Contest Winners 2021

Contest Winners 2021

A hearty congratulations to the winners of our Third Annual Robert Golden Poetry Contest, and our sincerest gratitude to all who entered their poems this year.

First, Second, and Third Place winners in both the Adult and Student categories received cash prizes.

Here’s what our judge, Ross White, had to say about the 2021 winning poems:

Every few years, some national magazine or other will run an article titled “Is Poetry Dead?” and we’ll have to natter on as a culture about whether poetry matters and whether the form can survive the vagaries of the modern world. But when asked if poetry is alive and well, anyone reading this year’s entries in the Robert Golden Poetry Contest would answer an automatic and resounding “Yes!”

There’s simply no way to deny the irrepressible energy of these poems, the delicious vitality of their sounds, arguments, and rhythms. In both the adult and student entries, I saw an extraordinary range of poetic techniques applied to subjects that spanned the breadth of the human experience, and I was buoyed by the empathy and generosity I found in those poems. My great disappointment was that I could not choose more winners, as so many of the poems have lingered with me since I first read them.

The adult category entries were replete with the pleasures of language. First-place winner “The Cohesion of Ghosts” moves associatively—with delicate precision—through the liminal spaces that make us feel like phantoms in our own bodies or shadows of ourselves. And while dread fills “Breathing Space,” the second-place poem, its compression and directness are canny and haunting. This year’s third-place poem, “Pause,” has an imaginative appetite in which the speaker tries to spare us from suffering and let us rest in the comforts the world can provide.

The student category was full of earnest feeling, inventive forms, and ambitious poems. “The Cycle of Dandelions” zooms in with absolute focus on a single flower, but elongates time to celebrate the myriad forms a living thing can take. It’s a worthy first-place poem in a category where there were no easy decisions. “The Eagle,” with its surprising rhymes and coy rhythms, took second place—it’s a praise poem for the natural world and what it inspires in us. And the third-place poem, “Seeing of Harmony,” looks up toward celestial bodies for its inspiration, registering its serenity with arresting syntax and unexpected images. “Logolepsy,” this year’s honorable mention, takes on a surprising voice to explore another side of the poet’s obsession.

If only there were a way to honor all of this year’s entrants! Nexus Poets, I am grateful to you for this welcome reminder that poetry isn’t dead— it’s sunning itself on the boulevards, it’s hiking the trails of the interior, it’s having a party and inviting everyone we’ve ever loved.


Adult Winners

First Place: “The Cohesion of Ghosts” by Lisa Creech Bledsoe

Second Place: “Breathing Space” by Valerie Nieman

Third Place: “Pause” by Les Brown

Student Category 

First Place: “The Cycle of Dandelions” by Kenna Zhang (8th grade)

Second Place: “The Eagle” by Sanjana Solanki (7th grade)

Third Place: “Seeing of Harmony” by Quetzali J Hernandez Guillen (10th grade)

Honorable Mention: “Logolepsy” by Kamryn Beasley (10th grade)

First Place, Adult Category:

“The Cohesion of Ghosts” by Lisa Creech Bledsoe

The Cohesion of Ghosts

I am not missing or finished.
The mist is blurry with my breath—
the soil compact in lines where I follow deer
or creek, walking on holy graves and leaves, grief
and the upheaval of ages. The wind
whispers prayers for me, at least
I would like to believe. Without her orisons
I might drift, ghost in and out. But
insubstantial is not the same as gone.

You have known me by the oranges
my great-grandmother peeled and sectioned,
by her dog with the sweet German name
and angry bark.

I don’t remember her funeral, only that I was twelve
and refused to wear black. No one forced the issue.
She visited later, standing on the riverbank
and calling instructions for my mother like
recipes to be followed, but not feared.

In books, ghosts are only here to finish something.
They are angry, or hungry, or incomplete. But
what if they are also healed and healing? With you
always, in the chalice of now, and also not now.
No call for judgement, only dreams and dreamers.

There is a library in Memphis where my mother’s
people are named and stored in quiet folios.
Every hallway a vein, each window a hint.
But I have seen her in her father’s silver photograph—
a pilot and his plane in the year she was born
and a war was won and lost.

My father smoked a pipe late at night in his red
leather chair, or out on the carport. Cherry tobacco
perfumed those few evenings. I keep them in preference
over other times.

Trees take years before they provide shade.
Their unfolding has nothing to do with us. But
I am essential as the ocean floor once buried here,
now raised and buckled along lines of sufficiency
and suffering. Every stream a font, each root a verse.

I am far from home. There are fifty deer
for every mile of this foggy, unlit road.
It is each journey I have ever made.
I pile together a cold November
with my son’s broken bones and the hiss
of rain against windshield. Kisses,
tremors, mistakes. I’ve given
my husband many of these. Eventually
we flowered. Quivered. Died.
And are still here.

Second Place, Adult Category:

“Breathing Space” by Valerie Nieman

Breathing Space

These days the world
presses my lips like the button
to spring open a box.

I walk and walk,
obsess on one red
tree while the world

is burning down.
I manage a shaky smile 
as fall again pulls itself

out of summer,
wing by leg,
from a chrysalis

thinned to invisibility.
I keep my eyes wide
and mouth tight shut,

because something 
is trying to take its first
breath from my last.

