Cover Stories

Spring Poetry Search 2023

Poets open the door to intimacy and cross the threshold of time

Spring in New Mexico requires searching for signs of hope—at least at first. Case in point: On this year’s inaugural day of of the season, enough snow fell for the City of Santa Fe to delay opening offices, libraries and rec centers, while at the same time a careful peek revealed the start of green shoots from the ground.

SFR’s annual call for spring poems reflects the annual maelstrom of blowing winds, seesawing temperatures and nascent blooms. From the more than 200 entries that arrived in February, we present seven, along with one from poet, guest judge and Institute of American Indian Arts Associate Creative Writing Professor Anne Haven McDonnell, recipient of the 2021 Halcyon Poetry Prize from Middle Creek Publishing for her book Breath on a Coal.

“There is a strong sense of voice in all of these pieces,” McDonnell says of this year’s winning poems. “I can feel the specificity of the speaker and the world that is being evoked and I think there’s an intimacy to each poem. They’re all working with memory and with weaving together different times, different scales—an intimate scale with a bigger vaster scale. On some level, they’re all doing that.”

First-place winner Bianca Barela’s work is rooted in the culture of Northern New Mexico and the strength of women, she says, “I love when a poem invites me into a vivid, specific world and I felt like this poem did right from the first line.”

Second-place winner Eleanor Channell, says McDonnell, “works with different scales of time and space in a way that was really interesting and powerful to me. There was just this sweep of time and vastness and also a really small, close-together intimacy.”

McDonnell picked two poets for a tie in third place: Théo Ceridwen, who used “really inventive language play” that “wove a lot of different things together such as gun violence, tender human vulnerability and plant science,” and Tamara Baer, whose short portrait of pregnancy was full of pleasant surprises.

Yearning for more chances to write and read poetry? The city is accepting applications for its next poet laureate through April 19. Find out how to apply at

—Julie Ann Grimm

First Place

“Knead the Masa”

By Bianca Barela

Call out to the hijas the primas the tias

the ones who grew up in the kitchen

and the ones who did their best

to escape it

Who will tell them

about the wagon built from scraps

full of beans tortillas posole

fresh eggs from the chickens

being pulled up the dirt road every Friday

by their four foot nine inch matriarch

awake before the sun in the morning

to knead the masa

heat the water on the wood stove

defy her husband

with her generosity and quiet dignity

despite his protests of waste

share what she had with her neighbors

heal what she could with her herbs

I struggle for the words to tell

how she stopped and prayed

with every family along the way

bringing her grandchildren along

to witness

I turn these stories over

like masa in my hands

spreading them out

with a wooden rolling pin

looking for clues to guide me

trying to remember how

we used to make tortillas

from scratch

Bianca Barela is a poet and mother working in the health-tech industry. She was born in Santa Fe and is currently raising her two daughters here alongside her husband. Her work has been featured at Quiet Lightning and LitQuake in San Francisco and in the IHRAF Publishes Literary Magazine.

Second Place


By Eleanor Channell

a dream inside the dream: your child soul peering at the world

door ajar, ribbon of light, a sunbeam sends its invitation

it takes a deft hand to find the fingerings of childhood

to climb back up the rope one knot at a time

onto a hand-built perch high above the blaze of sea

elms bending, fields of timothy your green horizon

it takes a delicate touch to raise again the father

who tenderly called you Chief, who called his hat

the sky, a giant beside you bucking hay in summer light

and dust, at whose whistle the dogs came bounding

you wanting nothing more than to stay at his side

in that small valley, blue mountains rising in the haze

if continents can shift, surely we can loosen

the door from its jamb to see the white house

its luminous uncertainty, the grace of childhood

clear, plain, in staggering smallness all-encompassing

a sunbeam sends its invitation, dreams ajar

ribbon of light, your old soul peering at the world

After years of teaching English, art history and creative writing at an international high school in the Pacific Northwest, Eleanor Channell relocated to a small village in Northern New Mexico, where she leads a life of arts and letters on her own terms. Most recently her poems have been published in Rattle, American Life in Poetry, and the West Marin Review.

