Peggy Weaver wins 2021 Xpress Poetry Contest

AND THE WINNER IS ... Peggy Weaver is this year's Xpress Poetry Contest winner. “Lately, I've decided that the only sane way to view this unusual time we are living in is through the eyes of a poet — sometimes my own poetic lens and sometimes by reading and rereading poems that have crossed my path,” she says. Photo courtesy of Weaver

Over 30 poets submitted works to our annual Xpress Poetry Contest, held each April in celebration of National Poetry Month. This year’s competition asked writers to craft a work that examines the ways our connections with friends, family and community sustain us.

Mildred Barya, award winning poet and UNC Asheville assistant professor of English, served as our 2021 judge.

Tasked with selecting the top three poems, Barya chose “Close Quarters” by Nelson Sartoris as this year’s third-place finisher. “The perspective of this poem shines a spotlight on the fragility of intimate relationships and how life presents a blessing in disguise — a chance for couples to rediscover each other and reestablish connections,” Barya says.

POETRY JUDGE: Award winning poet and writer Mildred Barya was this year’s Xpress Poetry Contest judge. Photo by Todd Crawford

“Smiling Eyes” by Hannah Jarvis earned second place. “This poem asks ordinary yet provoking questions that I imagine we all could or have in fact asked at some point to remind ourselves of what’s essential in life,” Barya notes.

And the contest’s top prize went to Peggy Weaver for her poem “A New Word for Neighbor is Called For.” Weaver, a 30-year resident of Asheville, retired in 2011 after working as a school librarian at two local public high schools, North Buncombe and Asheville High.

“This poem states in a simple but profound way how the kindness of neighbors can get us through whatever challenges we might be grappling with,” says Barya. “It’s clever — as the title suggests — and reflective on what’s passing, present and will matter in the future when we’re asked: ‘What got you through?’ and this poet will gently correct: ‘Not what but who?’”


A new word for neighbor is called for

by Peggy Weaver

Together in the abyss, an intimacy has grown.

Lights paint the darkness between our houses by night,

Unhurried conversations hum over the asphalt by day,

As reassuring as sunrise,

As relaxing as sunset.

We matter to each other.

Erstwhile chance acquaintances are now the essential ingredient

In my recipe for hope.

We share great fears and woes sprinkled with

The normal and banal:

The dog who died, the knee that failed,

The pipes that froze, the son who moved,

The roof that leaks, the tree that fell,

The wedding lovely, pixelated on a screen.

Some day we will be asked “What got you through?”

I’ll say “Not ‘what,’ but ‘who.’”

Those angels fate dropped near me

Whose heart asked mine “How are you?”

Across the shrinking social distance of our lives.


Smiling Eyes

RUNNER UP: Hannah Jarvis earned a second-place finish in this year’s competition. Photo courtesy of Jarvis

by Hannah Jarvis

Like strangers, we step into the unknown.

Like strangers, we come to know

the matters that once were trivial,

that once were trivial in times when life

was a second thought, and that second thought

is all we now know of.

Did we ever notice how it felt

to be embraced by their smiling eyes?

Did we ever notice what it meant

when our children needed us?

Like strangers, we were unaware of

what it meant to be alive,

never unknown to those that lived before us.

We relinquish the familiarity

of what’s nipped us in passing, blotting away

our rebuke of humanity, its goodness

inherent in the soil we enrich with our actions.

We are everything but the affliction.

We press pause to play

among the sunshine, the rain, the snow,

the earth before us preserving

every atom of every breathing, tangible vessel

that encompasses what is life.

We are no strangers among these mountains.


Close Quarters

FINALIST: Poet Nelson Sartoris finished third in our 2021 poetry contest. Photo courtesy of Sartoris

by Nelson Sartoris

Escape from each other had held them together,

work, friends, dining, shopping not shared,

both busy with individual agendas.

Home contacts civil but brief, conversations

more like reports, home meals seldom as a couple,

mattress usually cold between the warm spots.

From outside, appearance of togetherness,

within their walls personal spaces void of intimacy,

more partnership than pairing.

Then COVID lurks outside forcing them inside,

now both work from home, closeness inescapable,

outside attractions, distractions now nullified.

Their only hope, or hell, now resides in one another,

slowly, quietly, they pause, listen to each other,

slowly, quietly, they rediscover each other.

Candles come out for mutually prepared dinners,

conversations become spiced with humor, eye contact,

the cold mattress space slowly warms.

With vaccines imminent each anxiously awaits

the time their separate worlds reopen,

each ponders what immunity will bring.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. His writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, the Miracle Monocle, Juked and elsewhere. His debut novel, The Wind Under the Door, is now available.

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.