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.


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:

the need for poetry

This year as I prepare for the Pinesong Awards for 2021, I am struck by the need for poetry. Poetry and humanity go hand-in-hand.

At no time time in our history have we not expressed ourselves through the lyric use of language. The very act draws us together.

When I asked our NCPS treasurer, Bill Griffin, what it was that made him decide to add a poem to each of his financial reports, he replied:

“As I recall it was not a conscious act of subversion but more like getting dressed before you leave the house. Would a Board meeting be complete without a poem? At first I think I began reading a poem before each financial report because, hey, it’s a financial report, who really wants to listen to that? Pretty soon I started typing the poem into the report itself — on the last page so you have to look at the numbers before you get to the chocolate center. Plus it’s my report so I get to pick a poem I really like (well, one I really hope you will like, too). Maybe that is a little subversive.

“This year I’ve attended several outdoor conferences where, before every meal, someone reads a quotation by a favorite naturalist or conservationist, or reads a poem. Mary Oliver, Gary Snyder, and Wendell Berry obvious favorites. I posit that there is a patron poet for every type of meeting, conference, gathering, or organization you can imagine. Once I read a poem at a Medical Executive Committee meeting and afterwards one of the docs said, “I’ll bet you went to Davidson.” I didn’t but perhaps his comment says something about Tony Abbott’s influence across North Carolina. Next step — RECITE a poem at every meeting.”

I’ll be exploring this question of “why poetry” with our judges in future blog posts.

Now, let’s have a poem from the North Carolina Poetry Society’s president, Malaika King Albrecht:

Praise Song for What Is

Praise the frozen rain, the icicles daggering
the trees, the grey snow sludge. Praise
the shiver, the wet wind cutting through clothes,
the frozen water troughs. Blessed be
the hard frost, the frozen pond,
the apple tree sapling snapped in half.

Praise autumn and spring, the hot then cold
then hot again. Praise the corn mazes,
the haystacks, the reaping what we’ve sown.
Blessed be the fig tree, the honeycomb, the hive.
Praise the kudzu, the poison ivy,
the forsythia screaming yellow at a fence.

Praise the mosquito, the itch,
the scratch. Praise the heat waves
rising from asphalt, the stopped
highway traffic, and my a/c out.
Blessed be the dusty, the wilted, the dry
husks of corn in summer drought.

Praise the possum lumbering
into the chicken coop,
the fox slinking the wood’s edge.
The owl, the hawk, blessed be
their swift descent.
Praise the failures, the losses. Blessed be
the broken path that brought me here.

a poem for every occasion

North Carolina Poetry Society’s treasurer, Bill Griffin, adds a poem to each of his financial reports. Presented at every board meeting, it serves as a reminder of a what we’re working for.

Think of how different the world would be if this was true of all kinds of communication. Every menu, all the brochures, each billboard with its own poem. Poetry at the start of every press conference and in the middle of every political debate. A poem when you go to a news site.

A noble goal.

I’ll start.

The Pinesong Awards for 2021 submission window opens November 14 and runs through January 9.

Now, may I present a poem by NCPS member and Pinesong Award winner Eric Weil:

A Confederate Time Capsule

Egyptians put treasures in pharaohs’ tombs
for their use in the afterlife, knowing

that grave robbers would likely exhume them.
When North Carolina removed its Monument

to the Confederate Dead, which had stood
on the Capitol grounds for 115 years, workers

found a time capsule inside the granite base,
a rusted cocoon without a butterfly, just

Lost Cause relics: uniform buttons, money,
newspaper clippings, and hair both human

and horse. A faction said that the statue
should be permanent, but they forget:

nothing stands forever, as wind-blown sand
will erase even the pyramids. A time capsule

argues for a briefer expectation,
that the glorious dead must someday

be allowed to let go of their defeat, releasing
their descendants from pride’s shackles.

fantastical magical notebooks

Happy New Year, poets! It’s hard to believe it, but we are one week away from the Pinesong Awards submission deadline.

Between researching and writing this blog, processing entries, and keeping up with the North Carolina Poetry Society board of directors, I have logged more computer time than ever over the last few months. This has given me a new appreciation for all the benefits that technology offers us poets.

I will go as far as to say if you have a smartphone, you have a fantastical magical notebook that would have thrilled and amazed any poet from a previous era.

How much do you use your phone in service of your poetry? Here are three ideas for making the most of it:

  • Get a poetry app and use it daily. A poetry app on your phone gives you free and easy access to poems that can inspire and educate. Any time during the day, when your thoughts turn to poetry, you can get in a quick read. The Haiku Foundation has a nice one that pulls up a new haiku with a flick of your wrist. Just like magic! The Poetry Foundation app will send a poem a day to your notifications. It also has a fascinating spin feature that randomly combines a state of mind (for example nostalgia, humor, or boredom) with a subject (for example nature, celebrations, or youth) and then produces a list of poems with those attributes.
  • Write a texting poem with a friend. A cool way to collaborate! Recruit a poet-friend and trade off writing the lines of a poem by texting each other. Challenge each other to reach new heights!
  • Put your phone accessories to good use. Your phone contains a slew of tools that can enhance your poetry writing. Consider the following:
    • Set a daily reminder on your phone that tells you to take a ten minute break to think about poetry.
    • Take a random photo during the day, then use the image to write a poem that night.
    • Use your phone’s audio recorder to record one of your poems. Play it to yourself at random times throughout the day and see how your experience of the poem changes.

In short, have fun with your phone and your poetry!

And don’t forget to send your Pinesong entries by January 12.

let loose your voice

How’s your poetic voice doing? Is it clear and strong? Or is it meek and in need of an ego boost?

Perhaps it’s a little tired. Fallen into a repetitive pattern that no longer intrigues as it once did.

If your voice could use polishing, I recommend a contest submission to motivate you to apply the elbow grease.

Why a contest? Because taking your poetic voice to a new level requires that you take risks and contests are ideal for risk taking. Here’s three reasons why:

  1. Contests are exciting. A group of writers vying for the attention of a renowned poet, how could that not be an adventure? Let the inherent excitement of the competitive atmosphere inspire you to great poetic feats!
  2. You’ll be anonymous. The judge will read your poetry and won’t have a clue as to who you are. You have no expectations to meet and you’re free from what you’ve written in the past. Ever want to try on a new persona? Now’s your chance.
  3. You’ll want to stand out from the crowd. In order to win a contest your submission is going to have to rise above everyone else’s. Many of your competitors are going to send work that is solid, but safe. If you take risks, your work may stand out and catch the judge’s eye.

Fun is a fuel that can boost you to higher levels of creativity. So have some fun with your contest entries and revitalize your poetic voice!

For further thoughts on voice, check out this article in The Atlantic.

five added benefits

Why should you enter a poetry contest?

If you’re answer is “to win a prize,” you may be selling the experience short.

Winning a prize is great but if you want to get the maximum benefit out of entering a contest, ask yourself how it can enhance your writing. Consider these five approaches:

  1. Finish new work. If your writing hasn’t been as productive as you’d like, choose a contest and commit to submitting a new poem. Nothing inspires quite like a deadline.
  2. Expand your writing to new areas. If you want to re-energize your writing, choose a contest that’s outside your comfort zone. Creativity thrives on challenge.
  3. Read more poetry. Have you been feeding your muse lately? None of us write in a vacuum and knowledge of what our contemporaries are up to is essential to writing substantial work. When entering contests make it a point to read poems by the former winners and the current judges.
  4. Ask for a critique. When was the last time you sought feedback for your work? Before you submit to your next contest, ask someone you trust and respect to critique your entry. You’ll get meaningful interaction with another human being, and maybe some improvements to your poetry.
  5. Dig up some old work and breathe new life into it. Most contests allow for simultaneous submissions, but that doesn’t mean you have to send the same handful of poems to every contest. Why not take the opportunity to revisit and revise some work from your past? Poems that have lain dormant for a few years can sparkle when they are lovingly reworked.

Expand your view of contest entering further with these two links: