Women’s Poetry Contest Winners

Kelsay Books is honored to announce the winners
of our 2023 Women’s Poetry Contest!


Lynne Burnett
1st Place ~ “From the Front Porch”

Last night the rhododendrons must have dreamed,
for this morning lip-red flowers are opening,
fixing their mouths upon the bee-stirred air.
And the light that surely wakes for this—as I do—
has so soaked the crewcut grass, that the blades
seem to grow and bend brightly where my eyes
rest, and rest they do there.

The wind sweeps through the clipped corner hedge,
indifferent to the scattered applause of leaves,
bobbing the drowsy roses, sending little blossom
shadows sailing over an emerald sea, going
anywhere it wants, doing what it pleases, while
the flirting ivy presses its ladder against the fence—
oh, the lengths such longing goes!

Gone, two trees that coveted our sky for decades, and yet
the one we left at driveway’s end leans straight
into tomorrow, a regal celebrant spilling its pinata of
pinecones for a child’s hands to pocket. Mine move
slowly through their new wealth of hours, wanting only
to feel the solid warmth of yours. You are somewhere
I am not looking. You are everywhere I look.

I love how images tell the story of loss in this one. Each line gives us something tangible, something significant. I love the maturity of the voice—it’s a poem of longing and recognition. The end of the poem is just so beautifully direct.

—Allison Joseph, 2023 Judge


Rhett Watts
2nd Place ~ “The Double Nest”

       . . . emotion recollected in tranquility . . .
                                    —William Wordsworth

First the honking, then the goose airborne
under a day moon over Dark Brook.

I find twin nests connected, bolstered by a light
fixture suspended near the basement door.

Each a robin’s weave of grasses. Mud-set
cups emptied of their famous blue cargo.

. . . the unseen birds singing in the mist . . .

a line from Dorothy’s Grasmere journal.
Her prose can be vital as her brother’s verse.

Reunited after being separated as orphans,
they lived together until he passed.

In one nest, a hole. Cracked shell at my feet.
The risk living is. Sudden death. Your fall,

Steve. I ripped the shower curtain in two
at the news. Memories loop a mobius strip.

. . . the moon shone like herrings in the water . . .

Ours was a beatbox kind of groove.
I worked the lyrics while you laid down a beat.

Nests placed on the mantle, I touch the egg-shaped
gap in one. Place the hollow shell in the other.

This is a poem of vulnerability and beauty. The imagery is beautiful, but also subtly symbolic—the twin nests, the allusion to Dorothy and William, the “robin’s weave of grasses.” I’m drawn to meditative and elegiac poems that are also nature poems, and this poem gives the reader all that and more.​

—Allison Joseph, 2023 Judge


Liz Abrams-Morley
Honorable Mention ~ “My Father, 13 Years Gone”

Speaks to me from the stoop I’ve not left in weeks, magnolia blossoms raining down on my drive, week five or six—we’ve all lost track of the days—and he’s pulled by scent and he says as he draws in a loud inhale, almost Mother’s Day again and all those magnolias, the sunlight, how I lined you up under magnolias, enough shade to gray-scale the black and white prints I made for your mother every year. I only wanted to picture you in sunlight and you were the one, always, squinting into the future, a little stood back, some shadow bisecting your cheek forcing me to reposition the camera over and over, May after May. You sought out shadows like some soul crawled out from the clouds that hovered over my childhood—pestilence, war, famine—every plague but the frogs and I wanted my daughters bathed in sunshine, for them to grow sturdy as the trunks of old magnolias. Silence, then as one by one the petals fall on me, another loud breath and I was five when the Spanish flu took a sibling or two from me, when the world hid behind masks and stayed out of sunlight. There is life after so much death, I tell you, but it ain’t easy kiddo, he’s saying in that way he’s always said it, gruff, kind, then you can do it. I’m squinting hard and my arms reach for him but I’m just swimming in air, just batting dust motes lit and golden now, motes of nothing, bright and slanting upward, upward.


Anastasia Vassos
Honorable Mention ~ “October”

     for Laura Paul Watson

The way light mutates
into glory
over my friend’s shoulder—
we stop to face each other after our walk—
the sun’s raucous afternoon
cascading into night’s solemn basket.

The neighbor’s beech tree
has laid her gold crown on the pavement.

My sweater, thrown over the back of the chair.

I’m not afraid
to be the last standing figure
in a stand of figures—
to touch the foreheads, the hands
of those I’ve loved
as they drift to their own ground—
I’m not afraid to be last.

I read a book once about how
when death comes
the glow is glorious, blinding.
Fifty years ago
I made love to a man
who loved someone else—
I loved him anyway.
As brilliant as that.

 “October” was first published by Taos Journal of Poetry.


The winners of the 2023 Women’s Poetry Contest will be published in the Summer 2024 issue of The Orchards Poetry Journal.



Previous Years’ Winners


2022 Winners
Published in The Orchards Poetry Journal: Summer 2023
Rebecca Brock
1st Place ~ “Raising Glaciers”

Nikki Ummel
2nd Place ~ “Walking My Niece Home”

Kristen Holt-Browning
Honorable Mention ~ “Window Seat”
Lori A. Howe
Honorable Mention ~ “A New Law of Liquids in Flight” 


2021 Winners
Published in The Orchards Poetry Journal: Summer 2022
Kathleen Dale
1st Place ~ “At Seventy”
Sue Budin
2nd Place ~ “Delicate Things”

Rebecca Brock
Honorable Mention ~ “Bones”
Peggy Landsman
Honorable Mention ~ “Still Life with Onions”