Xpress Poetry Contest winners announced

LANDSCAPE ART: Writer Jake Kramer won this year's Xpress Poetry Contest with his entry, "Nature." The contest asked poets to submit work around the theme of what WNC's environment means to them. Photo courtesy of Kramer

For this year’s Xpress Poetry Contest, writers were tasked with creating an ode (or a haiku or a ballad or a quatrain, etc.) to the Western North Carolina environment. Dozens of poets accepted that challenge, and Xpress received pastorals about birds, seasons, creeks and bears.

Local poet Justin Blackburn — co-creator of the Humansandpoetry collective and its event arm, the Asheville Biscuit Head Slam Poetry Series — had the difficult job of culling the entries down to an overall winner and two runners-up. Coincidentally, all three of those pieces center on the theme of trees.

“I went with Nature because I felt it was the most ‘poetic,’” Blackburn says of Jake Kramer’s winning verse. It “touched my spirit the most when it comes to living in the mountains — how you can lose all the names we give things and life goes back to being nature.”

The runners-up are Lament for a Beech by W. Eugene Woolf and Oak Limbs Lace the Darkness by Sherrill Knight. All three poems appear here in full.


by Jake Kramer

We used to say “Look—
that tree came from Daphne
when she ran from the sun”

and later
we just said “laurel”

and now
now even that is drifting—
we just see bunches

of canoe shaped leaves

salaciously quiet
innocently green

as the sun manhandles
then slips off them.


Lament for a Beech

by W. Eugene Woolf

Please don’t cut me yet, not yet

I see you standing there staring at me, noisy chain saw in your hand you think I am dead you cut my sisters long ago, cut them, hauled split stacked burned them but they were dead, standing silent sentinel in your woods, felled by the bugs, felled by the pinholes all up their bark, felled by the foul air once so sweet, felled like the Chestnuts so long ago, yes it is the blight the Beech blight but we don’t know those words we just know the pinholes where the bugs creep in and feast and the pain climbs up our trunks but please don’t cut me yet my sap still sings, my high wood fine,  my few years yet to live and shade to give

Come spring my great green canopy will shade your house again, come autumn the golden leaves will please your eye until they fall and say goodbye, as I will too but years away

Put down your saw, go find some seed,  new trees to birth yes ten to one. No, not Beech, our days are done, but something new to grace the woods and thrive with sun, yes ten to one.

Then some fine morning  will come my death, as yours will too, the woods will not remember  you nor me, but on and on will live, eternally. Ten to one.

Then you may cut and haul and split and stack and burn and I won’t mind nor even know. All Beech gone then, to join the Chestnuts in fond memory, and even you, so please don’t cut me now, still your saw and quiet our woods.

Not yet.


Oak Limbs Lace the Darkness

by Sherrill Knight

A black tapestry of oak limbs laces the darkness,
Bolts and forks branching against a back-lit urban sky.
A handful of stars scattered there defies the glow,
Bright and hard and ringing.
High in the remnant forest owls’ calls like insistent rising thoughts
Float above the retreating cry of a passing train as it echoes off the mountain,
And we can hear the river flow,
Flooded from all the rain,
And we can hear the river flow,
Over the boulders in the rising deep,
And we can hear the river flow,
Mountainsong in the heart of the city.


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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall has lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. She is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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3 thoughts on “Xpress Poetry Contest winners announced

  1. Mickey Hunt

    I thought to write a short series of haiku, but this is only as far as I got and I never entered. As with true haiku, it really happened, almost three inches long and intact.

    Digging in garden.
    A soil encrusted beech leaf?
    An ancient spear point.

  2. Mickey Hunt

    I just happened to read Lament for a Beech. It seems to me that unless a written work is “speculative” it should be very correct in its biology. I checked and I don’t believe there is a condition called beech blight. There’s a beech blight aphid, but it doesn’t bore under the bark and into the wood. Another thing is the American chestnut isn’t extinct. And lastly, beech wood is not much used as a fuel source because of its low density. The writer might have chosen eastern hemlock as a subject because so many giant trees of that species have been killed by the woolly adelgid. I wrote a speculative short story about hemlocks called Turtle of the World that takes place near Robbinsville. The story is here: https://chaoticterrainpress.blogspot.com/p/turtle-of-world.html. It has a theme similar to Lament and received an Honorable Mention in the Writers of the Future contest.

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