The Common Ground Review Blog

2024 Poetry Contest Winners

Rebecca Hart Olander’s poetry and collaborative visual and written work has appeared in print, online, and in multiple anthologies. Her books include Dressing the Wounds (dgp, 2019) and Uncertain Acrobats (CavanKerry Press, 2021), named a Must-Read selection by the Massachusetts Center for the Book. Rebecca has taught at Amherst and Smith colleges, Westfield State University, and through Pioneer Valley Writers’ Workshop, and she works with poets in the Maslow Family Graduate Program in Creative Writing. She is the editor/director of Perugia Press. Her first post-grad poem publication appeared in Common Ground Review, and she is honored to return to those roots as a judge for this year’s contest.

2023 Poetry Contest Winners

This year's judge: Oliver de la Paz is the Poet Laureate of Worcester, Massachusetts, for 2023-2025. He is the author and editor of seven books, including The Boy in the Labyrinth, a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Award in Poetry. His newest work, The Diaspora Sonnets, is forthcoming from Liveright Press in 2023. A founding member, Oliver serves as the cochair of the Kundiman advisory board. He has been awarded multiple Pushcart Prizes and teaches at the College of the Holy Cross and in the Low-Residency MFA Program at PLU.

2022 Poetry Contest Winners

Our 2022 Judge, Abby E. Murray, is the editor of Collateral, a literary journal concerned with the impact of violent conflict and military service beyond the combat zone. Her first book, Hail and Farewell, won the Perugia Press Poetry Prize and was a finalist for the Washington State Book Award. She was the 2019-2021 poet laureate for the city of Tacoma, Washington, and after relocating to Washington DC for two years, she is now in the process of returning to Washington State.


2022 Poetry Contest Winners!

We'd like to thank everyone who entered the contest.

We are thrilled to announce the winning poems, chosen by Abby E. Murray, with her comments.


First Place, $500, “Running in the Dark”--Kathleen Holliday

The poet’s handling of this simple but stark imagery shows restraint in a way that lets one lingering encounter with death absorb all the light our eyes can give to it by reading. How does a poem manage to feel so ghostly while rooted in the experience of living? In my notes, I wrote, I love this.

Second Place, $200, "It's only ugly when you use it"--Norma DaCrema

This is a beautiful, dancing glimpse at a single word’s role in the poet’s heart. The way words are used—and by whom—matters. Every word has infinite histories, knowings, possibilities, births, and deaths within it, and it does us good to explore those experiences. This poet accomplishes that exploration while creating a poem that, in the end, instructs us on how to appreciate a word.

Third Place, $100, "Blessing"--Olivia Kingery

A poem that is true to its title: one moment, equal parts prayer and blessing, shared between writer and reader. Exquisite in its simplicity and truthfulness.

2021 Annual Poetry Contest Winners

Common Ground Review would like to thank everyone who entered the contest this year. We are thrilled to announce the winners of our 2021 Annual Poetry Contest, chosen by our judge, Simeon Berry:

First Prize, $500

Connor Drexler, “Alone Another Vacation”

Simeon Berry writes: “Alone Another Vacation” is an anti-pastoral that lights up the countryside in an apocalyptic negative while the speaker wrestles necromantically with entropy and exegesis. Acknowledging both the gyre of Robinson Jeffers’ savage inhumanism and the bleak susurrus of cosmic indifference, Connor Drexler searches unflinchingly for the antidote inside the traumatic cloud of unknowing that is masculinity. This is a poem that is both surgical and gracefully suggestive as the capillary action of ink in a charcoal wash.

Second Prize, $200

Scott Ruescher, “Plumbing”

“Plumbing” is skillfully held aloft with elegant syncopation on the zephyr of a single sentence, borrowing from the harmony of a sonnet’s interlaced lines without importing any of its claustrophobia. Ruescher manages the difficult trick of stirring up the dark sediment of Blake’s Satanic mills and the depredations of catastrophic economies while maintaining the placid surface of his rhetorical argument, demonstrating all the contradictory ways that privilege is encoded in our circumstances and our art.

