Kelsay Books Women's Poetry Contest

Sponsored by Kelsay Books
in partnership with the
International Women's Writing Guild
Women's Contest Results
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First-Place Winner: “At Seventy”  by Kathleen Dale  $500

 

At Seventy

 

At seventy, the thing she wanted

to learn was to dive:

 

to tuck her chin to her chest, between

her outstretched arms and to fall

 

headfirst toward the bottom she had both

feared and yearned for since she had

 

first seen water—the still pool

untouched, unrippled, heavy with meaning

 

and promise: to feel its cool caress, hear

the bubbles of breath leave her body, see

 

the illusion of being enclosed utterly by blue;

to know that she could aim her body down,

 

then up, and it would joyously comply,

her remaining breath buoying her up, up,

 

up to break the surface of the old familiar

world as if rising from sleep; it was something

 

like flying, she thought, something like

taking off from one medium and trying on

 

another, shedding one set of rules for a second:

one which both frightened and enthralled,

 

a kind of life to which she had always been born,

on the edge of which she has been forever poised.

 

Judge’s Citation:

This poem about an older woman learning to swim also seems to be about an aging person learning to hold space for the blue unknown that is to come for all of us. The poem offers precise details that convey this the secondary meaning. The woman wants to “hear / the bubbles of breath leave her body, see // the illusion of being enclosed utterly by blue.” I like the agency that the woman has, “to know that she could aim her body down, / then up, and it would joyously comply.” It’s such a curious and hopeful view of the next world and what it holds, and I found it at once deeply profound and charming.

 

Second-Place Winner: “Delicate Things” by Sue Budin  $100.00

 

Delicate Things

 

Not fragile

like the fluted glass or

a sickly child,

but what endures,

perhaps with some brokenness

or early sorrow.

 

In a nest of twigs

a clutch of eggs

balances precariously.

Shells crack. Tiny beaks beseech.

 

Intricacies of lace, threaded,

knotted, woven, tied

together, a resolute symmetry.

 

Despite these elegant constructions,

damage happens, then repair,

and then a quick demise

or slow dwindling.

 

A moth’s wing shatters

in the flame.

An old dog’s leg bends

and cannot straighten.

 

And my heart that fits

so neatly on my nest of ribs

continues to beat, like the wings

of sparrows, fluttering in flight,

then, at rest.

 

Unlike the agile acrobat,

I will not tether myself

to a high wire when there is

the sure risk of falling

 

when even on solid ground,

blood pumping, there is always

that pause between breaths,

when the heart, my heart

stops

 

then carries on.

 

Judge’s Citation:

This poet had me in the fifth stanza with the old dog whose leg bends and can’t straighten. That was an unexpected entry on the list of delicate things, just beside a burning moth wing. And then where the poem goes next – “And my heart that fits / so neatly on my nest of ribs // continues to beat, like the wings / of sparrows, fluttering in flight, / then, at rest” – I just have to say, that was an incredibly satisfying progression that felt like a journey. It left me ruminating about the nature of delicate things, since almost anything you can think of bears a date stamp of some sort on it.

 

Honorable Mention: “Still Life with Onions” by Peggy Landsman

 

Still Life with Onions

 

Van Gogh ate his paint

worked quickly

and died

 

he was so sloppy

so hungry

 

he couldn’t wait to free his palette

cover his canvases thick

 

he couldn’t wait for chrome-yellow love

infinite night-sky blue

to dry

 

he had to lick his light fresh.

 

as I cut onions into chunks—

never delicate, translucent slices

 

coming down hard at irregular angles

gouging the board

mixing wood splinters in

 

I think about the unusual way

I’m told I have with a knife.

 

I bet Vincent tore into his bread

left his teeth marks in wedges of cheese

completely neglected on countless occasions

to clean up after himself.

 

and what’s wrong with big chunks of onion?

the savage charge of having to eat?

 

eyes burning, tears streaming

I see through it all—

 

the last temptation of light.

