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Winners of the 2009 Mississippi Valley Poetry Contest PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Literature
Written by Administrator   
Tuesday, 14 July 2009 15:43

2009 marks Midwest Writing Center's 36th-annual Mississippi Valley Poetry Contest. This year Max Molleston, longtime contest administrator, passed the reins to local poet Kristin Abraham, author of Little Red Riding Hood Missed the Bus. Kristin reconfigured the contest to contain just two categories: regional and national.

A total of 349 poems were entered - 165 for the national category and 184 for the regional. Out of these entries, 25 finalists were selected to be judged by our regional judge, former Quad Cities Poet Laureate Rebecca Wee, and 25 were sent to our national judge, May Swenson Award-winning poet F. Daniel Rzicznek. From these entries our judges each selected first-, second-, and third-place winners as well as honorable mentions. First-place winners received $200, second-place winners received $150, and third-place winners received $75. The first-place regional winner also receives the Max Molleston Award, created by local artist Dee Schricker. All of the poems that were selected as finalists will be printed in Off Channel, Midwest Writing Center's Mississippi Valley Poetry Contest anthology, due out before the end of summer 2009.

The Midwest Writing Center accepts entries for the Mississippi Valley Poetry Contest from January 1 through March 31 each year. More information is available online at

A reception and reading will be held on Saturday, July 18, from 7 to 9 p.m. in our conference room at 225 East Second Street in Davenport -- the Bucktown Center for the Arts. All individuals who submitted poems to the contest are invited to read their work.

Elaine Pentaleri
First Place, National Contest
Bristol, Vermont

Still Life

Fidelity has nothing to do
          (with anything.)

Any act is worth more
Than any denial.
The Buddhas were wrong.

Fear nothing;
Distance becomes me.
I will continually unlock your lie,
Opening it up to space.
Everything is at stake

A painting looks different in the details of my house.
From a twenty yard perspective
(Perhaps out on the neighbor's lawn)
(The view from the window)
The painting (still) is.

I would not want you to write the same poem
I love the haloed you-ness, it's
to remain the same.
Go with me from me.
I love/you are.

John McBride
Second Place, National Contest
Bettendorf, Iowa

Fishing Lake Superior

What they fish for changes
as the light changes on water.
More than whitefish, pickerel, salmon.

There's a space in their mind
where they die. They brick it up.
They bricked it up a long time ago.

Their lines are invisible, but not their lures.
They love them the way misers,
even when they must talk, count ceaselessly,
they love them feathered or striped
or making a silver curve that flashes
at the slightest flick of the wrist.

If they could send an eye out on a hook
and return it to its socket, they would,
if they could use the heart for bait, they might.

There is something they have never caught,
something that makes them stand there
every evening, waiting, casting, reeling in.

It's different every time. The water's
different, the sky, the way a tern
hangs in the air, or doesn't.

What they will catch grows to fill in
a lake they've never seen before-
no road out or in.

Kerry Ruef
Third Place, National Contest
Lyle, Washington


Each evening
at the sun's downward drift,
shadow-rivers rich among hills
swell in every ravine, fold, draw,
spill into plains and cities

-erasing the day.

Over and over the long night
arrives, saturates the ground;
twigs, mud, leaves fill my mouth,
enter my blood.

I blink.

A blade of cloud crosses the sky-
a line of chalk, illuminated.
I take my morning lessons.
From the edge of the world,
like a crocus bulb in spring:
          a charged light,
          a tangent of possibility.

Sara Burns
Honorable Mention, National Contest
Boulder, Colorado


1. 2.
the lines he stole words in his sleep.
are never i counted each word
enough. when he woke.

cups line the cupboard.
the door opens on the left.
i want to know exactly what guilt is.

there was an earthquake in the midwest.
people did not know what to do.
instead of crouching in doorways they stayed right where they were.
no one died, but everyone felt the earth shake.

