socks and shoes on the harsh pavement of elation

Here Terminus meets Thanatos with steel black wings
Sword drawn into perspective central axis line
Behold the moment, a pause to wait if it stings
Love within a mathematical cryptic sign

The matrix of oblivion lies in reach of all 
Torture, while we wait for the other shoe to fall.

September 13, 2013
– the Ides of September on Friday the 13th

Spring is Yellow - by Maja Trochimczyk


World Failure by Ewa Lipska. Translated by: Anna Stanisz-Lubowiecka, London: Literary Waves, 2024, 80 pages, ISBN 979-888-4655-55-3

Being under the magnifying glass, World Failure is both intriguing and ambiguous volume of poetry. It is the art of distance and thought-provoking work that draws the readers in. The word in this poetry is treated with surgical precision in the tone of metaphysics and cognitive realism. Careful reading becomes a process where new meanings and interpretations appear. The lyrical subject speaks in a hushed voice about important events. The very beginning of the poem Rebus foreshadows an interesting play of meanings:

         The riddle

         wasn’t limited

         to the full Moon

Lipska’s poetry in a high tone, full of references to history and music, is  free from pathos and snobbery. The poet leans into a single existence or a phenomenon, watches them under a philosophical magnifying glass and interprets from many points of view. In this respect, it reminds metaphysical poetry of Lars Gusstafson who observing specific ordinary events, objects or scenes builds a kind of deep philosophy of being. Surprising phrases and juxtaposition of words draw the reader into a new attempt to look at the world. It can culminate in a poem:

           They Left. They Didn’t Come Back

           They left. They didn’t come back.

           Tangerines on the table.

           The season of life is over.

           The paintings they left behind

           grow on the wall.

In World Failure the themes of love, death, passing, and pain are touched upon from a new perspective.



           acute preventive measure

           against death.

It is eminently intellectual poetry requiring from the reader knowledge not only in the field of literature, but also painting, music, history. The poem A Few moments on music is delightful here beginning with the „harmony of the spheres” and ending mysteriously:



           is not


The role of poetry and poets „sentenced to poems” is presented in an interesting way.

          Homeless Poem        

          The homeless poem wanders

          around the dark matter of paper.

          Nobody’s. The author left it

          to its fate. An orphan of words.


           poems are like abandoned dogs

           barking for poetry.

Irony, humour, distance to oneself and the world shine through this poetry woven from a colourful fabric. And although it is the art. of cultural criticism you can feel the longing for the personal truth of existence and being „here and now” among wars and the returning memory of galaxies.

           Working Memory

           I won’t be your role model.

           We sit between wars

           slicing the cheese of the moon

           on a black plate.

           I’m made of fears

           and you need confidence.

           I hold doubt and regret at gunpoint

           and you’re aiming at delight and courage.

          A box of chocolates on the table.

          I’m treating them to planets.

          Celestial bodies in chocolate […]

I can with full responsibility recommend a new poetry book by an outstanding poetess Ewa Lipska who in each poem gives us food for thought and reinterpretation of phenomena of nature and culture that are close to us leaving creative doubts.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    ~ Anna Banasiak



Family Matters—Poems for and about Grandparents and Grandchildren by Judie Rae, 42 Poems ~ 72 pages. Publisher: Kelsay Books. ISBN: 978-1-63980-353-8.

In her late teens, my wife of 54 years, was hurt in an ill-advised relationship. During this dark time, she found refuge on her grandparents’ farm. Away from social scrutiny, she felt the healing hands and wise counsel of these loving people. Out of the crucible of experience they became ministering spirits to a devastated girl. This memory returned to me as I set about writing this review. Family Matters is a collection replete with life, captured in verse, which will encourage and verify our roles as major influencers in our families.

Grandparents and the Sense of Place

It is difficult to separate special people from their habitations. Rae opens her collection with  “The Cottage”,  excerpted here:

No one clear memory

of the first time I saw my grandmother’s

cottage stands out, no haunting view that returns

distinct from all the other times

I visited—and love—that home.