 

Judge’s Citation:

This poem achieved an odd synesthesia, as I pictured Van Gogh’s yellows and the tooth-marked cheese together. The food imagery was very well done, and so were the textural details. It gave me some fresh, vivid ideas about the artist at work from this other artist, whom I can also easily picture, busy at her stew and her poem. 

 

Honorable Mention “Bones” by Rebecca Brock

 

Bones

 

My shoulder popped hard last night

when I turned over in bed,

the noise of it a solid sound 

reverberating…

 

and my ankles on the stairs

in the early morning

should wake the children.

 

My bones seem to be

pronouncing their existence,

their hard tack

beneath my surface of soft—

 

I feel more and more the absence

of wings

either that I had them

once, but more like I can feel exactly

where they might sprout

or bud,

blossom or grow—

 

I think it would hurt

and people would stare

but I marvel anyway

to feel the push of these bones

against this casing of skin.

 

Judge’s Citation:

I had the misfortune of suffering a sleep-related injury that resulted in a condition called frozen shoulder, so I think I was exactly the reader this poem was looking for. The effort to come to some sort of détente with the body is one I can relate to quite well, and this poet nailed it: “I feel more and more the absence / of wings ….” Yes, indeed. Every damn year.

 

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WHO IS ELIGIBLE TO ENTER: Women poets
 
CONTEST DATES:
Entry: September 15 – November 30, 2021
(Now Closed)
 
First-round reading period: December 1–14
Finalist reading period for the judge: December 15–31
Winners announced: January 2022
 
ENTRY FEE: $15 for three poems
(Enter as many times as you wish) 
 
 
A limited number of International Women’s Writing Guild entry fee scholarships are available for those financially unable to pay the fee; please contact kelsey@iwwg.org for eligibility information.
 
 
JUDGE: Karen Craigo
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Karen Craigo is a business reporter at the Springfield (Missouri) Business Journal and was Missouri’s fifth Poet Laureate. She has five poetry collections, including Passing Through Humansville and No More Milk (Sundress, 2018 and 2016) and three chapbooks, and she is also a freelance writer and editor. She lives in Springfield with her husband, Michael Czyzniejewski, and their two sons.
 
 
PRIZES:
First Place: $500, feature in virtual reading, plus featured poet publication in The Orchards Poetry Journal June 2022 issue, a contributor copy of the print issue, no reading fee for one future manuscript submission to Kelsay Books.
 
 
Second Place: $100, plus publication in The Orchards Poetry Journal,
a contributor copy of the issue, no reading fee for one future manuscript
submission to Kelsay Books.
 
 
Two Honorable Mentions: Publication in The Orchards Poetry Journal,
contributor copy of the issue, no reading fee for one future manuscript
submission to Kelsay Books.
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SUBMISSION METHOD: email
NOTES: No revisions after submission.
SIMULTANEOUS SUBMISSIONS: No
FORMS: Poetry, any form, up to 30 lines in length.
PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED: Previously published poems accepted as long as the author retains rights.
JUDGING METHOD: We are judging with names redacted. Remove your name from your poetry document. We accept word documents, no PDFs please.
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INSTRUCTIONS FOR SUBMISSION:
1. First pay the entry fee (see below).  For 1-3 poems the cost is $15.00
Multiple entries are allowed. Submit your payment and email
1-3 of your poems in one Word document.
2. Include your PayPal transaction ID inside the body of your email.
The transaction ID is emailed to you once the Paypal
payment has been accepted.
3. Write CONTEST in the subject line of your email.
4. The body of the email should contain the titles of your poems,
and your name, address, and 50-word biography.
5. Submit your 1-3 poems in ONE word document attached to the email.
If you send multiple entries you must pay new submission fees
and submit a new Word document for each group of poems.
6. Do NOT put your name in the Word document that has your poems.
We are judging with names redacted.
*
7. EMAIL YOUR SUBMISSION TO:
kelsay.karen@gmail.com
*
The contest is now closed.