We look forward to April every year. The wildflowers are blooming, the bay view is ever-changing between thick fog, sunshine, and wave-whipping wind. April is also when we recognize Earth Day and celebrate National Poetry Month. At the Estuary Program, we like to bring all of these spring happenings together with a poetry contest that asks people to capture the essence of the Morro Bay estuary in haiku and free verse poems.
The poems are judged anonymously and receive points for form, creativity, imagery, and adherence to theme. This year, the 5th anniversary of the contest, a record 101 poets from across San Luis Obispo county and beyond submitted 128 poems. Guest judges Karen Kirby, Marnie Parker, and Kevin Patrick Sullivan carefully considered each and every poem. Karen, who moved to the Central Coast a little more than a year ago said the poems made an impression. She was “touched by the love, respect, and appreciation for the estuary by the local poets.” As a newcomer, she says she is, “amazed every single day by the beauty of Morro Bay, and it was lovely to see that lifelong residents feel the same and don’t take this incredibly special place for granted.”
Returning judge Kevin Patrick Sullivan echoed those sentiments, saying that reading all of the entries gave him, “firsthand knowledge that people care about and want to protect the estuary and its beauty and diversity of life.” Estuary Program staff agree. This contest inspires us to keep working hard to protect and restore the estuary for today and for the future. We hope that the winning poems will inspire you, too.
To hear the poets and guest judges read their work aloud, please join us at Coalesce Bookstore on Friday, May 18, at 7 p.m. We’ll applaud the contest winners and share our loves of the bay and poetry.
New Perspective Category
The New Perspectives category asked writers to compose free verse poems inspired by the Estuary Program’s new Virtual Nature Center at learn.mbnep.org. The Virtual Nature Center was funded in large part by a grant from the Harold J. Miossi Charitable Trust. It includes an underwater tour of eelgrass beds, a time-lapse video of the tide cycle, interactive climate change and water quality maps, a water usage calculator, and a steelhead trout video game that was created by Cal Poly computer engineering students. The Virtual Nature Center was funded in large part by a grant
First Place: Tom Harrington, “Haibun for Morro Bay”
On that frosty morning
I watched opalescent Estuary pools
overflow on the rising tide.
Ocean and creeks coalesced,
flooding eelgrass meadows
and pickleweed thickets
with life — Ebb tide drew
wedded waters to the sea
silent, except for ripples
from anchor lines slicing the current.
sparkling raindrops on
estuary grasses wait
to taste salty waves
Second place: Joanne K. Hand, “Nourishment”
They never really stop
Like the in and outgoing movement of the tides
There is a sense of urgency
Skittering over the mudflats
The Grey Blue Herons and Egrets and maybe if I’m lucky a Crane
all so stoic in their own manner
but don’t be fooled,
they are very present to their surroundings and movement
in their stillness there is an attentiveness
the eel grass and all those creatures invisible to our eyes
Even the Turkey Vultures, the Gulls and Osprey sky circle above
to be able to sustain their lives and be able to lift their wings into the air
Some beating fast, others as if in a ballet dance, slow, methodically
If I could tell you how it sounds on paper, I would
I often sit here on this bench and watch the busy going-ons of the estuary
wonder if the birds worry about tomorrow.
They can be such role models.
It can be so easy to put human folly in the actions of nature
but why would I?
Yet, I find great comfort that tomorrow or the next day I can come back to this very same spot
if the tide is right
and see the skittering movements over the water and mudflats,
the one so stoic with white porcelain feathers lightly wisping in the wind
and the smell of the salted marsh waters
that not only cleanses and nourishes its bay but lately also my spirit.
First Place: Gavin Hughes, “The Osprey”
Atop the groves of eucalyptus, echoing through
The massive husks of splintering bark and redolence,
Piercing the tranquil waters and rolling dunes
That the tide ushers in,
The Osprey calls.
