May 26, 2023

In case you missed it, the Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest awards ceremony this week was a rollicking success. In a contest year notable for its first in-person awards ceremony since 2019 and its unusually small organizing committee, the standing-room-only event went without a hitch and much audience appreciation.

Special thanks to this year’s judges, Caitlin Scarano and Leslie Wharton; to emcee Kevin Murphy; to the contest committee: Sarah King, Rachel Mehl, Joan Packer, Matthew Stuckey, and Flannery White; to the artists who illustrated the placards for the winning poems: Angela Boyle, Megan Carroll, Christian Anne Smith, and Kimberly Wulfestieg; to everyone who helped move chairs, including Dean Kahn and Matthew Scott; to Susan J. Erickson for the gorgeous flowers; and last, but definitely not least, THE POETS!!

This Sunday, May 28, the last of the 2022 winning poems will be featured here on The Poetry Department. On Sunday, June 11, and each of the next 19 Sundays, we will feature one of the 2023 winning poems, which will then be linked to the Winners page. Your Likes and Comments are greatly appreciated.

If you live in Whatcom County, Washington, and you believe poetry is important, the contest committee welcomes new members. It’s not a demanding job (unless it falls on the shoulders of only one or two people) but it’s definitely rewarding. Interested? Drop a note to BoyntonPoetryContest [at] hotmail.com.

At the awards ceremony, each of the judges has a chance to make a few comments. Leslie Wharton noted that so many lines of poetry continued to run through her mind that she decided to make a poem of them. Her cento poem, below, uses a line from each of the 2023 winning poems. Watch for them in the coming months.

Sue C. Roll

Because when stars collect, they look like you
what my younger sister once found most beautiful
as she sleeps, her lips begin to bloom
You might say there’s nothing other-worldly
except for a sapphire hole releasing heaven
Then she looks up, thinks, falling star?
You are acres of berry bushes full of fruit
who feels with kindness for all people
There are so many kinds
runaway combat boots, party shoes tripping
We will hug each other ‘til we are numb
hoping not to die
Silvers — Coho Salmon — swim above concrete
creeks had swollen like the pulse in her veins
In the unknown, all is known
random events explode into existence
reminding me that things will fall down from time to time
but I am not ready to leave
moving fast and joyfully
I feel peace

. . . . .
photo by Flannery White
“Sue C. Roll” cento assembled by Leslie Wharton

Awards Ceremony!

May 17, 2023

Next Wednesday, May 24, 2023, at 7:00pm, the Bellingham Cruise Terminal (355 Harris Avenue in Fairhaven) will again come to life with the sound of poetry. The Awards Ceremony for the 2023 Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest is free and open to the public. The evening will be hosted by everyone’s favorite emcee, Kevin Murphy, with comments from the judges, Caitlin Scarano and Leslie Wharton, and the year’s award-winning poems read by their poets. Please come celebrate community poetry at this heartwarming event.

After the Flood*

February 12, 2023

2022 Walk Award
By Leslie Wharton

Finally clean
she still smells mud       so moves to higher ground
the one picture of her papa       dries rippled

tears pool       stranded salmon spawn       in fields
time divides into       before and after       but never

ever after       she stockpiles food        up high
gathers kindness       counts her blessings

watches weather       longs to love the river again
bogged down       by newly formed tenderness

she can no longer       sweep spiderwebs       shoo flickers
she gently       places       shells       back to sea

by summer       she’ll return       to the Nooksack
where gravel bars wash away       new beds rest

beneath the highwater mark       exposed sapling roots
hold fast       in undercurrents of fear       hope floats

*Copyright © 2022 by Leslie Wharton. Broadside illustrated by Kimberly Wulfestieg.

Poet’s bio:
Leslie Wharton works as a caregiver for the elderly, who inspire and listen to her poetry. Her efforts to share poetry with a broader community include gathering poets for a Dress Poetry Show at Allied Arts Gallery, the Bellingham Women’s March, and other public events. Colorful broadside posters of Leslie’s poems are available for display in restaurants and galleries. Her first poetry collection, She Votes, was published in late 2022. “This poem started as an exploration of hope and then became a poem about our community’s recent flood.” When Leslie decided to donate her Walk Award plaque to the Sumas Library, she discovered, sadly, that the library was destroyed in November’s flood. Having lost her home to wildfire, she understands how disaster changes a survivor.


