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Bruce Lader Poetry of Witness Award

Bruce Lader Poetry of Witness Award

I think often about what it means to live in the Information Age, particularly now at a time when getting news (or opinions or snapshots of your meal) seems to take precedence over accuracy or consequence. I think about what it means to bear witness – to decide, “I will stand with you. Watch with you. I will not let this be forgotten.” 

A part of me wants to share now about Darnella Frazier, and how George Floyd’s murderer would have gone free had it not been for her witness. 

I want to tell you about the Christmas that no one did end up standing in the kitchen with my Great Aunt Ruth, on what turned out to be the last night she made her mother’s famous biscuits, and now the recipe is lost to the family forever. 

What I need to tell you is this: the poet’s job is to bear witness. To focus our attention on things large and small – all that ultimately shapes us. The Bruce Lader Poetry of Witness Award, judged by Ashlee Haze,  is for poems of any form and style that address contemporary events or issues. Poems in this category will bear witness to that which concerns you, which disgusts or inspires, scares or emboldens, uplifts or fills you with despair. Our window on the world is bigger than ever. We have more information than we could ever need. What will choose to bear witness to? What will you not let us forget? 

Send your poems of up to 36 lines . Be sure to check out the adult contest page for a complete list of submission guidelines. 

That’s all from me, but do take a moment to read Haze’s bio before you go; check out the 2021 Bruce Lader winners in the 2021 Pinesong; and in lieu of a poem, I thought I’d share a review of Crossing the Rift, a collection of work by NC poets bearing witness to the tragedy of September 11th. 

Lumpkin out. 

Ashlee Haze is a poet and spoken word artist from Atlanta by way of Chicago. She is the host of Moderne Philosophy, an educational podcast for creatives and modern thinkers. Her work has appeared in numerous publications and media outlets, including work recently published in the May issue of Poetry Magazine. She holds a B.A. in Philosophy from Georgia State University and spends her time innovating ways to tell the stories not often told. 

Bloodroot Haiku Award

Each week, I’d like to take a moment to highlight an individual contest from this year’s Pinesong Awards. First up: The Bloodroot Haiku Award.

The contemporary English haiku is derived from the traditional Japanese form and is most commonly perceived as having three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables, featuring some image from nature. There are, however, a few questions: Does the English concept of a syllable correspond to what the Japanese form attempted to convey? How pertinent is the line count to the form; that is, can we have any number of lines that total seventeen syllables? How strictly do we have to adhere to a total of seventeen anyway? Short poems with lines of three, four, and three syllables are becoming more and more popular in English classrooms. I’ve personally encountered some six-eight-six delights, and both of these structures have borne the name haiku. And finally, can we call poems that follow this structure but aren’t about nature (or senryu) a type of haiku as well? 

Well friends, I have no definitive answers for the haiku conversation at large, but I will tell you what our Robert Moyer, this year’s Bloodroot Haiku Award judge will be looking for: 

Send your three-line poems of 10 – 20 syllables on any topic of your choosing to . Be sure to check out the adult contest page for a complete list of submission guidelines. 

That’s all from me, but do take a moment to read Robert’s bio before you go; check out the 2021 Bloodroot Haiku award winners in the 2021 Pinesong; and enjoy these five-seven-five offerings from Etheridge Knight. 

Lumpkin out. 

Robert Moyer lives in Winston-Salem, NC, where he was the local host for Haiku North America 2007 and 2019 as well as for three quarterly meetings of the Haiku Society of America. He has had work published in numerous journals, such as frogpond, Modern Haiku, bottle rockets, Heron’s Nest, Failed Haiku, Presence, acorn, and Sketchbook. He was a frequent contributor to Haiku News and had 27 poems included in their anthology. He has been included in a number of anthologies, including the ten-year Acorn anthology, Haiku 2021, and JAR OF RAIN, all “best of” collections. He also served as judge for the British Haiku Society contest in 2017.  He is the poet in residence at the Arts Based School, and host of the monthly Meetup session, HOW TO HAIKU.

Countdown to Contests

We are less than two weeks away from the start of our submission period! Have you already selected the poems you’ll be entering? Still working on those final edits? Wherever you are in the process, I hope you know how excited we are to receive your work.

If you’ve not had a chance to familiarize yourself with the rules for this year’s contests, please head over to the adult contest page to check those out. I want to point out here, that this year we are including sestinas in the Joanna Catherine Scott award (all traditional forms) instead of as a separate contest.