He stirs – his shrill cry
Like lightning before an ominous thunderclap,
An omen shattering the sanctity of the Estuary
While restoring the primeval calm.
His wing severs and cleaves the air, master of water and wind,
His reign majestic and ethereal, yet ephemeral.
The air is heavy with the weight of our error.
Watch as he ascends, shrieking,
Clambering for our attention,
The tide no longer receding, the forest floor quaking
In undue anticipation of the great flood.
The Kingfisher, his Royal Jester, casts his glance down
In dejection; A glum silence overcomes his sparkling
Countenance, his majesty returning from his catch
The last warbler has moved away, the last reed
Enveloped in a newfound sea, the final cattails
Pickled by the brine that the ocean washes in.
The banks are silent and buried by the brashness of our imprudence.
In the silence, we might, perhaps, hear
The earth around us groan in anguish, the
Deafening cacophony of oppressive air
Devoid of the cries of the Osprey.
Second place: Emily Duclos, “Sunrise Sunset”
Every morning the sun rises on the Estuary
Not only a home to the animals but a home to beauty and mystery.
Few know about the wonders awakening in and out of the water
From the mini trout to the smooth flying Egrets and Blue Herons.
The Estuary, so peaceful yet so anxious,
Anxious with life and even death.
Anxiously changing from high to low tide.
Sometimes just waiting to see where the wind will blow it next.
Soon the sun will begin to run back to its home,
And night will fall over the Estuary,
Slowly mesmerizing all who inhabit it,
With the miraculous flavor of citrus colored skies.
The ones who have witnessed the salty essence,
The skies, blue, gray, pink orange,
The life that thrives beneath the land we walk on,
Will know that this amazing place is here to turn everyone’s soul gold and pure.
Haiku—three-line poems consisting of 17 syllables in a 5/7/5 pattern—traditionally focus on nature.
First Place: Richard Immel, “Surf Dancing”
Godwits race the surf
Nimbly probing for morsels;
Ghost shrimp tremble…Gone!
Second place: Norma Wightman, “Eel Grass”
Eel Grass hides pipe fish
seeking sanctuary in blades—
First Place: Peyton S. Untitled
Salty and fresh flows
Bringing homes for all the crabs
Crabs skedaddle back
Second place: Zeke T., “Tide”
Water sucked away
Water crashing into sand
Clams clapping at tide
Many thanks to our wonderful guest judges! They make this contest possible.
Karen Kirby joined the staff at Coalesce Bookstore just over a year ago and is thrilled to call Morro Bay home. She was born and raised in Louisiana and spent her professional life in independent bookstores and libraries. As part of the library Youth Department she oversaw the arts program which included poetry writing and frequent poetry slams.
Marnie Parker received a Bachelor of Arts in English and TESL at Cal Polytechnic University. A variety of her fiction, nonfiction, and poetry has been published in the Central Coast and Virginia publications. Parker’s Blue Sanctuary (2015) placed first in adult free form and her poem Meandering through the Zostera (2017) placed second in the same category for The Morro Bay Estuary contest. Recently, she was nominated and selected to read for the third annual Tanta International Poetry Festival in Egypt October 2017. She read some of her selected poems which included her award winning poem Breaking of Coral translated into Arabic and included in an international anthology. Currently, she is sending off her manuscript Brush Strokes about the relationship between poetry and painting.
Kevin Patrick Sullivan
Kevin Patrick Sullivan’s books include, First Sight, The Space Between Things , Under Such Brilliance and UNIMPAIRED. His poems are in SOLO, ASKEW, LUMMOX, MIRAMAR and several anthologies. He is co-editor of Corners of the Mouth A Celebration of Thirty Years at the Annual San Luis Obispo Poetry Festival. He is a Poet Laureate Emeritus for the city of San Luis Obispo and the Co-founder and Co-Curator of the Annual San Luis Obispo Poetry Festival which will celebrate its 35th rendition this November.