“Clara Venus” by Ava Johnson

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Variously described as “cool,” “wow,” “neat,” and “fun,” Ava Johnson is a senior studying creative writing and literature at the University of Montana. She likes candy, memes, gay stuff and things that glitter. She is very nice. Congrats on your honorable mention for your poem, “Clara Venus,” Ava!

Clara Venus
by Ava Johnson, after Arthur Rimbaud’s “Venus Anadyomene”

Does this lipstick make me look beautiful
or like a dead fish with lips or both?

On any given day, I am whatever
the glam version of an Ed Gein skin suit is:

you wear my nipples and I wear yours.
Bring your catalog of avatars

and strange prosthetics to my house,
after you get home from school, and also

that teal ski mask, and also
your sequin skirt, and also

I love you, and you look cute, today.
I love when you buy new nylons

just so you can tear holes in them.
You make me wanna play dress-up,

steal some nice champagne
and throw a slumber party!

Let’s all toss our nipples in a Ziploc bag
and trade until no one has a matching pair.

Then after the sutures
we can select our tongues, like witches’ pendants,

from some VCR parts. If we’re bored
we can always swap and make out:

you wear my tongue and I’ll wear yours.
Spin the bottle, kiss me,

probe my mouth with your movies. Curl it at the tip
like a flexing bicep, muscle my wet

mouth with your muscle.
Let’s choose our favorite genitals

from the box of vulvae, and fetch the trunk of cocks
from the kitchen freezer.

I wanna get lowbrow,
be your basement queen, forever.

Now watch me bimbo,
watch me Barbarella.

I am your power bottom,
I am your body horror.


“MONUMENT” by Steven Abell

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This year’s first honorable mention for poetry goes to Steven Michael Abell for his poem, “Monument.” Steven writes that he is more or less from Red Lodge, MT, and has been writing poetry for 12 years. He is a senior and he will be attending graduate school this coming fall at UMass Amherst. Congrats, Steven.


People walk around, across the
world, wearing your coats, hats.
Streets are sometimes barricaded.
Balloons let go, thousands of them.
People cover their houses with lights.
The sun rises and burns up all the snow.
Men and women leave their homes to pray,
pay debts, get into arguments at the post office.

The morning after your twenty-first, I rise and
dangle a headache over my toilet. I burn toast.
Paper says a dozen more statues were torn down.
Radio says to stay inside because it’s way too hot.
Few people go to work because it’s Saturday.
Many people go to work because it’s Saturday.
There’s a hole in my shoe but it hasn’t ever rained.

I join the men and women who march in the streets
throwing rocks and bottles, congesting traffic, lighting
fires, choking on gas, bleeding from their noses, mouths,
shouting for change. I crawl through a broken window
and look for your name on lunch pails; inside the cover
of an old hardback about spiders. I dig through a mound,
lifting shoes by their tongues, and I can hear the streets,
like a television left on for background noise. I cannot tell
which part is riot, which revolution. I do know,
though, I’m the only person looting this second-hand store.

“Eat with me” by Elaine Kelly

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Congratulations to Elaine Kelly for receiving and honorable mention for her poem, “Eat with me.”

Elaine Margaret Kelly of Montana was born to missionary parents in December of 1993. She fears blushing, wasting time, and being a fraud. She is a friend, a confidant, a lover of slow music and other romantic things.

Eat with me

Eat with me. I’ll treat you to some cultivated supper.
Swallow soft. Forget your piling plans and eat with me, cure meat with me, spill coffee- beans and sing with me.
Rest your tired thighs. I’ll pull a chair for you, sip kitchen chai.
Child, eat with me. I’ll stir and whisk and sift through cupboard seasonings.
Sit still, I’ll scrub the dirt out of the creases in the garden bits.
I’ll stop to let you cry into my dying plant.
I’ll feed you with a gilded spoon. I’ll hold your heavy crown to set you gentle on the tiled ground. We’ll twist our skinny arms together.
Waltz behind cold windows where I planted flowers in the concrete portico.
Eat of it, eat all of you. I’ll feed you my own calf undressed and hoisted high above a hungry congregation, leave the dishes for the morning.

“sea captain catman and his shitty night vision” by Samantha Ricci

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The Oval recognizes “sea captain catman and his shitty night vision” by Samantha Ricci with an honorable mention this year. Samantha writes about herself:

I hatched from an egg in Montana around the same time Jamaican authorities opened fire on Jimmy Buffett’s seaplane because they thought it was part was a drug smuggling operation.

Like the aftermath of the above fiasco, me writing poetry was a premature accident that was awkward for basically everyone involved.

