From the beginning, one thing was abundantly clear: This was going to be a battle.

Five women — each with the ability to sling words like razors, each clearly able to slaughter foes with one sentence, whether it has a rhyme or not — came for the glory of the chair.

And there, sitting beneath the grand oak tree on the picturesque grounds of the Morgan Creek Vineyard — a scene so tempting it made one wonder whether the devil himself had arrived to compete for someone’s soul — sat the fabled chair. The Bard’s Chair.

Only one wordsmith would walk away — or, perhaps, “sit” away — with the contest’s trophy. But not before slaying the others with sharp, meaningful verse.

For context: This was part of the third “Cambria Eisteddfod: A Celebration of the Celtic Heritage of Poetry, Song and Story.” The “chairing of the bard” comes at the conclusion of the contest. A Welsh tradition, the town bard was given a chair at the table of nobleman. Back then, the bard was respected.

Poets from around the state submitted works of poetry. From those entries, five finalists were chosen: Christina Flaugher of Mapleton, Meredith R. Cook of Blue Earth, Doris Stengel and Charmaine Donovan of Brainerd and Norita Dittberner-Jax of St. Paul.

And at 2 p.m. Sunday, after Gustavus Adolphus College legend John Rezmerski introduced the poets and Anna Larson and Jack Madsen warmed the audience up with recitations of poetry by Dylan Thomas and other Welsh poets ... it was on!

With a cloudless sky overhead and birds chirping madly from that giant oak — their chirps sounding like taunts, as if they’re looking down to the poets and saying “bring it, fools!” — Flaugher steps to the microphone first.

A spunky woman with moxie, Flaugher lays down a verse with attitude about survival, and about the absurdity of working as technical support for a cell phone company.

“It is our choices that steer us down the winding road,” she reads. And a few lines later, relaying dialogue between her and a crabby cell phone owner, “How hard is it to fix a cell phone!”

Dittberner-Jax is next. She calms the audience with a poem about the Rice Park area of downtown St. Paul, then rips into screed about a sauerkraut supper and “people who live by rules of coffee and beer; who drinks it, who pours it ... It is a feast of pale foods, there isn’t a green for miles.”

Cook is next, and she starts with a nifty scene of a Fourth of July fireworks show gone awry. She wonders about the “swift chrysanthemum of light.”

“We danced to the mosquitoes,” she reads, “and we walked home backwards looking at the sky.”

Stengel, up next, keeps it real with a poem about Sacagawea.

“In bondage,” she reads, “stolen from my people, slave to the Mandan ... He sells me for firearms and firewater.”

She follows it up with the sublime “Serenity of Snow,” a remembrance of winter with the heavenly line “only children are invited to disturb its silence, to lie in it like angels.”

Donovan’s turn finishes the verbal melee. In a piece about boating, she writes “today the lake glows like a new quarter.” Later, “We were not cheap tricks. We poured ourselves into hip-hugger, stovepipe pants ... Dark-haired Barbies on the lookout for our faceless, groovy Kens.”

The judges took their time making a decision. In the interim, Rezmerski recited a Bill Holm poem, whom he called a “best friend.”

“If anyone should have been chaired as a bard, it was him,” Rezmerski said as he gave Holm a thumbs up and appeared to choke up a little.

The judges finally returned and revealed their choice: It was Dittberner-Jax.

“Please step forward and claim your chair,” Rezmerski said.

The other bards climbed to the stage to congratulate and hug Dittberner-Jax. And with that the sky ripped open, revealing the ghostly, smiling faces of Welsh poetry greats Dylan Thomas, Idris Davies, Vernon Watkins and R. S. Thomas.

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