February 5, 2023

2022 Walk Award
By Hayley Van Ness

Crazy cute creative creatures
Are awesome active acrobats
Tiny tame tigers
Sneaky sly silly stretchers

*Copyright © 2022 by Hayley Van Ness. Broadside illustrated by Kimberly Wulfestieg.

Poet’s bio:
Hayley Van Ness is 8 years old and likes cats. She has two of them!

NOTE: a chapbook of the 2022 Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest winning poems, including this one, is available at Village Books in Bellingham. All sales profits benefit the annual contest.


January 29, 2023

2022 Walk Award
By Alina Tsakhniv

Snow falls outside
A blue house stands,
the streetlamp shining
Inside in a dark room
in front of a large window
I stand with my dad
He is holding an accordion
his father passed down to him,
Playing a soft song
Six generations deep
As my younger sister sleeps
I softy sing the song my grandmother taught me,
“Коли Дух Господній наповняє мене”
The snow falls faster
as I look out the window,
wondering about war.

*Copyright © 2022 by Alina Tsakhniv. Broadside illustrated by Christian Anne Smith.

Poet’s note:
The line in Ukrainian translates as When the Spirit of the Lord fills me.

words from a cloud*

January 22, 2023

2022 Walk Award
By Matthew Stuckey

“…all the flowers are forms of water.
the sun reminds them through a white cloud…”
W.S. Merwin

you think my body is light
as air but I am
the weight of water
heavy as stones
above your head

I am water that
moves in oceans above you
I am a form of river and
ancient glacier shining

the pink cherry blossoms are
also forms of water
the egret in the light
an old tortoise hiding

and in the night
your words of despair as well

*Copyright © 2022 by Matthew Stuckey. Broadside illustrated by Kimberly Wulfestieg.

Poet’s bio:
Matthew Stuckey lives with his wonderful wife in Bellingham, Washington, where he practices acupuncture and wanders around in the mountains. This is his first published poem and will hopefully not be his last. The cloudy PNW and W.S. Merwin’s poem “Rain Light” inspired the poem “words from a cloud.”

NOTE: a chapbook of the 2022 Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest winning poems, including this one, is available at Village Books in Bellingham. All sales profits benefit the annual contest.

Give me your hand*

January 15, 2023

2022 Walk Award
By Amanda Norenberg

I am a bridge
Between you, child, and those who you feel
but will never meet in the flesh.

I am not made of taut cables and steel, or wood
and bolts and cross-beams, or even tight ropes
woven together. I am not hard or immobile.

I am made of a glance, a giggle, a sigh, a wrinkle,
a skin spot, a black eyelash, a squinty grin.

I am made of rigatoni noodles steaming out of
the pot coated in butter, given to you in a small
bowl with a wink before dinner.

I am lasagna oozing mozzarella and red grease,
I am endive coated in sour vinegar and olive oil,
I am stories repeated around the table.

How can you be a bridge AND be all these
other things? you ask.

Babe, the bridge IS all these things,
and the bridge is your hand in my hand in
all their hands, all at once.

*Copyright © 2022 by Amanda Norenberg. Broadside illustrated by Kimberly Wulfestieg.

Poet’s bio:
Amanda Norenberg grew up in Minnesota on the North Shore of Lake Superior for 23 years, and has now lived in Washington the exact same amount of time. With a background in language (English, French, Chinese) and art, she’s had articles, poems, and photos published, art shows exhibited, and is now focusing these passions into a self-owned copywriting and photography business called Facet Copy. Amanda’s close relationship with her 11-year-old daughter is an inspiration for this poem. “Remembering the generation of grandparents I grew up with, I was mourning the fact that Opal will never meet them. But I realized that through me and the traditions we keep as a family, they can still feel alive in her heart.”