The river? Certainly that. But also

the wooden floor Grandma

painted forest green,

bent over at the waist, wearing her

no-nonsense shoes.

The washer with the wringer

That once drew here hand through.

The bruises, the broken

Hand, I see still.

The poem continues setting a stage, as in a play. Grandma’s garden which produced homegrown raspberries sitting on a bowl of cereal, a tiny bug found floating in melting ice cream served for dessert. “He didn’t eat much,” Grandma says; the dining room where everyone gathered to wait out the storm until it passed; and geese flying in flocks marking seasonal changes. The person so much a part of the place; the two are one in the make of the mind; both indelibly etched in memory.

Grandparents and the Sense of Touch. 

“What She Said,” is rich with healing intimacy. The poet:

. . . can hear still my grandmother’s

archaic language, feel her warm

aged hands as she patted my back,

attempting to soothe me,

to erase the pain of whatever

hurt had befallen her grandchild.                  

 Solace was her magic,

a stoic’s take on the world,

the bandage she offered.

Her own pain was masked,


by the aid she gave


Whatever it is that grandparents have, call it a gift . . . Rae captures. Grandparents mask their personal hurts as they, with deft fingers, rub the shoulders of the aching young. Rae describes it thus . . .

and rubbed my shoulders

waiting for the ache

to ease, listening,

always listening, saying

little, though some words

ring yet in memory:

Don’t fret, child.

A Word About What Poets Do. 

The best poets have a knack for drawing you in. They have inscrutable eyes. Commonplace things breathe the essential air of love. In titles such as: “The Woodshed,” the scent of wet wood, the musty residue of a leaky roof come through. “Unspoken Love,” tenderly evokes wonderment as the poet recalls opportunities when she didn’t tell her grandmother how she colored her life, how she gifted her with a childhood worth remembering. Rae displays literary skill in her use of humor and irony in “Saving for College,” where coins were saved in a large jar deposited by parents, friends and relatives. One day the jar was shattered. When grandma inquired of her granddaughter where a replacement jar could be found, the response was: “Probably at the college fund store.”

“For Aubrey, at Home,” makes excellent use of internal rhyme, a technique which serves her well in delivering a heartfelt message:

Fever claims her baby rest

and she lays her small fierce body

against my chest and pats

my back as if to say,

It’s okay, Grandma; I know

you had nothing to do

with this.

The wild expanse of years

moves between us—

little miss/crone

bridged by touch                                      

I pat her back

to soothe

this child of my child.

As my grandmother

patted me,

her wrinkled hands, so mild,

now mine

breeching time

to bind all three:

Ghost, Grandmother, Child.

In this my seventh decade, I’ve learned to let my children and grandchildren live their lives. While tempted to impart “my” thoughts, “my” opinions, “my” wisdom, quite often I am the one who learns and grows because of them. However, if I were to offer a life-vision for my dear ones, this would be the one:

Directions to the Good Life

                     For my grandchildren

Head north to the future, windows

rolled down to collect the breeze.

On you way, feed the hungry.

Gas up on wonder.

Bypass the intersection of bitterness

and anger. Get lost. Find yourself

in kindness and smiles.

Grandparents: If you’re looking for that elusive “something” you can’t quite put your finger on . . . pick up a copy of Judie Rae’s, Family Matters—Poems for and About Grandparents and Grandchildren.

~ Michael Escoubas



Quarantine Highway by Millicent Borges Accardi. 70 Poems ~ 93 pages. Cover Art by Ralph Almeida. Flower Song Press. ISBN: 978-1-953447-35-7

I was immediately struck by the title of Millicent Borges Accardi’s fifth collection, Quarantine Highway. It suggests an interesting duality: full-stop on one hand, unlimited access on the other. In a book about the recently concluded pandemic, the title itself captures the essence.

