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Saturday, June 4, 2011

Ed Versluis Contest Winners 2011

The results of this year's blind judging are in, and the following are the winners of the 8th annual Ed Versluis Memorial Writing Contest:

1st place: "Of a Certain Age" by Stephanie Neuerberg
2nd place: "Beauty is in the Ear of the Beholder" by Christian Chesterman
3rd place: "The Way We Talked" by Zeke Hudson
Honorable mention: "Boxing" by Zeke Hudson; "A Pack" by Jordan Parsons

1st place: "pas de fume sans feu" by Trisha Castillo (Congratulations to Trisha for winning first place in poetry
     two years in a row--remember, the judging is blind!)
2nd place: "at the Cantina" by Mo Costello
3rd place: "Crash Test Dummies" by Katherine Taylor
Honorable mention: "pues" and "in the garden, dear" by Mo Costello; "Nebulae" and "Birds" by Zeke Hudson; "Plastic Melts" by Katherine Taylor; "Untitled" by Jordan Parsons

Congratulations! Thank you to everyone who submitted; the submissions were of high quality and clearly demonstrate SOU students' love of language.

First, second, and third place winners receive cash prizes and guaranteed publication in next year's planned Ed Versluis booklet, which will be distributed around campus. The winning pieces are posted below for your reading pleasure.

pas de fume sans feu (First Place - Poetry)

by Trisha Castillo

girl walks across
the minutes
of a song
played once
in a haze
 of smoke and vinyl

she moves like
vintage material
and temple blessings
spun together 
under the flickering glow
 of neon lights

Of a Certain Age (First Place - Fiction)

by Stephanie Neuerberg

We were sitting on the same couch. Later, I would learn that this is what he considered “cuddling.” We were sitting on the couch, his elbow resting on my legs and vice versa and we were just talking. It was nearing four in the morning.

A lot of what was said in that conversation I can’t remember. Something about the bands he liked and a book he was planning on reading went in and out my ears while I just stared at his face. A cat was on the armchair next to us. There were plenty of seats available, but we crammed ourselves lengthwise onto that tiny two-person sofa; elbows, knees, legs, feet, fingers touching.

No wonder he thought we were cuddling.

I am not that kind of girl, I thought when he asked me to spend the night a couple days earlier. I had denied his request, but it was nearing four in the morning and here we were, the gangly twenty-two year old male and the round-faced eighteen-year-old female crushed together on this couch. Talking. I wondered how it would have been different if I had agreed to spend the night.

It was a strange weekend, spent with this man-child who had rescued me from nearly being raped at a party by some drunken asshole from my English class. Partying, for us, was listening to our friend Jake ramble on for hours until three a.m.; breakfast the next morning where he made me laugh so hard I spat water everywhere (the joke wasn’t even funny); and now conversing on his couch in the wee hours of le matin.

Weeks later, he told me I was his best friend. Via the internet, no less, but still his best friend. He told me hilarious jokes, left notes in my mailbox, pulled (artificial) yellow roses out of his backpack to surprise me, burned me a CD of his favorite musician, gave me a world map.

The note that accompanied the CD read as follows: “Everything he’s ever sung, I want to say to you.” Or something like that.

He was older than me.


It was the first time I had ever even come close to kissing anyone, and I felt sorry for rejecting him for, what was this? The third time? But there was something not right in the way he was holding me, and the way I heard him practically beg for me to show him even a tiny bit of affection.

We were in his kitchen, arms locked, and if his father had walked in at that moment, it might’ve looked like a romantic scene from a movie: his arms around my waist, me bent as though I was being dipped at the end of a waltz. If only I didn’t have an expression of utter disgust and fear on my face.

My problem began months before as I sulked over losing an amusement park game. We were spinning around to the beginning of the ride, and as I pulled away from him in mock-disappointment, I felt a ghost-like brush against my cheek and realized he had just tried to kiss me.

I remembered that moment now, in his kitchen, after I had just eaten dog food on a dare from his mother. To this day, I remember that moment, along with all the Two Door Cinema Club we listened to that summer, the look on Sheena’s face when I stayed with him instead of going to her graduation party, and the handmade skirt I had been wearing when this happened.

