Ojai Senior Poetry Competition Sparks Creativity and Engages Community

In May, the Ojai Valley Museum, Ventura County Arts Council, and the Gables of Ojai collaborated on a poetry competition for adults 55-plus in their community in honor of Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus, who founded AARP and Grey Gables in Ojai. The competition aimed to celebrate the originality and individuality of Ojai seniors through poetry. It also aimed to honor National Poetry Month and Older Americans Month.

The project was spearheaded by Gary Liu, a junior at The Thacher School, who wanted to address older adults’ isolation and mental health issues by sharing literature that could inspire a collaborative process of community bonding, provide opportunities for creative self-expression, and encourage intergenerational connections through literary exchange.

You can read the winning poems below.

Visit the Ojai Valley Museum online to learn more about Ethel Percy Andrus, Grey Gables and the founding of AARP.

Above Image: Gary Liu, a junior at The Thacher School in Ojai, poses with senior poets at the Ojai Senior Poetry Competition.


How Do I Dance Wildly Now?
Katherine Holden
I rail against the calm
that keeps me from
ferocious fire.
How do I dance wildly now
as years, like logs,
grow higher?
What is this pushing from within
a spider’s legs
well spread,
expanding for a sprint
a jump
across the unmade bed?
I only have a hint so far
of light and lust inspired,
lust, that word, for stacking up
gathered logs yet higher.
Even if, in the end, I end
a peat bog being,
that is not the issue here,
I sense it’s more a keening.
Something craves this burst
a thirst
I cannot now define,
others known as ancients
can say yes, that spear of rhyme,
dis-ease within one’s long lived years
aches to spin-free fears.
You want to hold the sun
breast close
to burn away the tears.


I Have Forgotten
Robert S. Shelor
I have forgotten the sound of the wind
moving through the wheat.
I have forgotten the songs of the red-winged
blackbird; the meadowlark.
I have forgotten the smell of newly plowed ground. 
I have forgotten the bounce of the tractor
slowing only slightly crossing the terraces,
sweeping tumbleweeds from the smooth earth
to ready for drilling; the easy, light gathering of weeds
in the Springtooth harrow.
I have forgotten the hawk
on the telephone pole,
and atop the fencepost.
I have forgotten the way
sunflowers continue to turn,
all day long, at dawn facing east,
dusk, west,  watching the sun
as if this day
may be different.
I have forgotten the beauty and destruction
of bleeding the propane hose onto those few weeds
at the foot of the pressure vessel,
turning them white, and brittle.
I have forgotten walking from the idling tractor
across the yellow pasture to drink cold water
pumped by the windmill, catching mouthfuls as
it pours into the cattle tank.
I have forgotten
the rhinoceros beetle
floating on a twig half its size
in that tank,
its existence suspended on surface tension
as powerful, delicate and unseen as


The Presence of Absence
Allison Monahan
I go to A.A. meetings, an hour of relief.
I talk to widowed friends who understand
my grief.
The empathy of gardening,
the solace of vacuuming; I live
in a vacuum and the constant
presence of absence.
I've kept your baseball caps; the scent
of tattooed sweat
has disappeared, your touch
is no longer here, but I still see
your tears, and can feel
the presence of absence.
The night holds stars deep
upon the black, I watch
from the porch, your chair
is empty.  The stars
hold constant, not created or destroyed.
Love cannot be void.
Love exists
in a presence of absence.


Cerebral Palsy
Erika Littera
Ashamed awkward eyes avert
Attempting not to stare
While mine wander
Aimlessly wishing they were
The windows one would look into
To see beyond my broken body
And the metal that won't move,
Fertile, firm, not frail, my mind
Does fight the frustration
And I feel for the stark naked leper
Who might go through this too.
The windows are mere mirrors
And eyes avert again as they see
Themselves looking.


Creek Road
Robert Walker
On the road beside the creek
                     as silent morning mists
                     pale the choir of trees
My anxieties calmed by
                     this amorphous theater
                     of floating silver scrims
An ephemeral tantalizing
                     hint of oneness lost
                     in a chattering mind
Sun parts this vaporous curtain
                     smiling morning into time
                     to move us forward
on the road beside the creek.


My Lady
Christa Johnson
I stand before you, unadorned,
Lady of Water, Air, and Earth.
I crossed under your crooked trellis of wilted rose petals,
Under canopies braided with milk thistle, horse hair, quail-feathers.
I hiked up the gravely driveway to your perfumed parlor,
Fixed on the amber flames glimmering through your single-pained shabby window frame.
You are always with me, clear-eyed,
Bulging from the center,
Airy and weighty all in one frame.
I bow to you, Lady of Lake and Desert, Lady of Paradox.
I knock on your brittle wood.
Let me in I whisper, unconvinced I deserve to be hosted.
And you open the portal every time,
No matter how soft or misshapen my pleas,
You gaze with smiling yet serious eyes into the gaping abyss of my unfulfilled, unanswered siren calls:
Bird whistles, dinner bells, church bells, horse whinnies,
Answering even the most irreverent, dream-heavy solicitations.
You open, despite my protests of not being ready, not being perfect, not being whole…
“Enough,” you say and you proclaim:
“Ready or not, you have arrived.”


Country Games
John Gentry
These are the games we played on the farm;
     We made up the rules as we went.
We never ran out of things to do,
     And hardly a dime we spent.
Tennis we played without a net--
     Baseball with half a bat.
We had a football to kick around,
     But the bladder was always flat.
Our basketball hoop was a wagon rim
     Nailed up on a pole.
Into holes in the ground, we golfed with sticks
     Roundish lumps of coal.   
We laid out lines for field hockey;
     The “puck” was a white pine knot.
We made a goal out of chicken wire
     And some skinner pipe we got.
We held our own at horseshoes.
     There were plenty of them around.
From a rusted harrow we took two prongs
     And drove ‘em into the ground.
From a willow twig, one afternoon
     I carved a woodland flute.
I made a sling from an old shoe tongue
     And a leather thong from a boot.
Green cucumber boats to float,
     We made, by brother and I,
Then blew them up with firecrackers
     We’d saved from the Fourth of July.
The hayloft was better than a water slide;
     The creek was chlorine-free.
There were minnows to catch in the afternoon
     And cherries to pick from a tree,
And hide-a-ways in the tall green corn
     Where we gazed up into the sky
And contemplated the mysteries of life,
     And asked each other, “Why?”


On Becoming A Vegetarian
Clive Leeman
For some reason
This hospital bed
Has turned me
Into a vegetarian
From a man eating meat
To a woman eating chocolate
I am now a fish
With a huge hook
In its mouth
Being pulled mercilessly
Through the bloody water
I am now a screaming pig
Begging for its life
Relentlessly sliding
Down a chute
To the slaughter house clubs
Just like the sobbing Philipina woman
Crying out her innocence
Who is to be beheaded
By a Saudi sword
For having an affair
With a teenager
Like the Santa Barbara woman
Who breathed in Roundup
In the public park
And now sits paralyzed
In the dust
Like the mad cowboy
Howard Lyman
The Montana cattle rancher
With more cattle
Than anybody else
He was sickened
By his brother's
Cancer death
And his own
Inflicting of toxic meat
Upon the world
He became a vegan
And appeared on
The Oprah Winfrey show
To expose the omnipotent
Cattle industry
Like Greta Thunberg (15)
In Sweden writing to her parents
And explaining why
She couldn't go to school
While Planet Earth was dying
From overheating
And mass poisoning
And like this aggrieved citizen
That the Blessed Loving Presence
Would bring upon the world
A peace that passes
All understanding