Catherine Rankovic
First Place, Regional Contest
Pacific, Missouri

Apple Orchard

Amid fallen apples, bruised, crushed
into sauce, wormy, wounded, shaken loose,
let down, unsalvaged, purchased by the earth,
refused, voted down from the hard-muscled tree,
you poke a stick into its canopy, to fill
a weightless-as-a-lampshade basket.
Wanting the topmost, the twinned, the most
unreasonable, shoe-deep in sugar-meal, craning
and working and hoping, you milk better
branches indefinitely. Each apple
wears a different dress, like a belief.
The sourest apples sweeten your mouth,
leave skins like bookmarks in your teeth.

Kirsten Dierking
Second Place, Regional Contest
Arden Hills, Minnesota

Bridge in Sunlight

By the time the creek
reaches this bridge
it's almost the Mississippi,

ready to slip through the swale
of the country, down to the
whales in the wide ocean,
the flickering salty underworlds,

while earlier today,
seven people rode a rocket
relentlessly into the slack of space.

Freud believed happiness has
diminishing returns, and so,
I suppose, we leave the things
that used to please us
so much more than they please us now.

After awhile I walk away
from the sunlit bridge,
the water quits the creek for the river,

and only the astronauts,
peering at earth from a dark distance
are more in love
with everything they've left behind.

Alexander Lumans
Third Place, Regional Contest
Carbondale, Illinois

Before and After the Recovery of Uncle Ari's Body

A vacation, two weeks long : learning his taxidermy secrets and hunter's dreams
Broken line of mallards in the lake : he's watched them grow
Roadkill left idle in driveway : the phrase "box-turtle-flat"
Warped hallway mirror : someone looks older and someone younger
Pulled muscles : warnings not to go swimming at night among the reeds
Aunt Thorie stops looking at your fingers : he says "You look terrible in black."
A hat with a removable picture : he smiles with a Chinese man in the background
His daytrip, with a friend, not you, one glass eye : who is the better buckshot?
Cans of Blue Ribbon, as cold as quarry bottoms : one takes the bullet , in a blur
          Uncle Ari's rifle : more than water in a creek
          Uncle Ari's heart : more than water in the creek
Line of cars, lights dimmed : the anchorman takes a moment of silence
Living in his house, but for how long? : the only chestnut box closed
The question of cigar smoke : his name on someone's mind
A car key stabbed in the ground : a quiet joke, safety
Stamps too dry to lick : finding real bees in the honeycomb
Shoe sizes and oar-strokes shrink to nothing : age, the relative thing, some dry scotch
Head inside the pillow speaking down : yesterday's sundial
Footprints like wet leaves : someone knocking on the screen and not the door
Granite deposits deeper than the heart : a cloud of unknowing
Cancer of the barn's paint : chess moves by mail.

Heath Garrett Luster
Honorable Mention, Regional Contest
St. Louis, Missouri

Cherry Stem Knot

The table of fog-eyed darlings perched corner stage,
Fingering martini necks,
Tongue-tying knots with cherry stems.

Those girls are warm milk, wet silk.

Hip-swivels carve woozy figure-eights to the bar.
Sweeping larger with every click of a heel,
Tired world of fresh-shorn thorns.

Be dreaming, be drinking, be still.

The rub of the low E blooming a rumble that
Bursts blouse buttons, peels stockings
With a polyester sizzle.

Like a snare, like a sneer.

Dripping with friction,
Air like a bowl of cut fruit.

I lay my thumb flat to the current,
The stony churn of the moon moves
In my right hand.

Heath Garrett Luster
Honorable Mention, Regional Contest
St. Louis, Missouri

I Will Come Back Someday

And the days started hanging together
In a city that was not my own,
Not my meadow.

Couldn't churn and swell opaque
Like the mud-bellied river.
Never burned for me like a hay-stack.

This place holds its own charms,

But I am stumbling like a drunk.
Mercurial and out-of-sync.
Pacing out the difference.

A copy of myself in analog,
A doppelganger kidnapped by the noise,
Suffering the generation loss,

Of existing in tandem.

Walking the streets after storms,
Searching for some indeterminate,
Darkening star.

The fields fell at my feet
In a way that all this gray-link stone,
This dull shapeless hum, never could.

The pigeons have no idea.

The difference between animals and humans
Is money, and remembering sadness

But we both keep our ire like secrets,
Like warm, round stones.

I will come back someday.

Your absence would grow tendrils,
Coiling my tepid insides; scooping secrets from me
And bearing me where they would.

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