I didn’t want it like this. I reeked of kibble-n-bits and wanted to escape his embrace, and I avoided his eyes as they implored, “Come on.”


“Come on.”

I offered my cheek to him, and he planted an awkward kiss on the edge of my jaw bone.

He was the same age as me.


I was gazing longingly at the boy I crushed on last year from my solitary seat down the hall when suddenly a thin boy in pinstripes and a shock of perfect hair came into my view. He wasn’t particularly attractive, but was looking at me with such... intensity? I can’t remember exactly. And I was prepared to ignore him, despite recognizing him from auditions earlier that day.

Suddenly he was next to me, shaking my hand, telling me even though I beat him in the contest I won that year, he was okay with it, because I deserved it, and all this information was coming into my ears at such a rapid pace. I was charmed, to say the least.

Later that weekend, as we sat backstage in the dark, I learned that he and I played the same role in that Shakespeare play, we both loved writing, and by the end of the weekend he had dubbed me his nemesis. As the months crept on, and we spoke on the phone nearly every night, I found myself being even more charmed by his strangeness, his quirkiness, his nerdiness, and the fact that even though the call dropped eight times, he still called me back for the ninth.

He emailed me a short story sometime later in which his character fell in love with mine, and although I was dating someone else at the time, it was then I realized I was head over heels too. I started imagining what our wedding was going to be like. He respected me and asked my opinion and said I had beautiful hair. I was in love.

Then, I admitted it. And the compliments stopped. The writing samples I sent him went ignored, although he kept running back to me to critique his college applications. I cut off my hair, and he stopped talking to me. I went for a run, and broke down in sobs at the end of it. There had been someone else. I was heartbroken.

He was younger than me.

at the Cantina (Second Place - Poetry)

by Mo Costello

i wish you could have seen the napkins. at
the cantina. seen

how they were folded.
as if in a song,

a middle aged bartender,
alone at night suddenly
stops what he is doing.

he begins to methodically fold
and refold,

an unassuming pile of thin, white napkins.

it is not enough to simply place each one in
the small, plastic cup
that adorns
each small, wooden, table.

He must,
instead, fold,       corner, to corner,
as if tucking his only girl in at night.

Only to place her in
a small, plastic cup.

by the salt.

at the Cantina.

Beauty is in the Ear of the Beholder (Second Place - Fiction)

by Christian Chesterman

I was four years old when I decided to become a serial killer.  There’s even physical documentation of the event that cemented my decision.  I believe a picture of a young man flying through the air over a populous beach is circulating on the Internet.  I was building a sandcastle at the time.  Four turrets, a portcullis, and two flying buttresses were covered in blood and spinal fluid when he fell.

The young man landed with his neck bending the wrong way not two feet from where I was sitting in the sand.  The cracks and pops of his vertebrae shattering upon impact would reverberate within my head for years.  A beautiful symphony of the fragility of life.  I just wanted to hear it again and again.  What would a snapping femur sound like?  A fractured patella?  An impacted pelvis?  I wanted to know.

As I got older, I learned that what I was doing was morally reprehensible.  Not that it really mattered to me though; I loved it.  By age eight I had killed a toddler, two dogs, and an elderly Vietnamese man named Ming.  Ming had sounded beautiful.  Like the tinkling of antique bells housed in calcium church towers.  It was exhilarating.  Intoxicating.

Of course there were others I had broken, but they had not died.  Nor did they see me because I had worn my brother’s gorilla mask.  I cut out the ears though.  They muffled the sound that I needed to hear.  My ears peeked through the sides and tickled the wind while my face grew sweaty under the latex.   There were pieces about me in the news.  A midget masked killer. A simian psychopath on the rampage.  A sadistic child-sized butcher.  I didn’t like that last one though.  I never cut people up.  I only broke them.  People came apart in such musical ways.  Sockets dislocated with a scrumptious sucking sound.   Lungs collapsed with an airy sigh.  Cartilage crumbled with a susurrus of crackling.  I lived to find new ways to break bodies.  I was an aural explorer in the field of human destruction.  Dogs were good too though.

