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2019 Poetry Contest Winners

By Sherilyn Stevenson

Featured image is “Heavenly Mother” by Avril Caron

First Place Poetry: Dayna Patterson

Dayna Patterson

[Pummel my tough heart, oh Mother-Goddess]*

— after John Donne

Pummel my tough heart, oh Mother-Goddess,
mallet this muscle turned leather, turned stiff
against all that is holy. Whole it with your
harrow, rack and stretch it till it limbers
and remembers how warm your innards, how
needed your fluid, your ichor, how still

it raves to the under-rhythm beating
that was its thunder nursery, each boom
like a tsumani in spirit-womb’s sea,
not seen but perceived by its lesser thrum,
soft once, like petal silk, like a newborn
lamb’s tongue, soft like its milk-bleat, shivering
for mother-wool. Will you humble this rock,
this old stone-bed, beat, crush, pound, grind it good?


DAYNA PATTERSON is the author of If Mother Braids a Waterfall, forthcoming from Signature Books (2020). Her creative work has appeared recently in AGNI, Hotel Amerika, Sugar House Review, Western Humanities Review, and Zone 3. She is a former managing editor of Bellingham Review, founding editor-in-chief of Psaltery & Lyre, and poetry editor for Exponent II Magazine. She is a co-editor of Dove Song: Heavenly Mother in Mormon Poetry (Peculiar Pages, 2018). daynapatterson.com



Second Place Poetry: Kathryn Knight Sonntag

Kathryn Knight Sonntag

The Grove 

Joseph enters. A beetle
weaves a shock of orange
through early decay. Dogwood
and wild rose rouse
under beech and elm.

A collective sigh
waves the canopy above,
dilating the distant blue.

From his lips
—a cry—

Mother, Her thousand ears,
Her thousand eyes, Her fragrance
suffusing, opens the heavens
upon Her son—pillar descending—

held to Her chest, flat on his back
in the seat of The Throne, in

Her thousand branches adorning the long climb
into the milky stars—legs gripping

the murky underworld—

hosts and hosts and hosts and hosts.


KATHRYN KNIGHT SONNTAG is a landscape architect and planner in Salt Lake City. She has a BA in English and a BS in environmental studies from the University of Utah and a Master’s in landscape architecture and environmental planning from Utah State University. Her poems have appeared in Shades: The University of Utah’s Literary Magazine, Wilderness Interface Zone, Young Ravens Literary Review, Exponent II, Psaltery & Lyre, and Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. Her first collection, The Tree at the Center, is scheduled for release on May 6th from By Common Consent Press.



Third Place Poetry: Melody Newey Johnson

Melody Newey Johnson

There’s A Crack In Kenya

Mother wakes me early before the sun to tell me
about fractures. I think she says fractions and I say
I don’t give even one-third-of-a-damn, I just want sleep.

But she won’t let it go. Kenya, she says. You know,
that place where everything started? Isn’t that where
they found Lucy, the first human? That was Ethiopia, mom.

And I think you mean Eve. She was the first human.
The Bible got it wrong. Adam came later. (This is my version
of Genesis, if the stories had been told by women.)

She doesn’t know what to say, but the crack has grown so wide
we’re both pretty sure even Jesus or all the king’s men can’t put it
back together again and, anyway, mom’s arms look tired.

I ask her to climb in. She tells me I’m cracked, then slides
beside me, her tired legs resting on those soft, old flannel
sheets she always makes the bed with when I come home.

 She scratches my back as I roll over and we argue (laugh)
about religion and science. I’ll tell you about a crack—
that day your dad moved out! She says it was like the

Gulf of Mexico washed through and made everything
verdant and new. It was like the Grand Canyon opened up
in the living room, then cool, clean air blew through this place.

You could almost hear the little burros, their hooves clicking
on hardwood, and nobody ever got thirsty, even with all the wind.
I wonder if it’s hot in Kenya, she says. And do they have clean water?


Melody Newey Johnson’s poems have appeared in Exponent II, Irreantum, Segullah, and in numerous anthologies and online literary journals. In addition, her poetry has been featured in the collaborative art exhibit, Ceremonies of Innocence: The Girls Are Now Women, at the Salt Lake Art Center. She lives and works as a nurse in Salt Lake City. She and her husband enjoy gardening and building sheet forts with grandchildren. They currently serve together in Primary as Sunbeam teachers.



Honorable Mention Poetry: Sarah Dunster

Sarah Dunster

Dry Years

Those last two years before we met were cruel—
they bent you over yards of curling floor,
they dug your knees in shag. You were a fool
of gardens wasted, feet rubbed sore
in tomatoes planted, nails caked in soil, and
flowering, fruiting bushels. More, and more . . .
There’s so much yield. Why can’t I feed a family?
My love: Take heart, for you are no dry tree.

Your figure then, I see it from above
that tiny ’74 Honda, cycling to school,
cut off from home, brought short of spousal love,
a figure grown too large for solitude.
The cuffs ride up your arms—how can I live?
(They’re cutting deep, this desert life is cruel—
this night Chopin’s a rage of untuned keys).
My love: Take heart, for you are no dry tree.

If you could see ahead you would have known
green hill, steeples, white shoes, then feet bared,
then birth on birth, small houses, clothes piles, thrown
voices—so many, so loud, and evening prayers
a bramble of tangled limbs—both pale and brown—
and your love guzzled by forests of eager ears,
and your wife of thirteen summers, sowing frantically—
My love: Take heart, for you are no dry tree.

Your long, hard season—time was the cruelest thing,
but can you bring yourself to pluck this poem?
Your life’s a swarm of joy now; sweet, warm stings
that could take you by surprise and bring you home,
and my kiss—a thing of fierce, fragility—
please trust you’re not alone now. Not alone.
Kneel close and let your bowels flood with mercy;
My love. Take heart, for you are no dry tree.


Sarah Dunster is the mother of nine children, an outdoors enthusiast, a voracious reader, a rabid gardener, and an award-winning poet and novelist. Her debut novel Lightning Tree was released by Cedar fort in April of 2012 and won the 2011 Segullah short fiction prize. Her 2nd, Mile 21, was released in 2014, and won the prestigious Whitney Award in the category of General Fiction. Currently, Sarah is publishing two series independently: The Caldera Series; Urban Fantasy/Psych Thriller fiction, and the Dumenon Chronicles; Epic Renaissance Fantasy fiction. They are scheduled to begin releasing in February of 2019.



Honorable Mention Poetry: Melody Newey Johnson (see above)


You ask me for evidence of God,
proof of divine intervention
like things you read in the Bible—
                                                   a red River Nile,
                                                   lepers healed
                                                   the dead brought back

I’m not sure what to say except:
consider your own creation
                                                    fire and heat, the whirlwind

the violent hours before 
you erupted into the world—

                                                    earthquakes, the great flood
ask your mother, she was there
she’ll tell you about it and

about redemption too—
the impossible light you brought
                                                    the rainbow

and how the wounds of
a hundred generations
were healed with your coming.

About Sherilyn Stevenson

Prose Editor at Segullah, Sherilyn Stevenson's essays and poetry appear in Dialogue, The Friend, LDS Living, Mothers Always Write, and other publications. She earned a Masters of English with a creative writing emphasis and works for state government in Utah.

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