Third Place, $100

Charles Gillispie, “As Close as Anyone Gets”

“As Close as Anyone Gets” is a slant memento mori, a snapshot of a wilderness of grief superimposed on the crystalline cordial of a dinner party. In just three deceptively-simple stanzas, Gillispie advances his aural argument using the hinge of punctuation—first ellipses, then dash, then question mark—to maintain the tension between comfort and anxiety. This deft doubling reminds us that grief makes the world both uncertain and simultaneous, a confusion of chronology and essence that keeps us painfully alert, even when we would prefer the consolation of the anesthetic.

Honorable Mentions:

Zebulon Huset, “The Mathematics Are Indisputable”

Sandra Fees, “Self-Portrait as Flame”

Michael Buebe, “JigSaw 32”

Congratulations to all the winners! Their poems will appear shortly in our first on-line issue. We would like to accept a few of the other poems for our second on-line issue, and will be contacting everyone soon with more information on that.

2020 Annual Poetry Contest Winners

We are thrilled to announce the results of our 2020 Poetry Contest, chosen by Lori Desrosiers. Here’s her statement and the list of winners:

LORI DESROSIERS: First, I want to say that I had a terrible time deciding on which of the three top poems to rank for which prize. To me all three poems were extremely strong, and all deserved a first place win. Congratulations to everyone and thank you for entrusting Common Ground and me with your work!

1st Prize ($500) “Table of Contents”: Cassandra Rockwood-Rice

“Table of Contents” is a poem about survival and bearing witness. It is also about what it means to write about abuse and struggle. The voice in the poem speaks to the rebuilding of a life through writing about trauma, and also about how in the life of a survivor there are frequent replays of that trauma through micro-aggressions perpetrated by those who have not had the same experience. It raises some great questions through the use of anaphora/ the repetition of words down the lines, in this case “how.” The lines are crafted to cascade down the page and bring the reader both a visceral and metacognitive experience, coming back around in a circle to the table: the table of childhood, the table of memory. The table of contents questions itself, how to make this book make sense, and brings the reader back around through rejection to the final table of reckoning in “the light of day.”

2nd Prize ($200) “When I Say I Have Known Black Boys”: Darius Simpson

Darius Simpson’s “When I Say I Have Known Black Boys Like You” is a poem from a powerful voice that needs to be heeded today, especially in the light of the last how many years of struggle to stop white people in authority from dehumanizing Black youth. It is also superbly crafted, using slashes to take the place of white space and this is both effective and symbolic. The use of space in the line “then he got / / and came back a whole letter grade shorter” is surprising and deeply important. The word that came to my mind was “disappeared” although it could mean “suspended” in the sense of taken out of life and time. This is a visual poem, where the reader sees the friendships of the young men and the violence surrounding them, as well as the concern expressed by the voice in the poem, who is older now and looking back, and the last stanza seems to be speaking to a young man of today, trying to show him the danger he is in. Finally, I want to thank Darius for this poem and end with another line from it that stays with me… “boy loud / cuz he need a hug / or a meal / or an open hand / on his shoulder / not a muzzle / not another brick / layered dismissal”

3rd Prize ($100) “Wedding Dress”: Adrienne Christian

“Wedding Dress” is an extraordinary poem about a dysfunctional family, yet despite recounting the terrible behavior of these people (including the narrator!), the poet maintains a sense of humor throughout. This kindles in the reader a sense of pathos along with perhaps a bit of a morbid fascination. The language is surprising and very believable. It sustained the story, and held this reader to the page in anticipation of what might come next.

HONORABLE MENTIONS (in no particular order)

“Stay” : Arien Reed

“Yardsale” : Karen Mandell

“the easier way to deconstruct a monroe (by waveform? or otherwise?)”:

Tobi-Hope Jieun Park

“Working the Child At Risk Hotline” : Pamela Gemme

“Octavia” : Michael Baldwin

“Mi Casa Es Tu Casa” : Alfredo Antonio Arevalo

Thank you to all who entered our contest. We loved reading your work, and we wish you the best of luck!