2022 Walk Award
By Marley Lotts
Based on “Where I am From” by George Ella Lyon

I am from the forget-me-nots that bloom in our yard
in colors of pink, blue, and purple
I am from our curly willow tree
(Not yet large enough for me to climb)
that matches my hair

I am from soaking in hot springs, the Shinkansen,
safaris, the pyramids, and places beyond
I am from taco salad and toasted O’s
from laughter, jokes and helping hands
I am from clearing storm drains with sticks

I am from loyal Zoe, with long whiskers and short ears
from Sadie, black and purring
and playful Mocha, wagging a fuzzy, curly tail

I am from books, surrounded by piles,
I am from owls, history, and fantasy
breathing in words, exhaling thoughts
I am from music, from fingers on metal strings,
and the peaceful, soothing melody

I am from swimming pools and soccer fields
from a broken tibia caused by a frog’s school day
and palm calluses from swinging on a little red trapeze

*Copyright © 2022 by Marley Lotts. Broadside illustrated by Megan Carroll.

Poet’s bio:
Marley Lotts is a 6th grader who homeschools with the Bellingham Family Partnership Program (BFPP). Marley is an avid reader who devours books of all genres, especially historical fiction. When he is not reading, he enjoys playing soccer with the Whatcom FC Rangers or practicing his viola. “I Am from Taco Salad and Toasted O’s” was inspired by George Ella Lyon’s “Where I Am From.” It originally was started in his writing class. This is Marley’s first published piece of writing.

Let Yourself Be Weary*

January 1, 2023

2022 Walk Award
By Maureen Kane

Let your body crumble to the ground
and lie on the wet forest floor.
Right here, in the middle of your path.

Let your skin and bones slide off your soul
surrendering dreams and hopes, and to do lists
into the decaying leaves and rich soil.

Give yourself to roots and mushrooms.

Let yourself become nurse log
molting snake
earthworm, digesting dirt.
Join the ants in their underground labyrinths.
Sleep cozily with rabbit and fox beneath the earth.

Let your weariness be the chrysalis holding
your bare beating heart and soul.

rest, and rest, and rest

And from here, let your life renew.
Breathe and wait
until you have some recognition
of who you have become.

*Copyright © 2022 by Maureen Kane. Broadside illustrated by Angela Boyle.

Poet’s bio:
Maureen lives in Bellingham, Washington, with her husband and hairless cat. She is a mental health therapist in private practice. Prior to being a therapist, her work focused on literacy, health care access, aging, homeless youth, and disability. She is the author of a book of poems called The Phoenix Requires Ashes, Poems for The Journey. Let Yourself Be Weary wrote itself while the poet was walking in the woods during a very challenging time.

Retirement Lullaby*

December 25, 2022

2022 Walk Award
By Bliss Goldstein

So it Begins.
This new phase of life calls for me. I strain to hear
my name. It was Worker. Before. Mom. Before. Daughter.
Before. Did I have a name before, before I was born?
Soul. Cactus. Elm. Dog. Red Rover, Red Rover send
Baby Boomer over. As my identity dies, I am living
without a funeral. No more work. No more children.
My posture is stooped. My hair is white. My voice is
hoarse. No matter how loud my cries shout from
inside this body I Am Here, the world is the one
that grows deaf. My ears attune to something old
approaching the earth’s core. It sings me to sleep
with its dirt-saturated lullaby.
The clouds are your cradle, the pine trees your spine,
the ocean to ladle your heart within mine,
with the time you have left you can finally see,
you are divine to your Mother and me
. If I am living
on sacred time, I pray that I will always hear the
selkie call of my own heart’s truest desire. I can find
her in air, water, earth. Without roots I can grow
new ones. Today I will slow. Breathe. Empty my mind
into the cool mountain streams. Today I will bend
towards the waving lavender lining the driveway.
Inhale. Paint my heart purple. Begin. Begin. Begin.
Begin the After.

*Copyright © 2022 by Bliss Goldstein. Broadside illustrated by Megan Carroll.

Poet’s bio:
Bliss Goldstein, MLA, has written for publications from The San Francisco Chronicle to Spider Magazine. She taught writing at Western Washington University and was Founding Editor of Tangents magazine at Stanford University. She and her husband ran a real estate company until recently, and she is now semi-retired. “I wrote Retirement Lullaby out of my surprise at how hard it was to actually go down the retirement path. In some ways it’s the Silent Transition; you have what many people dream of and yet no one tells you how much will have to die in the process of giving birth to this new life. I hope my poem helps others not to feel alone on their retirement journey, while kindling new hope for what lies ahead.”

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