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.

awards announcement!

It’s that time! Our 12 judges have made their selections for the North Carolina Poetry Society Pinesong Awards for 2020. Many of them pointed out that the process was both challenging and rewarding given the high quality of the submissions. North Carolina Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green wrote, “It is both delightful and inspiring to read the breadth of literary genius that we have in our State.”

A total of 654 qualified entries from 163 poets were reviewed by the judges. From those 42 poems by 33 poets were given first, second, or honorable mention awards and will be published in the Pinesong anthology. Nine other poems were declared finalists in the Poet Laureate contest.

The winning poems were highly praised by the judges, particularly for their authenticity and command of language. Michael Rothenberg spoke of poems that hit him hard and fast with “a clarity I find appealing.” Julia Beach recognized the use of images and “how they called to each other from each stanza, and how they remained in a constant state of transformation within the poem.” Bloodroot judge, Julie Warther, described the winning haiku as “crystalline moments.” Amelia Martens mentioned “thoughtful line breaks, where the poem uses white space to expand or suspend a thought on the page.” Dr. Marcia L. Hurlow responded to language that was “ musical and precise without calling undue attention to itself.”

For myself, this has been a labor of love, and I am proud to present your Pinesong Awards for 2020:

Poet Laureate Award
Preliminary Judge Michael Rothenberg

Final selection by Jaki Shelton Green

Elegy for Joe by Joyce Brown

Frank O’Hara Gets Dirty in Bull City by Hugh Findlay
My Father and I Have Nightmares by Janet Ford
River in Your Living Room by Jeanne Julian
Arachnidaea by Stephen C. Pollock
Thematic Variations on GFCBA by Connie Ralston
The 4th pillow by Erica Rothman
Margie Skips a Grade by Maria Rouphail
Corresponding with Richard Wilbur by Melinda Thomsen
Watching the Watcher by Christina Xiong

Alice Osborn Award (poems written for children)
Judge Carolyn Guinzio

First Place:
In the Attic by Edward Garvey
Second Place:
Baby Bird in the Daisies by Arlene Mandell
Honorable Mention:
Playing in the Garden by Joyce Brown
That Time I Sat on Arhtur Dellenger’s Tractor by Les Brown
Camels for Two by Martin Settle

Carol Bessent Hayman Poetry of Love Award
Judge Dr. Marcia L. Hurlow

First Place:
My Father Listened by Jo Ann Hoffman
Second Place:
Blondie’s Howl by Kathy Ackerman
Honorable Mention:
Backstory for the Beautiful Abandoned by Laura Alderson
At Play by Patricia Deaton
The best courage is against all odds. by Mary Hennessy

Joanna Catherine Scott Award(sonnet or other traditional form)
Judge Pamela Johnson Parker

First Place:
In My Defense by Barbara Blanks
Second Place:
The Sun’s Uprising by Melinda Thomsen
Honorable Mention:
What the Famous Writer Said by Kenneth Chamlee
Separate Ways by Ron Lavalette
Nasal Biopsy by Stephen C Pollock

Katherine Kennedy McIntyre Light Verse Award
Judge Jeff Worley

First Place:
Ruse de Cezanne by Nick Sweet
Second Place:
Goodbye and Keep Chilled by Jeanne Julian
Honorable Mention:
Generations by Jo Ann Hoffman
Husbandry by JeanMarie Olivieri
The Worship of Dog by Martin Settle

Mary Ruffin Poole American Heritage Award (heritage, sibling-hood, or nature themed)
Judge Sarah McCartt-Jackson

First Place:
A Fall Language by Benjamin Cutler
Second Place:
Kinship by Andrew Taylor-Troutman
Honorable Mention:
Deep Stony by Lucia Walton Robinson

Poetry of Courage Award
Judge Amelia Martens

First Place:
Nam, Man by Hugh Findlay
Second Place:
Waiting for Results by Kathy Ackerman
Honorable Mention:
Please Stand by Kenneth Chamlee
My Mother Quits Smoking by Eric Weil
A Day Different by Glenna D. Wolfe

Poetry of Witness Award (contemporary events or issues)
Judge Brendan Walsh

First Place:
Disposable Rant by Kathy Ackerman
Second Place:
Junkyard Gives up Secret Accounts of Massacre in Iraq by Paloma A Capanna

Bloodroot Haiku Award
Judge Julie Warther

First Place:
empty begging bowl by kj munro
Second Place:
death watch – by Carole MacRury
Honorable Mention:
sun rising by Ed Bremson
crickets at dusk by Glenn Coats
scent of pine by Tracy Davidson

Ruth Morris Moose Sestina Award
Judge Julia Beach

First Place:
Starbucks Sestina by Mary O’Keefe Brady
Second Place:
Where Bluebirds Fly by Tracy Davidson
Honorable Mention:
Competitors by Lee Ann Gillen
Naughty Cocklebur, Artful Iris by Robert Keeler

Thomas H. McDill Award
Judge Adam Day

First Place:
Remnants by Martin Settle
Second Place:
Steve’s Balloons by Stephen C Pollock