I think it’s funny as shit.

sea captain catman and his shitty night vision

i.                       what feral friends we are, big talk
talkers bobbing in the deep green sea.
we get beached and run so far from home we have to
hitchhike back, dead on our feet, while the sailors
in our lungs
pull in their ships with big thick
ropes. they get no help from us this
time – we are more apologetic than

ii.                       and we’re all fucking cultured aren’t
we, in our bitten to shit lip cracking crew,
banged up so good we got our big kitty
claws out for the quick draw swing so they
don’t rust inside our big kitty paws.
none of us admit that we need them
less often than we use them.

iii.                        we pass around dream girls like
the cigarrettes lit by the same cherried filter
of the long walk walker who smoked his
since sharing is caring and all our lighters died an hour
ago. in the dark we trip on railroad ties
because only the cops get the nice flashlights
and we’re not up for the run. we walk slow and ask our torches to
last the home stretch PLEASE GOD last the home stretch.

“She Reads Aloud Ode To The Naked Body” by Jeron Jennings

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Jeron Jennings earned an honorable mention for his poem, “She Reads Aloud Ode To The Naked Body.” Jennings is a Junior who studies English Teaching. He hails from Saint Regis, Montana.

She Reads Aloud Ode To The Naked Body

Chaste eyes are the only eyes with which
you see me. You read aloud to the open room,
to the symposium, your filthiest translations
of Neruda but it is only I
who hears you. Our benevolent cronies
chuckle at the indication of bodies,
breasts, and flesh. Spill and stain
the knotted carpet with red wine.
May I be the you of this recital? Omit
the anatomical disagreements. These boundaries
are as passing as the words we speak,
the vernaculars we pull them in
and out of. Terms that signify nothing, like my name
which you can never remember. In time,
when they extract our signs
like vestiges from a dead language
they won’t know anything but the way
your voice shillyshallied
on the penultimate line. They’ll know
that we toasted but not what we toasted to.
It was forgetting, after all. And I don’t recollect
what your friend’s father said at his deathbed
or how your hair began thinning out.
They’ll know not that we sang:
You forget what you meant
when you read what you said,
but they’ll know that we sang.
And this flesh, this object
of our youthful lust will wither,
rot, and repulse. Sentience dwindles
into the lithosphere and all that is left
are our bones, skulls
hardly distinguishable, filled
with soil. We were made from Earth
and dirt, ashes to ashes and other accidents.
They only have to mean if we let them.
Like how all the fires lit beneath my feet
beneath my flesh, have burned white hot
and been named Gabrielle. I beg,
as I have always begged, for the last lines,
for the end to be mine. I am the regolith
buried in the scars of celestial bodies,
echoing light to tell you
You are on fire from within.
The moon is smoldering inside your veins
and tonight we are drunk on lunacy
from lunar rays.

“Lark” by Callie Ann Atkinson

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The Oval’s first honorable mention in poetry goes to Callie Ann Atkinson for “Lark.” She is a senior in the Creative-Writing program and is graduating this spring with her BA. She received her AA degree from Northwest College, before transferring to UM. Callie grew up on a small farm outside of Belfry, Montana, a place she continues to go back to every chance she gets. She consider the farm one of the strongest influences to her writing as well as writers such as Wendell Berry, Elizabeth Bishop, Richard Hugo, and Paulette Jiles. 


The sky is blue in Bierstadt light.

Many shades of sapphire and canary gold blush the ceiling of the world.

You brush leftover autumn leaves from porch steps.

A cardboard box has blown flattened against a fence.

There is the old man with his budgies—you look through each

glass pane—each frames a new

color–you like the brightest—it sings

the loudest.

Its so warm there must be swelling buds on branches.

Temperature drops then rises when the sun breaks the hill.

You wait for the rise to enter day.

Tea still steams in the kitchen beside oatmeal studded in raisins.

Gray winter light still held in apartment windows.

You know it could snow—tulips are resisting thought-ground

is thawing—frost replaced by rich

spring warmth.

Tomorrow it will rain—the faucet leaking in tempo.

Western meadowlark is back singing.

He will be wet—he will keep his song dripping from his beak.

Honorable Mention: “Dig” by Mary Peterson

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“This poem packs dark but beautiful imagery into a single stanza.  The second person format pulls the reader into the work, creating a sense of immediacy that is both striking and chilling.” 

~Vol 5, Poetry Board 

“Dig” by Mary Peterson

They gathered
in the bronze hollow
of a brittle ribcage,
and combusted
to rust the Black holes
of your chest,
the pupils expanding
and eating light
unfolding from the chrysalis,
swallowing echoes
where cocoons unreel themselves
into the belly of inversion,
the belly of the earth
where you dug and found
the snail whose shell
was a cup.