Third Place, Adult Category:

“Pause” by Les Brown


I placed my hand on the moon 
to keep it from its course, 
to stop time in the comfort of night 
when sleep subdues sounds 
of machines and urgent voices. 
Starlight and the still moon  
are enough to guide my stroll. 
I cross the meadow among sparse trees, 
where snowy crickets’ rapid cries, 
are timed by searing heat  
of past day’s sun. I lie down 
and listen for the whippoorwill 
whose call is rare now, 
watch fireflies wink love calls. 
I will hold the moon until 
the world stirs and wonders 
why the night endures, 
with dreams of the earth 
where fires do not rage, 
floods do not drown, 
spiraling winds cease, 
oceans retreat from shores 
and the cricket cries slow  
once again. 

First Place, Student Category:

“The Cycle of Dandelions” by Kenna Zhang

The Cycle of Dandelions
“The beautiful is the unusual” -?

Golden tipped petals shine under a glint of sunlight,
saffron insides brightening into a pure lemon.

But just as the flower had grown outward,
it retracts inward and crumples.

Across long lastingness, a pouf of cream
appears in the center of the deceased.

Consuming the dark remains of the sunny blossom,
small threads, one by one, poke out of the heart,
silver under the sun, frosted under the moon.

A toddler bounding among the slices of dull blades,
the hue of the pasture, dulled over time,
plucks the herb from its home and makes a promise.

Flowing through the wind, one by one–
the threads embed themselves into the soil and alas!
Has the weed grown once more.

Second Place, Student Category:

“The Eagle” by Sanjana Solanki

The Eagle

Flying over hills and dales,
through the breezes and the gales.
Each majestic auburn feather,
Has been through every kind of weather.

Flying over rich, brown soil,
Over big volcanoes that boil
and spray up geysers and fountains.
The eagle glides between peaks of mountains.

Flying over the boundless ocean,
That holds many mysteries within.
Through thick forests and green woodland,
The eagle flies above shores of sand.

Flying freely over Mother Earth.
Paving way and giving birth,

To dreams all around the world.

Third Place, Student Category:

“Seeing of Harmony” by Quetzali J Hernandez Guillen

Seeing of Harmony

Oh, how the sunshine waves
With its shining illuminating rays above
Along the heartwarming feeling touch of love.
Though the wind breezes, and yes, it’s late
Hello, it says
How quiet it appears to be
How pleasant
How nice
How fulfilling 
So well calming

My how mysterious it can get to be.

Just light years away is the glistening ball of light
Waiting each day to watch the world sleep (perhaps you) while others stare: creeping up at dusk
’til night.
Moon, they call it. Along are sprinkles of light
Giving in more to the glamorous forming. 
Stars are those, whispering to me from far away.
Hello one being, look up, everything will be okay.
Be thoughtful, but believe in what they say.

Simplistic creatures begin to rest. 
Long enough they soon awaken from the moon’s friend.
Following with the return of the shining illuminating rays above. 
Ah how the purse sight of nature is like the seeing of reassurance.
The seeing of and brightening of the soul,
The seeing and being of relaxation, 
The seeing of harmony,
The sight of biting into a piece of fluffy cloud with the lightest rain of all.

How lovely it’d be to see it one day!
Even though I see it almost every day. 

Thankful to be seeing parts of harmony. 

Honorable Mention, Student Category:

“Logolepsy” by Kamryn Beasley


What is this bright light?
Who are you, looking down at me?
Such an odd sensation
To be held with such admiration.

It’s been quite a while
Since my cover was dusted,
A while since the 
Pages were rustled.
Been a while since I saw a face
That didn’t soon after walk away.

I don’t have much to show you,
But we’ll take it a page at a time.
And it’ll be just us two
In a world I hope will comfort you.

I’ve been trapped in these lines for ages
But with every turn of the pages
It’s as though your fingertips
Are brushing my lips
From which these words are written.

I wish I had eyes that
Could reflect the sparkle in yours,
As you love, you hate, 
You smile and you laugh
At ink on pale pages, 
Each word that you pass.

And if you must disappear for a while,
I’ll be here always
Waiting for you, the logophile.

I’ll lay awake until you return
To where you left off
The last time you left me blind,
In a reality where I do not exist
Except for in your mind.

I wish I could escape the walls that enclose me.
I wish I could walk with you and talk with you,
And hold you close to me.

These words I won’t let past my lips
Spread on pages that contain mindless blips.
Words that never left my head,
Now written out but still unsaid.

Love letters to you,
The one who sees
Love letters to you,
Though you don’t truly know me.

These words are written for you.
Each letter is a love note I wrote for you to read.
Each sentence is my hope that you’ll stay,
Even with the pages run out
And the covers meet again someday.

As the last page draws closer and closer
I wonder how long you’ll remember me
Before your memory starts dissipating, 
And I’m back to being ink on a page
With no meaning.

All good things must come to an end,
And I only have so many pages to write in. 
But I’d like to stay
If only a moment longer
And I’d like to use my moment to say
Thank for you for caring enough
To make it to this page.