Meet the winners of The Copper Courier’s second annual poetry contest

Meet the winners of The Copper Courier’s second annual poetry contest

Michael Ballard of Tucson won this year's poetry contest (Photo courtesy of Michael Ballard, Courier Newsroom Illustration/Kelly Lennon)

By Jessica Swarner

July 2, 2024

From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for sharing your writing with us.

The Copper Courier team kicked off our second annual poetry contest last month in hopes of doubling the number of entries we received last year. 

You readers helped us go way past that goal—we tripled the number of submissions! That means our team got to read 100 poems from writers across the state, and wow, did we enjoy it. 

I am a poet myself, and I have hosted The Copper Courier’s open mics for nearly two years now. I don’t take sharing work lightly, because I know how vulnerable and scary it can feel. So, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you for sharing your writing with us. We truly feel honored to receive these poems. 

The top three poems we chose are posted here, and they will also be shared to our social feeds and our newsletter. Enjoy!


“Aria” by Michael Ballard, 67, of Tucson

We Tucsonans love our monsoons. One good monsoon 

can wash away a year’s worth of desert grit in minutes. 

Then again, a steady rainfall might provide the same 

cleansing without the hazards sure to follow: flash floods; 

stalled cars; lost pets; once resilient cacti, bent, broken, 

fallen; blackouts; tons of debris for city workers to clear 

from our streets and washes. Yet, in spite of these perils, 

most natives prefer cathartic torrents over the gentle  

purging of serene showers.


Monsoon Season (I’ve since been informed “Monsoon” 

is itself a season and calling it “Monsoon Season” 

is redundant, excessive: a full-throated YAWP needs 

no adornment. But I digress). Monsoon is not unlike 

a road show opera company, rolling into town to perform 

a perennial 19th century opus loaded with showstopping arias 

unleashing the wail surging from the character’s core. 


And when I am alone, huddled safe and dry under my roof, 

viewing a passing tempest just beyond the proscenium

of my sliding-glass door and skylights, the violent alchemy 

of rain, lightning and thunder become 

the music, libretto and voice of Mother Nature’s 

production. I feel a connection with anyone 

witnessing the same performance, the way a great aria 

unifies every heart in an auditorium of solitary hearts, 

each one locked away in its own body, entrenched

in its own cushy seat (designated by row and number) 

with fortified armrests designed to enforce and protect 

one’s personal space.


Truth is, I don’t know much about opera.

But I know a good aria when I hear one.


Fields of Rice” by Kristine Wetch, 35, of Goodyear

My father,

waded in, the deep water of rice fields

barefoot in early morning, 

His pants rolled up above his knees

where the fog is rising just above the ground.

Cold, the plants bend at his feet

prostrate, praying. 


plucking the grass till his hands blistered, pink, 

carrying the stalks to the mill to be hulled.

he counted the grains, like beads on a rosary, 

saying his prayers

Our father who art in heaven

head bowed, hands clasped together


Even when I was young, his hands

were easy together, too often silent, 

tightly closed. 

or enveloping his face covering his eyes, 

or cupped over our eyes, raised ready to strike. Four daughters,

wilted on our beds like flowers

Young father, with nothing to spare

His hands poor and empty, like us

hungry, like us


Now, I walk the fields searching for him,

Until I found him on a drooping stalk, 

bending into the water

I have pulled off his hard brown husk, 

the chaff, the germ, I peeled it away.

Let it fall, to the ground. 

Let it be forgotten, forgiven.


He is white but not pure

murky and softening

in the palms of my damp hands

I hold him tight.


“I’m not in love, but I wanted to pretend I was so I wrote this.” by Cristina (Cree) Port, 26, of Glendale

So I drop everything to race and tag her through a breezy field on a sunny day tripping on tall weeds and flowers from sprinting too fast.

Giggling and heaving in air.


Our silhouette’s held by the grass,

painting hearts on each other with dandelions and holding hands to lips to whistle for loons but end up getting dizzy breathing out air and laughing even harder. 


And when she looks at me,


with that look.


The kind that causes my brain to glitch like a 2000’s computer, nonverbal dial tone,


That look,


makes me want her


to look at me like that forever.


Her hands pulling me towards her face,

asking if I’m still in there,

asking for me to be closer,

needing to be closer.

“One more time.” But maybe say that a thousand billion times.


But that’s just it:


It’s getting into the car at 1 am trying each and every McDonald’s to find the ice cream machine that works.


It’s how I’ll hold her thigh while she drives and I get to hear

her laugh that sounds like Pantone’s 2023 color of the year “Viva Magenta” suspended in an IV bag being sucked into my dry veins and winding its way through my body to bloom like bougainvillea that’s been trimmed just right.


Sitting on the front porch in rocking chairs with our coffee, slightly cold and damp, as the rain starts to slap the roof, the sky’s comments grumbling to spook her into my lap, 


hands out to catch the water rolling off our skin like diamonds falling into a pile I’ll throw into the sky to make constellations 

and name them after the things she likes so she won’t be alone when she gets lost.


And she’ll lasso and I’ll wrangle the moon into our living room corral,

so that we can ebb and flow, together.

Crossing my heart, staining my sheets, plunging feet first into the Pacific ocean 

knowing our bodies will always be warmer tangled together.


Because it’s about (un)buckling the seat belt and saying,

“Hold on, I’m coming with you.” 


For one more game of tag and a dandelion tattoo.

For one more fruitless round of finding the ice cream machine that works.

For one more coffee and rocking in tandem  when it rains.

For one more kiss in the drive-through because we gave up on McDonald’s and Taco Bell was the last thing open.


For one more time, 


but really a thousand billion times,

plus one,


one more time.


READ MORE: Read the winning poems from the 2023 Copper Courier poetry contest



  • Jessica Swarner

    Jessica Swarner is the community editor for The Copper Courier. She is an ASU alumna and previously worked at KTAR News 92.3 FM in Phoenix.

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