Speaking of the Joanna Catherine Scott award, I had the great privilege yesterday of attending a workship with the incomprable Crystal Valentine, where we spent a bit of time discussing Elizabeth Bishop’s villanelle One Art.

The villanelle is made up of five tercets followed by a quatrain, with two repeating rhymes and two refrains. The first and third lines of the opening tercet are repeated alternately in the last lines of the succeeding stanzas; then in the final stanza, the refrain serves as the poem’s two concluding lines. Using capitals for the refrains and and lowercase letters for the rhymes, the form can be expressed as

A1 b A2 / a b A1 / a b A2 / a b A1 / a b A2 / a b A1 A2.

Though I’ve not yet successfully crafted one myself, the villanelle is one of my favorite forms to read. After you’ve had your fill of Bishop’s well known offering, try this one from Porsha Olayiwola.

I’d love to read a villanelle of yours – will you be submitting one for the contest ?

Lumpkin out.

An Introduction

This past Saturday, NCPS held our Fall 2021 meeting. We had amazing readings from the winners of our book awards and an open mic that was nothing short of breathtaking. It was also my very first fall meeting listening to the work with “Adult Contest Director ears,” and I left the meeting with a new found awe for the kind of talent we have here in Carolina – plus a dose of sympathy for the task our judges will have set before them at the start of the new year.

I’ve thought long and hard about what my first post to the Pinesong Awards blog should be: A favorite poem? A recap of a meeting? Just wait until just before the contests open and inundate with prompts and potential inspirations? Then I thought: How else will I honor my Xanga-Myspace-LiveJournal roots if not by fully introducing myself to this world of Pinesong Awards Blog Readers?

I am Ashley R. Lumpkin – “Milli” if you’ve known me around the many performance poetry circles in North Carolina – a writer and math teacher who calls Greensboro home. I believe that Nikky Finney is the greatest writer currently walking the earth, and that every Shonda Rhimes television show will come back around, if you give it the time and space to do so.

When Celestine asked me to take the reigns as director, I hesitantly accepted. I’ve not been a member of NCPS long. My approach to poetry is first musical, then lyric. The names and faces of our Carolina legends have not yet been integrated into my personal canon. I question the validity of classics. I do not yet know how that medley of characteristics will work together to aide me in this role, but as Saturday’s meeting drew to a close, I was certain that accpeting the position was absolutely the right thing to do.

My vision for the blog is simple: I seek to inform and inspire. Here, you will find information about the Pinesong Awards, their judges, the forms they allow – along with poems, prompts, and the occasional musings of their director.

For now, I’ll leave you with this prompt by poet Akeem Rollins:

(1) Pick a natural disaster (ex: wildfires, earthquare, tornado, etc). Take 5 minutes to write down every single word you can think of and/or find about this disaster.

(2) Pick an illness or condition you have or had and do the same. 5 minutes. List everything you can.

(3) Write a poem describing the disaster as your condition. Use as many words from both lists as possible. Bonus points if you make it a pantoum. Bonus bonus points if you consider this inspiration for your submission to the Priscilla Webster-Williams Health and Healing contest (or any of our other awards).

Lumpkin out.

The Victorious Poetry

It is my pleasure and honor to present the winning poems of the Pinesong Awards for 2021:

Poet Laureate Award
Preliminary Judge Taylor Byas
Final selection by Jaki Shelton Green
Piecework by Susan Alff
The Children’s Section by Laura Alderson
Synagogue 1964 by Joanne Durham
Compost by Janet Ford
Garage by Maura High
Fruit by Jo Ann Hoffman
The Day After Christmas by Sandra Pope
Lessons In Applied Etymology by Celisa Steele
Orphaned by Andrew Taylor-Troutman
Standing at the Fence Staring into Cow Eyes Waiting for a Sign by Lucinda Trew

Alice Osborn Award
Judge Corrie Williamson
First Place:
A Bucket List for Spring by Shelly Reed Thieman
Second Place:
Flying Lesson by Nancy Swanson
Honorable Mention:
Cow Lullaby by Jeffery Beam
Suppose by Carmen Dressler Ward

Carol Bessent Hayman Poetry of Love Award
Judge Lindsay Rice
First Place:
Love in Black and White by Jenny Bates
Second Place:
Summoning My Grandmother in Dream by Margie Emshoff
Honorable Mention:
Milkshakes in May by Pam Baggett
Bowerbirds by Hilda Downer
Ruby and Darling. by Gary Phillips

Joanna Catherine Scott Award
Judge Leatha Kendrick
First Place:
Lost Poem by Mark Smith-Soto
Second Place:
Field Peas-A Mirrored Poem by Gary Phillips
Honorable Mention:
Near Sonnet for Full Revelry by S.L. Cockerille
Petition by Benjamin Cutler
frosted brown weed patch by Richard Ramsey