Third Place -- (TIE)

“Bullet-proof Glass”

By Théo Ceridwen

we are fragments flying out

through which light passes --

a mother untangles sleep,

breathe, baby bundle.

now, they call me soft target

practice. kick back in

war sands while we invent quick

death in the many-worlds

even now we have no way

to see if wet-blessed-

thistle, daisy-cutters shoot.

time fuses set to bloom

into striped bell-curves, thinning

tallies, managing the

mess, whether you look bares

no resemblance to

perception in attention:

that is to report,

the art of staying alive

is to pluck deadheads.

the million bells plant grows best

in full sunlight. still,

understandable if one

reads ghost signs to learn

the art of staying alive

depends on how well

you steal fire from fanned worlds to

hum mud into dust.

Théo Ceridwen (they/them) is a writer, artist, and quantum poetics researcher living in Santa Fe, New Mexico with their dog, Cosita. Their primary interest as an artist and researcher is in compressing the manifest image of the world with the scientific image and mathematical visualizations, thereby rendering difficult-to-grasp concepts more accessible and accurate for general human consumption. Théo earned their Poetry MFA from the University of Pittsburgh in 2021.


By Tamara Baer

Once I loved your fat heel

arcing the round of my belly,

and the bulging ball

that may have been your head.

Even before there was a you to you,

I loved the idea of you –

the improbability, the commonplaceness.

Little chickie with your gold fleece winging,

the fluff of goose down budding

over nape, when you call me

in the middle of some fameless night

to rock you –

I will hold and rock you

longer than I have to, returning you

to your own sleep, rocking

regular as the vigilance of heartbeats,

your tiny wrist inside two fingers of my hand.

Tamara Baer has lived in Santa Fe since 1994.


“because the sun will die if we stop talking about it”

By Kristin Lueke

at least one person, anywhere, at all times,

must have something to say about the sun.

because the world doesn’t want us to trust

each other—or maybe it’s just too big

a job for the kind of animal we are,

i mean, who would keep track of whose

turn it is, this second, to save us—

there are those of us who simply never

stop talking about the sun.

where, given the season, it’s sloping through

the sky, how bright it is, how missed,

how it burns the clouds away. but there’s only

so much you can say about the sun before

you miss asking your friends how is your heart,

or making plans to make soup and eat bread.

so we find new ways to speak to and of each other.

the other night while passing marigolds between us

you said look how it shines

tucked between a photo of my grandfather

and a prayer card for his daughter’s son. later

i told you how the sun laid down the day

we drove into the desert, and i couldn’t find

my breath. you asked if when i woke

did i first think of sunrise, how to dress

for the weather, where to plant a garden?

and i asked, in turn, if the sun didn’t rise

would it bring me closer to you?

Kristin Lueke is a poet, author of the chapbook, (in)different math. (Dancing Girl Press, 2013) and co-founder of a small design firm called Field of Practice. Her work has appeared in the Acentos Review, HAD, Blue River Review, Kissing Dynamite, Hooligan Magazine and elsewhere. She writes a Substack newsletter called “The Animal Eats” and says hello to every dog she sees.

“Epistle to Will Shuster”

By Liana Woodward

Dear Will Shuster,

I used to see your self-portrait every Sunday

on tours up Canyon. No lips just downturned dog-jowls & the easel

a dark triangle to hide behind. I liked that you put the scratchy brown part

of your art in the foreground, that you let your face frown. I liked

your white shirt & your glasses round like an owl’s. Looking again now

I can’t believe your thumb tucked into your trousers like a snarky wink.

You must have loved whimsy to build a fifty-foot puppet. Build him

specifically to cry like a megaphone. Fill him with fireworks

& everyone’s worst days. Name him for anguish. With so much affection

give him eyebrows like an irritated child, climb into his dry paper mouth for a nap,

then, suddenly turn & burn him alive.

I used to take old rich ladies in a group, point to buildings

where your friends drank bootleg booze, slumped in dusty sunsets.

I’d point my fingers through wrought iron bar windows where Claude’s was

which is now gutted & gagging with cotton candy insolation. The owner must not

know how Alfred Morang used to sleep above the bar. How he died there in a fire.

