Bugle announces poetry winners for 2023

By Scott Carlson In the 13th year of our annual poetry contest during National Poetry month, the Bugle received entries from about a dozen literary-minded readers. This year, contestants were asked to write poems that drew inspiration from the words “transformation, change, transitions, metamorphosis and/or remodeling.” First place winner and recipient of $50 is Marilynne Thomas Walton. Second place and winner of $30 is Paige Riehl. Third place and recipient of $20 is Susan Everson. Minneapolis songwriter/singer/poet Ann Reed served as Bugle poetry judge.

First place – Marilynne Thomas Walton

“Packinghouse Animal”

Sometimes it hits me

with the force of a blow:

A packing house animal,

the mallet of your death

makes me stumble and fall.

Years ago the surgeon told

you after the Whipple surgery

“You’ll feel like a truck hit you.”

Now I get that.

You are the part of me that

was hacked away.

The truck ran off.

I see it in the blue distance

 just over the hill.

My tears run like blood of a doe.

My animal-thin knee bones give way.

I reach for saving scraps of memory,

for prayer grasped like a wooden cane,

for the certainty of the velvet curtain of time,

blessedly lowered, over and over,

and the people, all the people

still to love.

Ann Reed’s Comments: The feeling of being altered by loss is palpable. There is one line that took my breath away: for prayer grasped like a wooden cane. Beautiful.

Second place – Paige Riehl

“The Girl’s Mother and Father Disagree At Breakfast”

about whether the girl should walk alone

to the school bus. Mother worries

about icy morning roads and distracted

teen drivers, white vans and hands

with candy, frigid winters even freeze

rabbits — so many ways

a girl can die.

Father’s frustrated: younger kids go

alone, shout and hit sticks like swords

at the stop, a battalion

of little generals. Gunshots

only come at night anyway, and dogs

are fenced on this street.

Mother gets quiet, stares at Father,

both unmoving, steaming cups

in still hands. Middle school

looms, but they both know

the girl’s distractible — a plastic bag

in the wind. An ant, a pretty leaf,

a smooth rock,

so much to examine in one block.

The girl’s eyes dart between

frowning faces,

silently hoping both

will win.

Ann Reed’s Comments: It is challenging for a writer to take the enormity of something like gun violence or not feeling safe and make it personal. The unease of everyone is in the last four lines.

Third place – Susan Everson

“Christmas Eve At the Beach”

A fleet of pelicans cruise low over the ocean

barely clear the surface

feathered planes in V formation.

Long beaks stretch out


one bends down to grab a fish

doesn’t miss a beat.

I want to join them,

feel my wings surf on air currents,

try to synchronize their beats,

catch the upwash from the tips

feel the lift of streaming air

from the bird ahead.

What perfect harmony

as if one body,

a ballet troupe that never collides,

only glides

and feels the flow.

Ann Reed’s Comments: I admit it. I am a sucker for a good bird poem. This poem has the feeling of transformation. Favorite line: a ballet troupe that never collides / only glides / and feels the flow.

About poetry judge Ann Reed

Ann Reed, a Minneapolis songwriter/musician and poet with ties to St. Anthony Park, served as our anonymous judge this year,

Ann said: “I was surprised when asked to be the mystery judge for this year’s poetry contest. I’m a songwriter who starts each day writing a short-form poem.

“My career as a songwriter has gone on now for well over 45 years. Lyrics to a song quite often can be taken out and read as a poem. On occasion, doing this gives the listener a deeper connection to the song once the singer is out of the way.

“In songwriting as in writing poetry, inspiration comes from being alive and paying attention. But it takes dedication and persistence to sit in front of a computer, or in front of a blank sheet of paper with pen in hand.

“It left me feeling a little uneasy, judging something as personal as a poem, knowing the work that goes into writing. These poets were asked to write about change and transformation, and it was an honor and a pleasure to read their work.

“Before we get to the three poems I selected, I want to encourage all of the writers who entered the contest — and those poets who did not — to keep working at your craft. Every person is full of stories and if you don’t tell your story, who will?”

Ann Reed is a singer, songwriter and author. She lives in Minneapolis with her wife and their cat, Momo. For more on Ann and her work, please visit annreed.com.

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