Katherine Kennedy McIntyre Light Verse Award
Judge Amie Whittemore
First Place:
Vespers by Ana Pugatch
Second Place:
Her Kitchen Hands Make Love by Mary Alice Dixon
Honorable Mention:
Back Yard Conundrum by Les Brown
The Art of Fishing by Earl Carlton Huband
Soliloquy of a Couch Potato by Martin Settle

Mary Ruffin Poole American Heritage Award
Judge Davis McCombs
First Place:
What is at stake. by Mary Hennessy
Second Place:
Glory by Laura Alderson
Honorable Mention:
The Barn by Les Brown
Morning Walk in a Small Coastal Town by Jo Ann Hoffman
the moonlight by Jonathan Humphrey

Poetry of Courage Award
Judge Robin Anna Smith
First Place:
Storms by Lucia Walton Robinson
Second Place:
On Hope by Emily Wilmer
Honorable Mention:
Ode to Epilepsy by Diana Ewell Engel
You, a Vessel by Anne Maren-Hogan
Nestlings by Nancy Young

Bruce Lader Poetry of Witness Award
Judge Kristina Erny
First Place:
Blank Billboard Blues by Jeanne Julian
Second Place:
Assume the Position by JeanMarie Olivieri
Honorable Mention:
White Harvest by Joyce Brown
Whose Garden Is It? by Kathleen Calby

Bloodroot Haiku Award
Judge Tanya McDonald
First Place:
emerald sheen by Anne Curran
Second Place:
boa tank by Jay Friedenberg
Honorable Mention:
the dry bellies by Seren Fargo
a split keel by Debbie Strange

Ruth Morris Moose Sestina Award
Judge Barbara Sabol
First Place:
Old Man with Old Dog by Jane Shlensky
Second Place:
Bird Counts by Jeanne Julian
Honorable Mention:
Cloud-Reading by Erica Reid
The Healing Miles by Melinda Thomsen
My Will Turned Into a Sestina by Susan Willey Spalt

Thomas H. McDill Award
Judge Virgil Suárez
First Place:
The Children’s Memorial: A Blueprint by Don Ball
Second Place:
The Stone Wall by Ana Pugatch
Honorable Mention:
Epiphany by Joseph Mills
The Caryatids by Andrew Weatherly

Last Call and a Final Hint

The submission period for the Pinesong Awards for 2021 ends at midnight. Please email your entries by then.

As I settle in to process the entries that have come in over the last several days, let me give you a final hint: you don’t have to send all your entries at the same time.

If you send some this afternoon, or if you’ve already sent some, and you get the urge to enter something else, you may do so up to the midnight deadline.

Perhaps the unprecedented events of this week have inspired fresh ink. If so, we’d love to see it.

The final poem share for this season is from NCPS member Gary Phillips:

On the River

Two older boys and me, loaded with gear
Came to the Green River in nighttime.
We trolled the river and laid out some lines
And water was over my chest at times.
It was a year like any other year.

Our forests lost and farmland gone to seed,
We caught some fish and cooked them on a fire
Watched the water and talked about desire
Howled at the moon and called each other liar
while Nixon wept and televised his greed

the Internet Poetic

Early last year, when Italy was the first country to issue stay-at-home orders, I came across a video on Twitter. It showed the tenants of an apartment complex standing on their balconies and making music together across the empty space of a courtyard.

There was no commentary, no explanation. Just the shakiness of a handheld device recording this exhibition of the human spirit.

It was intimate and it was poetic.

Throughout last year, the internet allowed us to come together when we couldn’t gather in person.

Personally, I heard more poetry read by a more diverse body of poets than ever before.

The North Carolina Poetry Society’s Awards Day Celebration was held via Zoom because we couldn’t gather safely. And while we missed a lot by not meeting face to face, we also gained a lot by being able to host award winners from far away from our home state.

This year will likely be the same. And from there I imagine we’ll have some new hybrid of an event that blends the face to face and the virtual.

The poet is an essential worker these days. For what better than poetry can bring home the experience of all us individuals facing this pandemic alone together and together alone.

Our submission period ends this weekend. I hope you will share your piece of all this by then.

Now, I would like to share the following poem by NCPS Member C.G. Thompson:


I see the brush on the bed and know the rest
of her hair is gone. Long auburn glory is stranded,

locks twined around hard plastic and bristles.
She stood at the full-length mirror, I’m guessing,

deciding to beat the inevitable at its own game.
There’s power in choosing your own moment.