I believe it will be at least a decade, maybe more, before a definitive history of the Covid-19 Pandemic will be written. In the meantime, it is the province of poets to guide folks through the conundrum of an era still impacting our nation’s collective consciousness.

For a time it seemed we were living in a land (indeed in a world) not our own, navigating or trying to navigate life. It was a sea of uncertainty inhabiting two worlds. One voice commanded, “Stay in;” another screamed, “Get out,” or “Let me out”! My goal in this review is to highlight this poet’s unrelenting quest to capture this tension.

“We’ll Come Down Close Behind,” epitomizes Accardi’s title. I share it in full:

And such and we have

and we need and we wa

and we have and if it happens,

we couldn’t leave, and there is not a

never in the universe except now.

And but and and and for and if

Our place to live, it is a song

let it run peacefully into

the coda or the second chorus

where the refrain takes over.

And such and such and the homeless,

And prisons, and why can’t I

leave my home without a mask.

We’d come down close behind

in the middle of a crowd, as if we

mattered and as if things were

normal rather than a new normal,

which is odious. Then, then and then

and could. Once, existence was on

full speed, catching rumors,

and touching faces and going outside.

Let me assure readers that the repetitions employed by Accardi are not typographical errors. Rather, they are part of her strategy to reach into the heart of her subject. It is like reaching into the trash because something that isn’t trash is buried there . . . she wants to find it, needs to grasp an elusive something emerging with it firmly in hand.

Note line 6. I count 5 repetitions of the word “and,” which is a coordinating conjunction. Conjunctions link related phrases and ideas in a way that makes sense. Why would Accardi use the term as she does? I encourage thoughtful readers to ponder.

Even Accardi’s titles illustrate her strategy; they tend to be a little off-center, like the world of her subject. Titles selected at random: “Side by Side in Fragile,” “For Truth would be from a Line,” “As Among Grotesque Trees,” “Differently, the Way Everything is Wrong,” and “I Told My Friend to Rub her Lice Against my Hair.” These are merely instances cited to show that Quarantine Highway is possibly the most unique Pandemic collection to hit the market EVER!

This excerpt from “In Oblivion,” illustrates (as do many others) how we felt:

It is as if the world’s engines

have ground to a frozen metal in the middle of

the midst inside a clutter clutch

of busy confusion and everyone

has been cast off, from the

blissful-working-gears we used

to down shift into.

The poem goes on to illustrate how . . .

We are ambiguous, a lost

part of speech, left behind.

Something my wife and I felt during this period was that of being cocooned like caterpillars. We imagined ourselves emerging as something more than before. “In Later Time,” is about a similar sense of darkness or half-darkness, a kind of swampy murkiness. “There was / violence in the air, and I kept asking / myself what is another word for suffuse?” This poem captures a certain labyrinthine feel common during the pandemic. Try as we might the maze seemed to keep on winning.

While it seemed to be winning, in truth, it lost. Emerging, as a nation, from the cocoon alluded to above, it is my conviction that the caterpillar has become a butterfly. Are challenges latent in the aftermath? Of course, but my take from Accardi’s bold new collection is one of hope. Accardi faces the hard reality of Covid-19. In poems that say what few others are bold enough to say, Quarantine Highway, inspires me to appreciate the good life offers. A literal quarantine may not be the worst quarantine. Do we not quarantine ourselves by the choices we make to cede our lives to evil?

Because of this poet, your reviewer is more determined than ever to live life to the full. 

~ Michael Escoubas

White Lilac - by Maja Trochimczyk

The Poetry Letter ((Online ISSN 2836-9394; Print ISSN 2836-9408) is a quarterly electronic publication, issued by the California State Poetry Society. Edited by Maja Trochimczyk since 2020 and by Margaret Saine earlier.  The Poetry Letter is emailed and posted on the CSPS website, Sections of the Poetry Letter are also posted separately on the CSPS Blog,

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