Now only statues & paintings

get tucked into bed. You have to pay for parking & walking

around at sunset you can’t hear anyone going home. No one making a quick stop

at a corner store for eggs or bread or wine. No whining

dogs or hopscotch girls.

I want to paint a house fire like you. Isn’t this what artists do? Sit up on a hill with a palette

of yellow & orange, make someone else’s losing beautiful

instead of passing water to the fire brigade. Instead of being useful?

With affection,


Liana Woodward is a poet born and raised in Santa Fe. She received her BA from St. John’s College and her MFA in poetry from the University of Montana, where she served as a poetry editor for CutBank literary magazine. Her work has appeared in Peach Mag, Hot Pink Magazine, The West Review and elsewhere. She works at the Southside Library.


By Laura Hitt

I dream of you sometimes, glowing eyes

hooked beak.

And yesterday in the woods—hanging out with a diminutive juniper tree

a little patch of moss, cicada exoskeleton, deer droppings—

I missed you acutely, how we used to explore

the wilds, identifying birds,

traversing the mountains and rivers, examining minutiae.

But friendships fall apart

as surely as vireos winter in the Amazon.

Ours molted one fall in the Midwest, laying bare

a vast, subterranean ecosystem that couldn’t be reconciled.

And I’m sure you still go birding, excel

without me there, asking stupid identification questions.

Sometimes I miss your face peering into a spotting scope

at a body of water, cursing with glee

at the sheer quantity of species to identify, individuals to count.

I saw you: feral rebel, genius naturalist, emotional spelunker

your gifts manifold, your darkness deep.

In my dreams we reunite, no biggie

like last night when you were making poop jokes about your fiancé.

If time is indeed elastic, if the distinctions between past present future

are “a stubbornly persistent illusion,” as Einstein said,

then I would bend us back to the first time I saw a vermillion flycatcher

with you, at that wooded campground in Texas.

Maybe I’ll glean a sighting of you again someday, sudden as a rare vagrant,

a vireo ojirojo in our Southwestern town.

And when I do, I won’t disturb you,

will silently note plumage and behavior in my field journal

perhaps make a brief sketch for memory’s sake

and carry on

wishing you keen eyes and sharp ears,

a lifetime of insect-filled canopies.

Laura Hitt has an MFA in Creative Writing & the Environment from Iowa State University. She works as a tutor in Santa Fe and enjoys birding, podcasts and staring off into space.


“I am rooting for this river”

By Anne Haven McDonnell

and for the bare twiggy willows,

those rooting wizards, dropped

in augured holes six feet deep,

those skinny little cottonwoods planted

along this dry arroyo that, just now

seeps and trickles with a thin clear

ribbon of snowmelt. I hear the sip

and murmur as it drops off chiseled

boulders some workers fit like brick

along the shore, across the channel

forming little riffles and pools for six

sweet weeks this river runs.

I am rooting, too, for those hated

Siberian elms, voracious water suckers

that shimmer and sing with the first

rich greening above the river and around

this town, their papery seed discs

bundled like money, spreading and coating

gutters and hoods and garden beds.

I am rooting for a doomed river,

I know was once a living river,

with trout and beaver and reedy ponds

before it was sucked dry and filled

with broken bottles and broken cars,

and now sculpted, bulldozed, cleaned,

readied to receive water and all life

that follows water, which looks less

and less likely will come. Still,

I root for everything I want

and know won’t return. Sometimes

in spring, they fill the shallows

with fish-one week for kids to catch

those poor trout before they shore up

when the water runs dry. I root for those

doomed fish, for kids with worms

writhing on hooks, for the worms,

for all our unlikely watered futures,

for each hungrier and hotter year.

Every spring I’m here to see

when those cursed elms burst their greedy

green and this river gets on its trickle

I plan to go on rooting.

Anne Haven McDonnell lives in Santa Fe and teaches as an associate profesesor in Creative Writing at the Institute of American Indian Arts. This poem appears in Breath on a Coal (Middle Creek Publishing 2022).

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