Now the door to the bathroom is closed, steely light
beneath it, and I imagine she’s studying herself,

contour of scalp in plain sight, stark and exposed.
Maybe she’s touching skin, memorizing topography.

Last night she pulled our wedding bedspread
from the closet, seeking comfort in familiar fabric.

Timing the moment to knock, I sit and picture scarves,
warm and hopeful, emerging from paisley covers.

inspired by an image, “Caught in the Days Unraveling,” by Chelsea Welsh

Big Ole Comprehensive Guide to the Contests

This post gathers information and inspirations for all 11 contests, with definitions of each award category and a list of links for further exploration.

If you are seeking guidance for your entries, you will find it below.

Please note that all line counts should include the title, blank lines (after the title and between stanzas, etc.), and any epigraphs. Any entry that exceeds the line count is disqualified.

Poet Laureate Award:
serious poems, up to 110 lines

Substantial poetry of the highest caliber, with a generous line limit that allows for deep exploration and expansive expression. Ten entries will be selected as finalists by the preliminary judge and a winner will be chosen by North Carolina’s Poet Laureate.

Alice Osborn Award:
poems written for children by adults, up to 36 lines

Submissions should appeal to children, but also hold delights for adults that read to them. Playful language, surprises and novelty, rhyme (if artful), a touch of melancholy: all these and more might capture a child’s imagination.

Carol Bessent Hayman Poetry of Love Award:
on the theme of love, up to 36 lines

Love was the theme of the first written poem we know of, and it has walked hand in hand with poetry ever since. Poems submitted to this category may be in praise or lamentation, about new love or old love, passionate love or gentle love; whatever stirs this deepest of emotions.

Joanna Catherine Scott Award:
sonnets or other traditional forms, up to 36 lines

Poems in this category will employ contemporary thought expressed through a traditional form, blending creativity and technical proficiency.

Katherine Kennedy McIntyre Light Verse Award:
whimsical poems, up to 36 lines

Whimsy can circumvent bias and foment acceptance. Humorous celebrations of human foibles and light-hearted observations of this thing called life are most welcome in this category.

Mary Ruffin Poole American Heritage Award
poems of heritage, sibling-hood, or nature, up to 36 lines

The Mary Ruffin Poole American Heritage contest seeks to honor the places we come from. Our families. Our country. Our earth.

Poetry of Courage Award:
poems in praise of bravery, up to 36 lines

Submissions may be in any form or style that deals with courage in the face of crisis. From facing the first day of school as a brand new kindergartner, to finding strength to move on after the loss of a loved one.

Bruce Lader Poetry of Witness Award:
poems dealing with current issues, up to 36 lines

Poems in this category will bear witness to that which concerns you, which disgusts or inspires, scares or emboldens, uplifts or fills you with despair. Our window on the world is bigger than ever. Reflect on it.

Bloodroot Haiku Award:
haiku or senryu, 17 or fewer syllables in up to 3 lines

Haiku captures an experience and expresses it directly and plainly. They are untitled, avoid end rhymes, utilize common language, and focus on the present moment.

Ruth Morris Moose Sestina Award:
any subject in sestina form

Poems in the sestina form, which provides a technical challenge suitable for a wide range of subjects from the serious to the non-sensical.

Thomas H. McDill Award:
any form or style, up to 70 lines

With a limit of 70 lines, the McDill Award offers the opportunity to craft a more substantial work on any theme while still adhering to strong craft and powerful use of poetic language and devices.

The Pinesong Awards anthologies for 2019 and 2020 are available online at the NCPS website. Click here for 2019 and here for 2020.

Ready to submit your work? Click here.

If you need a little push or inspiration for entering contests in general, check out these posts:

For our poem for this posting, let me share this one of mine, originally published as a Poetry in Plain Sight poster in 2018:

Mountain Bridge

You want to name the trees
wrestle with memory to find
the proper words. Then grow
silent. The forest closes in, wraps
us in one hundred shades of color.

I smile at pine saplings. Stroke
their soft needles as I would
tousle a beloved child’s hair.

Again you begin to speak
exposing the hundred shades
of your personality. A mystery
that struggles with my love.

Welcome Lindsay Rice

This year’s Poetry of Love judge is Lindsay Rice of Kansas City.

Regarding how the challenges of 2020 have impacted poets, she writes:

When things get rough, is it the poets who are listening? Are they the ones who are peering into the corners of what is and isn’t true? Are they the ones quietly stirring the feelings, the reactions, the heartbreaks, the frustrations? Are the poets silently dropping words into simmering pots in hopes that a stew will emerge to feed us all? I’d like to think so, and if it is true, this year has more than enough ingredients to serve.