Previous Contest Winners, 2019

First Prize, $500: Roy Bentley

“Luis Sarria, Muhammed Ali’s Longtime Cut Man, Prepares the Boxer’s Face for a Workout in Deer Lake in 1978”

This poem, ekphrastic from a photo, exceeds the mere description typical of ekphrastic poems by seeing the photo from the inside out. The poet uses a capacious Whitmanesque line to focus tightly on an intimate relationship of healer and warrior. These men do not speak, but the cut-man’s fingers feel their way into the hard history of Ali and all black Americans. This tight shot then brings the two out on the road into a country fighting for and against civil rights. The poet has researched the physical things in the photo and through concrete specificity has used them precisely to meld history and human particularity. I was moved by the poem, and thought of Ali with warmth. I was in Vietnam the year Ali refused to serve, and saw the effect of this on the black marines I was deployed with. By a few images the poet has not only sharply depicted the two men, but opened up the world around them and its history.

Second Prize, $200: Richard Cummins, “Carpe Diem”

I like very much this father’s observation of his daughter as the family trio drives through a landscape. The father’s language of memory and time are counterpoint to the child’s joyful naming of things. The father knows the snow is coming; the daughter’s acquisition of language is immediate. The child’s grasping for language recapitulates the poet’s incessant choosing of the best words. The poet says, “Love tells me that we three close our eyes/and create the world each time we open them again, that there is nothing but now, nowhere but here.” This line is a demonstration of Coleridge’s argument that the poet creates the world as if for the first time.

Third Prize, $100: Terry Bodine, “Hitting the Bottle”

This poem is in one sense a struggle with alcohol but in another, just getting through life with its “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” The bruises are not only the broken blood vessels beneath the skin but life’s heartaches. Childhood is woven with the present. “We’re as likely to remember a story we’re told/as we are the story we lived.” Memory revises, innocence is bruised with experience. There is a need for a mother to wipe away tears but there is also a sense the speaker will survive and recover. “When I lie down in beds of guttered leaves/I’m still able to stand back up.”

Honorable Mentions (alphabetical order by poem title)

“After Slaying the Dragons”—Jonathan Greenhause

“Annunciation on Rue Saint-Urbain”—James Crews

“Between A Mother and a Son”—Candice Kelsey

“Mythomania”—Howie Faerstein

“Over”—Tom Paine

“Post Impressionism”—Kathleen Holliday

“They Watched”—LQ McDonald III

“Thirteen Truths”—Michele Randall

“To the Brink”—Linda Haltmaier

“Transition Period”—Bill Glose

We’d like to thank the judge, Doug Anderson, and everyone who entered. We read many wonderful poems, and we’re hoping to find room for some of them in the Spring/Summer issue, so if your name is not on the list above, you may still be getting an acceptance from us after July 4th. And Happy July 4th!

2019 Poetry Contest Judge

Our Judge this year will be Doug Anderson.

Poet Doug Anderson grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. He served as a combat medic in the Vietnam War, and after Vietnam attended the University of Arizona, where he studied acting. He started writing poetry after he moved to Massachusetts, where he met up with the poet Jack Gilbert.

Anderson has written about his experiences in the Vietnam War in both poetry and nonfiction. He is the author of the poetry collections The Moon Reflected Fire (1994), the winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, and Blues for Unemployed Secret Police (2000). In 2009 he published his memoir, Keep Your Head Down: Vietnam, the Sixties, and a Journey of Self-Discovery. His most recent book is Horse Medicine (Barrow Street Press, 2015).

Poetry Contest!

Here’s the NEW info on our annual poetry contest:

We will have a new judge–to be announced soon.

The deadline will be March 31st, 2019.

Here’s what we kept the same:

Send us 1-3 poems in a single document. (Go ahead, send three!)

Each poem should be shorter than 61 lines.

Give us a short bio.

The fee is still $15.

If you send the poems snail-mail, the check should be made out to “Western New England University.” The address is c/o Janet Bowdan, Editor, Common Ground Review, H-5132, Western New England University, 1215 Wilbraham Rd., Springfield, MA 01119.

Or save the time it takes to type all that out and submit the poems via Submittable using the contest entry on our Submissions page.