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.

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.

sonnet and traditional forms judge

Pamela Johnson Parker is our judge for the Joanna Catherine Scott Award for sonnets and other traditional forms. Her poems and lyric essays have appeared in journals such as Iron Horse Literary Review, Gamut, Spaces, and Muscadine Lines: A Journal of the South. She serves as an editor of the literary magazine, Alligator Juniper.

She’s sent us the first poem in her new manuscript:

(originally published in Blue Fifth Review)

Pamela has opted to answer all five of my inquiries. Regarding the first poem she ever fell in love with, she says:

I’m pretty monogamous—the first poem I fell in love with is still a poem I love. I was eight years old, sitting in a window seat in front of a mullioned window at the Goodnight Memorial Library, when I discovered “maggie and milly and molly and may” by E. E. Cummings. Suddenly, those four little girls at the beach were me, and I was each of them. I’d never seen the ocean, but I was chased by a crab, sung to by a shell, and carried a stone home that day. It’s still an amazing poem. I’ve wanted to write poetry ever since.

This is how she describes her ideal writing day:

A fine-point pen, a sharp pencil, my journal, a never-ending cup of coffee, and my cats bookending me on the loveseat. No phone, no tv, and no computer. Bliss.

Her most fulfilling achievement:

I was awarded an Al Smith Individual Artist Fellowship by the Kentucky Arts Council in 2018. That gave me more time to write.

And her favorite poet:

I love the work of Judy Jordan, for its musicality and lyricism, for its shapeliness in the way the lines turn and return on the page, and also for its subject matter. Her concern with poverty, hunger, violence, and class as part of the American experience is unparalleled in poets who are writing now. Also, her descriptions of the natural world are stellar. I could go on and on, but read her work for yourself.

Finally, how she refills the well of her creativity:

There’s a four-letter word that works for me: READ. I also combine it with a pair of two-letter words: NO TV. Eventually I’ll get bored and start writing again. I also think that it’s normal to have fallow periods, when work is gestating. I also write prose, so when I’m stuck there, I’ll read poems. When the poems aren’t coming, I’ll read essays. This has worked for me since 2009, when I finished my MFA and couldn’t write poetry for a year.