With so many challenges, the role of the poet becomes more important. In some ways the role of the poet has been rife with opportunity this year to speak out, to step up, and to express what needs to be expressed.

In my own writing in 2020, I find myself both leaning towards and shying away from poetry. The imagery in some of the poems I wrote before the third month of this year recount travel, and lighthearted longing. They bounce frivolously from bright colors to road signs to simple problems and cares. They are enmeshed in the metaphors of the equine. Through those poems, I wrote with an abandon that counted on the carefree, that captured my heart’s desire.

Then, in the middle of this pandemic, I moved to the top of a mountain, to a place that I’ve always said my heart resides. Little did I know that the land that held my childhood memories and wishes, would scorch in a massive wildfire. Little did I know that disruption of safety would wreak such havoc on my heart.
Yet, as snow began to fall, I somehow felt safe up here. I am away from society, away from people. But also, up here, I am alone, away from the people I love. Little did I know that being in my own company day after day would get so tiring. And then I leaned into poetry, taking solace again in the poems of Hafiz and Mary Oliver.

My older Pony Poems shied back to the barn and what emerged was a quieter conversation with nature. As my main companion, I seek life near the trees, in the sky and anyplace I can safely walk. My personal role as a poet nearing the end of the year is more insular. It is more about treasuring very small things like the glimpse of an animal or the way the light shines in the afternoon. I’m grateful, as a poet, to find love in this way.

Lindsay has this poem to share with us:

It’s Like Wildlife

Quiet are the woods, when I
step out to walk.
Pines and aspens flutter greeting.
Clouds billow against blue
and the breeze flush-blushes by.

Wildlife might be all around me
when I move on
these mountain roads.

I know the tan fur of deer is near,
the white-tipped tail of fox might appear.
I can still smell the bear
from its linger
near the trash can.

I search the bumps and ridges of sage,
I scan the hillsides behind evergreens,
but creatures elude me.

It’s just like wildlife to be
on its own terms, its own tracks—
living parallel to mine
in the dark, in the dawn
wherever attention goes.

And when I wish for something to love,
for someone who breathes, who
whispers into the ear of night.
It, or he, doesn’t come—
not anyway I expect, at least.

It’s only when I glance
sideways across the lawn, that
I see fox race to her den.
It’s only when I turn back
up the drive, that deer is there.

It’s only when I least expect everything,
that it arrives like nature, like gentle eyes,
like bear lumbering across the way.

I’d have to have binoculars
to see the silk strands that connect it all.
And even then, it’s like wildlife to
dip and turn behind trees,
to disappear in evening light.

Lindsay Rice is a writer, tutor and creative individual who loves to share the joy and challenges of writing. Lindsay has been writing poetry and prose since middle school and won a National Scholastic Writing Award at a young age. Her poem, “Elementals I” was recently published in the Green Hills Literary Lantern. Lindsay studied poetry and fiction at The University of Iowa and draws inspiration from her international and domestic travels. She has just completed her first novel, Birdenwheel, that encompasses magical realism and historical fiction. Lindsay is currently the president of Whispering Prairie Press in Kansas City, MO.


I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.

I think most of us believe we have more of it than we really do. Or at least we believe we should.

So that feeling out of it feels either really wrong or totally liberating.

2020 has shown how easy it can be for it to slip away.

It has also underlined the importance of having a clear and realistic understanding of just what you can and cannot control.

In submitting work to a poetry contest, you give up a measure of control. Your poem must stand alone, to be judged solely on what it contains. You can’t give it context or drop hints on how it should be received. It comes down to your poem and the judge alone in the space of the page.

Therefore, I humbly suggest that you pay meticulous attention to what you can control when you make your submissions.

To wit:

  • when you have your submission assembled, check each element against the contest rules: have you included all the information requested, in the manner and form in which it was requested? is your poem in the proper format?
  • count the number of lines in your poem again: are your sure the poem is under the line maximum? did you count the title, the blank lines, and the epigraph (if any)?
  • read your poem aloud one more time before you click the send button: when you speak it aloud, does it sound like it does in your head? did you catch any misspellings or misusage of words?

Give your poem every opportunity to succeed. Don’t let it fail due to a technicality.

Now, I’m happy to share with you this poem by North Carolina Poetry Society Board Member-at-Large Paul Jones, which was originally published in River Heron Review’s Poems for Now: