Mary Ruffin Poole Award

There are a great many things that I take for granted. I woke up this morning and expected, with very little effort on my part, to have water for a shower, electricity for my television, and clean clothes to wear to the job I rely on. I do this (and have done this) every day for years and take for granted for that I will continue to do this for many more. On Tuesday, without thought, I drove to my polling place, knowing I’d be able to vote safely for the candidates of my choosing. I take for granted that I will be able to do this for years to come. I take for granted that my vote matters.

The profound idea that the voice of every citizen matters (as is silence, as is struggle, as is what constitutes citizenship) is deeply embedded in American heritage. It is a heritage of contradictions. The elementary-aged students at the school where are teach have been practicing for weeks for a program they are putting on for local Veterans. The production culminates in “God Bless America,” sung at the top of third-grade lungs. It is not lost on me that the song was written at a time in history when these students woudln’t have been allowed to learn together. It is not lost on me that they are singing to a group of folks with mixed feelings about their own service.

The Mary Ruffin Poole American Heritage award seeks to honor where we come from. Send us your poems of any form or style on the theme of American heritage, sibling-hood, or nature to This history can be complicated to grapple with, and we are looking forward to diving into all that complexity. Be sure to check out the adult contest page for a complete list of submission guidelines.

As I searched for poems that spoke to the theme of nature, I was absoultely wrecked by this beauty from the late Sara Teasdale. And that search rabbit-holed me all the way to a reminder from Ailenn Cassinetto that There are no kings in America.

This judge for this year’s Mary Ruffin Poole contest is Shannon C. Ward. Riased in a renovated slaughterhouse on the outskirt of Wilmington, Ohio, she is the author of the poetry collection Blood Creek (Longleaf PRess, 2013). She received her MFA in Creative Writing/Poetry from The North Carolina State University in 2009 and from 2010 – 2021, taught composition, literature, and creative writing at Methodist University. A recipient of the Foley Poetry Award, the White Oak Kitchen Prize in Southern Poetry, and the Nazim Hikmet Poetry Prize, Ward has also been a resident fellow at Yaddow, Willapa Bay Air, Norton Island, Brush Creek Ranch, and the Anderson Center. Her poems have appeared in many journals, including New Ohio Review, Great River Review, Tar River Poetry, and others. In 2020, she became Executive Editor of Longleaf Press.

Lumpkin out.

The 2023 Contests Are Now Open!

And just like that, the submission period for the 2023 Pinesong Awards are open. Can you believe it? Have you selected the poems you’re going to enter? Still working on final edits?

This year, I am incredibly excited to announce a brand new contest – the Jean Williams Poetry of Disability, Disease, and Healing. Over the past few years, we have all been made more aware of what a precious gift health is, and what a luxury it was for many of us to not have been aware already. We invite you to share your poems of up to 36 lines about the body and how it betrays us; on the journey back to being well; on disbability and disease; on health – physical and mental – in all it forms.

Priscilla Webster-Williams, for whose mother the contest is named, offers her poem Occupational Therapy at the TB Sanitarium as a beautiful introduction to the contest. For more reading (which I know we all crave), check out this New York Times Article, highlighting the work of 10 poets with disabilities.

The judge for the Jean Williams Poetry of Disability, Disease, and Healing is Stacy R. Nigliazzo. She is a Houston nurse, an MFA candidate at the University of Houston Creative Writing Program, and the award winning author of three full-length poetry collections, Scissored Moon, Sky the Oar, and My Borrowed Face (Press 53). She recently joined the faculty at Baylor College of Medicine where she teaches narrative practice in the Humanities Expression and Arts Lab (HEAL).

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 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.

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

sestina award judge

The judge for our Ruth Morris Moose Sestina Award is Julia Beach Anderson from Massachusetts. She received a Master of Fine Arts from the Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa. Her poems and reviews have appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Occulum, Barren Magazine, and Flypaper Lit.

She has a unique take on how to deal with a dried up well of creativity:

“You’re going to need a bigger boat.” – Roy Scheider (as Sheriff Brody), Jaws

There are two things I strongly believe:

  • imagination is fueled by dissatisfaction with what it sees in the world
  • dissatisfaction springs eternal; therefore, the creative well never runs dry

I also believe, however, that a well-used bucket will eventually spring a leak. It’s tempting to say the well is dry, but what works for me is switching buckets for a time, and while it may seem counter-intuitive, I go for a bigger bucket. When I feel down in the imagination, instead of trying to get to the heart of poetry by writing a poem, I read craft essays by writers I admire. If that doesn’t work, I read reviews of collections I’ve already read and love. These are things I do anyway, but I tend to do it more when I’m not writing. Whatever I do, I do not increase the amount of poetry I read. That only increases my poem envy and gives me even more anxiety. Interviews and notes from the editor in my favorite poetry journals are also excellent places to find new buckets.

There are few things better than watching or listening to someone geek out over something they love. It’s impossible to remain jaded or empty in the presence of someone who is genuinely excited by what they’re experiencing or what they’re seeing, and it’s even better when they make you see it, too, or tap into something you already feel. I don’t want to just start throwing things in well to see if I can fill it up again: I want to get closer to the source that feeds the heart of the well and sometimes that means I have to change the way I get to the heart of it.

Sheriff Brody didn’t need a bigger ocean to make the beach safe. He needed a bigger boat to get closer to the thing that was keeping him out of the water.

A few of my favorite books. essays, and podcasts on the craft of writing:

  • Radiant Lyre, edited by David Baker and Ann Townsend (Graywolf Press, 2007)
  • Personism: A Manifesto, Frank O’Hara
  • The Art of Recklessness, Dean Young (Graywolf Press, 2010)
  • Lit from the Basement, a podcast hosted by Danielle Cadena Deulen & her husband, Max
  • VS, Poetry Foundation’s podcast hosted by Danez Smith and Franny Choi

Check out the poem she’s shared with us:

Autopsy of A Bird’s Nest

When they opened Frankenstein’s monster
after they wound the key on his back

after pulling him from the ice
and after carrying his body on a sled

built by the son of the town’s apprentice
using leftover firewood from the orphanage

where all the boys except one died last year
of a fever that bloomed under their beds

including the one that was already empty

and after sending for the executioner
    and his chopping block
after summoning the priest
    and his rosary axe handle

after the key unlocked the torso
and after the rib cage opened

    like a flower they found
    where the heart should be

    a bird’s nest recently abandoned

the undertaker, in slippery sunlight,
dug a grave and called it a defense wound.

*originally published in Barren Magazine, Issue No. 9 (2019)

A Little History

In 1932 a small group of devotees met in Charlotte and formed the North Carolina Poetry Society.

Since its beginning, the society has fostered the writing of poetry and contests, for adults and children, have been integral to that effort.

In 1965 the society launched Award Winning Poems, a publication that showcased the winners of six adult contests and one student contest. Over the next several decades the number of contests expanded and the awards anthology became more sophisticated. In 2002 Award Winning Poems transformed into Pinesong.

2020 will see the 56th volume of this anthology. Now the North Carolina Poetry Society’s Pinesong Awards comprises eleven adult contests and four student contests.

A major benefit of membership in the society is the opportunity to submit poetry to 10 of these contests at no charge. Members also receive a free copy of Pinesong each year.

“Awards can give you a tremendous amount of encouragement to keep getting better, no matter how young or old you are.”

Alan Alda

summer 2019

at first it was just chaos in my head

I was asked to take on the job of directing adult contests at the North Carolina Poetry Society’s March meeting. It seemed the thing to do, considering that I have arts administration experience, and I was a new member looking to establish myself.

Sam Barbee, who was president at the time and a heck-of-a-nice guy, asked me. His timing was good, because I was swept up in the inspiring atmosphere of the Weymouth Center, which is the classy former home of James Boyd. It was my first meeting, and it felt good to hang out with so many writers. I wanted to do my part.

After a while I realized how big of a part it is. Eleven contests that need well-established judges from out of state, a ten week entry period, about 50 awardees, all culminating in a printed award anthology and live award ceremony with readings. Daunting.

But, as I moved through July plans started solidifying, poets responded to my invitations to judge, and the society’s leadership supported me with encouragement and information.

I’m excited to get this thing started, and I have plans to share that excitement with all involved. Stay tuned!