At age sixteen I was caught.  The police found me halfway through splitting open Ms. Jefferson’s skull with my trusty sledgehammer.  They made the mistake of sending me to juvie.  I found new subjects for my educational procedures on a weekly basis.  Two months later they tried to send me to jail.  I had heard of solitary confinement and knew that I needed to be on the outside in order to learn.  So I killed my guards during transport and left to pursue my studies elsewhere.

I ended up in Dunsmuir, California.  I love it here.  It’s so secluded and forested.  Nobody can catch me.  I work in the retirement home as a caretaker of the dying.  I offer a quicker demise to those who wish to further my aspirations.  I transport the bodies to the morgue and nobody suspects a thing.  Ever since Ming, I’ve had a certain propensity for elderly men. They break so purposefully.

Tonight I am going to try a new method of dismantling.  I have a date to the prom, and his name is Jack Panetti.  His dad owns the local lumber mill.  I heard from Jenna that sex makes everything better.  I can’t wait to see if she’s right.

Crash Test Dummies (Third Place - Poetry)

by Katherine Taylor

Wake up before you and hide the Golden books in the night stand,
wondering when exactly the Swiss extract themselves from bed to
turn the waterfalls back on.
Take me to the mountains in an elevator
and down a wooden slide requiring straddling, not sitting,
so we can lick the same salt as everyone else,
turned black with bacteria and dirty hand-oil;
why weren’t we afraid of diseases?
You’ll know where I am by my red bucket hat,
bobbing in the waves at a safe distance
between intermittent construction projects
requiring mainly sand and water,
with a splash of aesthetic spacing and height
and a touch of structural integrity know-how.
By the way, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is 1) not edible, and 2) did not have rails in the late 
                           Step on a giant stick and it won’t stay stationary; 
     most likely it will jump up and 
gouge my leg,
but no matter—there are a bazillion ladybugs to catch in
little handines that pudgily encase them until they’re
deposited in a flat-red Ford Escort with squared edges.
Learn not to smear nasal excretions on walls, or
Miss Audrey will yell, “You know bedderendat!”
I’m the only one she calls her daughter,
and for a few years I’m black by day.
The middle of the toast is best, all juicy with butter.
I’ll eat the crusts to make you happy and
feel like a good mother.
Just promise me we can get ice cream sandwiches from
the machine that only sells ice cream sandwiches
so they’re sure not to run out.


The Way We Talked (Third Place - Fiction)

by Zeke Hudson

I try to invite God into my life every day, but I am never sure if he accepts, or if I would know or not if he did. I’m not religious, and I said some things about God when I was younger that I wouldn’t feel comfortable repeating now, even though I’m agnostic—even if he doesn’t exist. When I invite him in I feel embarrassed, like I’m waving back at someone who’s waving to their friend behind me, and my invitation feels unsure when it should feel confident. Some days I forget to invite him until the better half of the day is over, when I could have used his presence with me earlier. I hope one day God will say “Yes” and I will know.

Now this girl is talking to me as if what we’re saying matters. Her friends, travel, careers, health, it all matters and we remind ourselves and each other of it as often as possible in the way we talk. She is a master of it, and I get excited with her. Yes! Go to Indonesia. Yes! Everyone here will still love you, and your family will still love you. You can even get your dream job there, get married, and raise cultured little babies. And I will be very happy for you and I will think about you late in my life as the girl, now the woman, who succeeded and made her life good.

I saw a video once of a crackhead who knew what love was. He made a sign with his hands, like this, clasping them together, and then he said to the cameraman “I love you. Now isn’t that awful? To know someone loves you?” I remember the way he said awful, like it really was awful, but exquisite, and I said “Yes” to myself, quietly, like talking to God. The videographers were laughing, and then I laughed too, but I didn’t understand his hand sign, and neither did they.

I don’t remember what I said anymore, but she leaned her head against my shoulder, and we stayed like that for an hour. I wondered what I said, or if it was my words at all, or if she was just like me and the videographers, looking for something that comes so easily to others. That made me more scared than anything—that after everything we said that mattered, maybe we didn’t know. Sometimes I thought about picking little berries, and I wondered if I’d be too shy to show them to her and say, “Here, these remind me of you.”

I used to drive at night with music on when I was overwhelmed, because you can’t sing along to the sound of tires and engine. I would climb into the hills as far as I could, until roads ended, or gates barred my passage, and then I would find a side road, an alley, and drive until I didn’t know the words. Roads became damnably familiar. When I got older I started walking, and when I walked alone I was reminded that humans aren’t the only animal that lives in cities. Farther above town, where the stores wink and close, cats become raccoons, deer turn into cougars, and every shadow moves. It is so hard to get lost. But every step away from home felt freer.

Now she’s murmuring about things that could matter. She is sleepy. I think that I could matter, so I put my arm around her and she smiles. Before, when I thought about berries, I knew I only thought of them because I wanted to be considerate, but I didn’t know much else. Now I know what I want. I have my arm around her, and Indonesia is gone, because it’s just the two of us. But I know something’s not perfect, like she’s still thinking about going somewhere even though I’m right there. Or maybe she knows more about me than I want her to.

I visited my friend at college once and got sad. I didn’t know that I was sad until I realized I had been thinking about a girl whom I loved and who would never love me. As my friend and I walked through a park on campus, I looked at the field ahead, and the road, and the roads after it, and I wanted to go, to get lost, to have the strength or the courage to leave, or do anything. So I ran. When my friend caught up, I was lying in the grass, still far from the road. I looked at the stars and wished the sky would go black. “I want the world to end,” I said to my friend, and he helped me up. When people ask me when the last time I cried was, I tell them about that trip, and when I didn’t get past the field.

I still talk with her, sometimes. There’s something there that never left, even though we’re a world apart. It’s good that I see the humor in everything. Even writing this was, in a way, funny, and I know how some parts sound, but that is how life happens. I don’t know if I’ll ever get lost the right way, on purpose, but maybe God exists. I hope that if he does, he’ll tell me whatever he told the crackhead.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

One-Line Story/Opening Line Contest Winners 2011

Marilynn Wilson
  • "Every day," I tell myself, "I am one step closer to becoming the world's oldest child prodigy."

Rachel Knapp
  • Early morning, bright and cheery, the shining planes crashed the bright buildings to the ground.

Alyx Johnson
  • Despite what they said, the railroad wasn't such a bad place to live.

Christian Chesterman
  • Across the road from the pear orchard, there is a purple house full of sheep, but there is no shepherd.

  • This whole glue-addiction thing was getting way out of hand, and the Kindergarten drug test was right around the corner.

Thanks to everyone who submitted sentences! The winners will be immortalized in a small poster in Central Hall. Keep on writing, everybody!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Book suggestions from Cognito's bulletin board - Fall 2010

Margaret Atwood - The Handmaid's Tale
Italo Calvino - Cosmicomics
Italo Calvino - If On a Winter's Night a Traveller
Suzanne Collins - The Hunger Games (trilogy)
Yoram Kaniuk - Adam Resurrected
W.G. Siebold - The Rings of Saturn
Kristin Cashore - Graceling
Megan Whalen Turner - The King of Attolia
Nick Hornby - A Long Way Down
Stephen King - The Stand
Perry Moore - Hero
Steig Larsson - The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Isabel Allende - Zorro
Neil Gaiman - American Gods
Gregory David Roberts - Shantaram
Junot Diaz - The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Roberto Bolano - 2666
Haruki Murakami - The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Sherman Alexie - Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Carlos Ruiz - Shadow of the Wind

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Jibblies Winners 2010

The results are in, and here are the winners of the 2010 horror-themed Jibblies contest:

First Place
Poetry       "Red Cocoa” by Hannah I. Darling
Fiction       "The Quiet Life” by Jasmine Lane

Second Place
Poetry        “Students” by Angela Finneran
Fiction        “Release” by Patrick Duggan

Third Place
Poetry        “Make Sure the Light is On” by Riley Hamilton
Fiction        “Trip to Iao Valley” by JodiAnn Tomooka

Honorable Mention (unpublished)
Poetry    “Heavy Breathing” by Jonathan Ulrich
              “Once a Year on the Darkest Night” by Elizabeth P. Womack
Fiction    “Late Night Intruder” by Stephanie Neuerburg
              “Polka-Dots” by Carly Schoonhoven

First- and second-place winners in each category will receive a cash prize.

Thank you, as always, to everyone who submitted work. If you submitted an entry but did not win, be on the lookout for our future contests to try with a new piece! If you weren't pleased with the results or if it sounds like fun to read everyone's submissions and come up with writing contests and fliers, consider joining Cognito (details on the right).
News: For the first time ever, our “ezine” will become a “real 'zine” when we print small booklets of the winning entries to hand out around campus. Having your work published in this tangible format will be optional in this and future contests (but, hey, who wouldn't want greater circulation and readership, right?). Keep an eye out!

Note: If the large margin on either side of the screen bothers you, simply shrink your browser window to make reading the posts easier. You can also look on the right to find either fiction or poetry, or you can look under "Blog Archives" to read a specific post.

Red Cocoa - First Place Poetry

 by Hannah I. Darling

The sight makes her claws come out
and then melt back into their small, pilose coves.

Like the red buttons the neighbor boy
carefully lays on the stepping stones which
lead from his house to ours—
We too, like to be in between worlds.

Her shoulders rise and slink and we
realize we don’t know the fright of crawling
clandestinely and hush hush
in a stranger’s carpeted world.

The boy and his family
(whispering in their foreign accents)
draw hands with chalky dust on
the driveway.

She tracks red inside,
no noise, onto the white white carpet.

They weren’t red buttons.

Next day it snows on the foreign
neighbors’ chalk hands.
So they build snowmen
with reddish snow hearts.

The mother tells me, in her accent,
that the hands they drew
underneath the snow are now
like god’s.
And the snowmen are all the good people.

A cigarette shakes in her menthol lips.
And hot cocoa drips down
her well bitten fingernails.
She pours red into her steaming cup.

Just for “cheer” she says.

The Quiet Life - First Place Fiction

by Jasmine Lane

     The tap in the kitchen was leaking again.  It did so once in a while, dripping relentlessly against a buildup of plates that had been surviving in the sink for the past week in spite of Martha’s constant nagging that it be kept dish-free.  Ezekiel had tried to comply with her wishes when they had first purchased the house, hoping to placate the woman and end her griping, but after spending his entire day building the houses that other people would find happiness in, he didn’t have the energy to concern himself with the cleanliness of his own dismal and dissatisfying home.
     He sat in the living room now, feet resting atop the coffee table, his comfortable old reclining chair tilted all the way back.  Martha disapproved of the posture; she said it made him look like a layabout, but Zeke was comfortable.  Why shouldn’t he be able to put his feet up while he watched the game?  He had bought himself a six-pack, too, and now held one of the cheap beers in his hand.  He wanted to be drunk tonight, and Martha, who sat scowling at him from her rocking chair, would not deter his determination.
     The kitchen sink was still drip drip dripping away, and Zeke reached for the remote so he could turn the TV volume up a few notches.  A contented smile crossed his face as the distracting noise was successfully drowned out by cable ads and previews for sitcoms that had lost their flavor and originality several seasons ago.  His eyes slid sideways to glance at Martha, and he grumbled, “Don’t glare at me like that.  I’m trying to watch TV, and I can’t hear it over that damned dripping.”  There was only silence.  “Not gonna argue?  ‘Bout damn time you saw it my way.”  Martha still didn’t respond.  Zeke took a sip of his beer.  She was right not to argue.  She had complained time and again about the faucet and how it was wasting water and ruining the sink and keeping her up at night and all manner of other minor irritations, so she had no right to be giving him dirty looks now.  At least they couldn’t hear the thing this way.
     Something about the faucet’s steady drip had always reminded Zeke of a clock, and clocks had never reminded him of anything but his age.  At 42, he felt like his life had passed him by.  Kids didn’t know how good they had it.  Not that they would have cared if they did.  Bobby had failed his math test on Friday, and when Zeke had questioned him about it, he had blamed his failure on his teacher, a Mr. Dodson who Zeke had met with on several occasions and who had assured him that Bobby was less interested in math than he was in Alyssa Hatfield.  Bobby had been grounded for the weekend, but that hadn’t stopped him from trying to sneak out tonight.  But no harm done; a new set of locks on the window had made certain that Bobby wouldn’t be leaving again any time soon.
     Come to think of it, maybe he should have put locks on Samantha’s windows, too.  She was generally well-behaved, but there had been mishaps and Zeke really saw no reason not to nip the whole issue in the bud.  He groaned and tilted himself upright, setting his beer on the coffee table without a coaster.  Once again, he glanced at Martha, daring her to comment.  Once again, she said nothing.  “No complaints?  I’m ruining your table.”  Silence.  “There’ll be a ring there in the morning.”  More silence.  Zeke raised an eyebrow, licked his lips, decided to see how much he could get away with.  “Your mother’s a bitch.”  Martha said nothing.  Zeke grunted, his eyes focused now on a commercial for shampoo, his reason for sitting up half forgotten.  Something to do with locks.  Was the front door broken?  He shoved himself upright and ambled toward the door to check, although he was pretty sure that wasn’t the problem.  Sure enough, everything was in its place.  Zeke grunted again, satisfied, and turned to head back to his chair, but his eyes fell on the partially open garage door.  Right.  The dog had been barking earlier, but it was silent now.  Everything was silent now.
     Zeke closed the door.  The edge of it scraped along the floor and left a streak of dull red-brown in its wake.
     It was dark on the way back to his chair, and Zeke bumped his hip against Martha’s seat.  When he looked at her to apologize, he saw that she had leaned forward, her hand tilted toward the beer can he had left on the coffee table.  Fury flashed through him, bright and hot, and he gripped the back of her chair with one calloused, powerful hand and yanked it back roughly.  Martha flew back into it, and Zeke snarled at her, “You leave my goddamn drink alone, you whore.”  A harsh laugh escaped him as Martha’s wide eyes gazed up at him, her mouth frozen in a startled little “o.”  “Mr. Dodson told me all about it this afternoon.  Tried to apologize, too, the jackass.  Guess it’s my fault; if I’d been home earlier, I would’ve been the one going to meetings about Bobby’s grades.  Too little, too late, I suppose.”  He glanced at Martha, whose head had fallen forward toward her chest.  Scowling, he gave the chair a little shake.  “Are you listening to me, woman?”  He shook again; her head popped back up.  “Better.  And while we’re here, I don’t give a shit about your stupid fucking flowers.  What the hell are primroses?  Sounds like fairy shit to me.”  Martha still wasn’t responding, and Zeke found himself losing steam.  “I guess it doesn’t matter.”
     He shuffled back to his chair.  It took a moment to get settled; his stomach had been growing these days, and his chair was made for a smaller man.  Still, he managed to get comfortable as the game came back on the screen.  The TV shone white against the carpet, the only light in the house, and it glared against Zeke’s pale face as he turned to Martha again; in the half-light, a series of thin red scratches glowed on Zeke’s cheek; neatly mirroring the three deep gashes on Martha’s chest and stomach, only just visible beneath her shredded dress.  It had been yellow before, but now it was red.
     “Yeah,” Zeke said, nodding.  “It doesn’t matter.  The kids are in bed; the dog’s finally quiet; and you don’t have anything to say to me anymore.”  He smiled.  “What do you think of that, Martha?”
     As usual, Martha said nothing.  There was only darkness, the TV, and silence.  Enough silence to drown in.  Zeke threw his feet back onto the table, scooting a kitchen knife to one side as he did.  “You wanna watch the game with me, dear?” he asked gently.  “Good.  I’m glad.  We can talk about all this in the morning, after our guys have won.”  There was a pause before Zeke said, “I love you, honey.”  On the TV, the crowd erupted into applause.