2019 American heritage and McDill award winner

Les Brown took first place in the both The Mary Ruffin Poole American Heritage Award and the Thomas H. McDill Award for 2019. He is Professor Emeritus of Biology, a graduate of Appalachian State University and the University of Southern Mississippi. Les’s poetry and prose has appeared in such journals as Pinesong, Kakalak and Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel. He is also a visual artist, focusing in photography, which has appeared in regional journals including, Moon Shine Review and Broad River Review.

He shares this poem with us, published in Kakalak, 2019:

Nights at the Farmhouse

The rough-hewn plank door
to the Cat Room above
Grandfather’s study with its iron
latch, stayed closed, unlike others,
polished satin brown with white
porcelain knobs and raised panels.
They warned us, never
go through that door,
Rawhead and Bloodybones
lived inside, waiting for us.

We passed it every night, creeping
to our feather beds across the long
upstairs hall where we covered
our heads, listening under nine-patch
and Dutch Doll quilts stitched on a frame
hanging under the porch ceiling.
Now, the door stands wide open,
I hear their skeletons clattering,
laughing, among the debris inside.

On dealing with a dried up well of creativity, Les offers these thoughts:

Certainly, one of the most effective methods of awakening the writing muse for me is to attend workshops and critiquing sessions. We only have to look at many of the great poets, musicians and artists who emerged from collectives of like-minded people. There is nothing like being with others of like interests to stimulate creativity and generate new ideas for writing. At times, however, I can’t find that community, or a place where writing feels natural. I am fortunate to have many interests including painting, drawing, photography and pottery that I can turn to as outlets for creativity. I am deeply connected to nature, being born and raised in the North Carolina Mountains where my wife, Joyce, and I still have a retreat on my family’s land. I love walks in the woods, watching and photographing wildlife, mostly birds. I turn to nature to put everything in perspective and re-mesh the grating gears of my mind.

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)

poetry of love judge

Our judge for the Carol Bessent Hayman Poetry of Love Award is Dr. Marcia L. Hurlow, a professor at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky, since 1983. Her poems, short stories and creative non-fiction have been published in more than 300 literary journals. She has won national and state-wide fellowships in poetry, including the Kentucky Al Smith Fellowship, twice.

She shares this story about the first poem she ever fell in love with:

“In my little hometown, if you had to stay after school for an activity, you needed to walk home or have your parents come get you. The high school locked its doors at 5 p.m. My family lived out in the country, and my dad had complicated work hours, so after orchestra practice, I walked to the local public library to do homework until someone could pick me up. One evening they were particularly late, so after I finished my homework, I headed to the poetry section to look for something I hadn’t read before. Theodore Roethke? Nothing by him in my textbooks. I sat down and started reading his Collected Poems, starting with his juvenalia. Such musicality and imagery! I read on, amazed by the beauty he portrayed in nature. And then…I had just turned sixteen…I read “I Knew a Woman”. It was perfect–vivid and musical (I found myself swaying as I read it!) and sensual. I didn’t know a poem could be so sensual! Maybe that was why it wasn’t in my English textbook. I read it again and again, with new thoughts every time. One strong thought was “How can I get my boyfriend to write me a poem like this?” Now, decades later, I look at that poem with all kinds of emotion and a bit of envy. Some day I would love to write such a beautiful poem.”

And here is how she describes her ideal writing day:

“My ideal writing day is really my ideal writing morning. A nice breakfast and a long walk with my dog in the woods, then home to my husband and office upstairs. After spending time reading literary magazines or books of poems, I take a look at recent poems and tinker with them, then I read a bit more and with everything going well, if I haven’t written a new poem by 11:30, I give myself a prompt of some sort–a form or an imitation, usually–and tell myself I can’t have lunch until it’s done. Usually, what I think is “done” that morning is just a draft of a beginning, but that gives me something to work on another day.”

On the theme of romance, she sent this poem to share:

FOR OUR ANNIVERSARY

I know every choice I make
limits the next possibility.
Every choice of yours, my love,
spins mine around like a wheel
in Las Vegas. Compatible:
we always roll the dice the same

direction on the green felt
of the future, we agree
on the flick of the wrist, order
of fries, hang-gliding vacation,
application for tenure
and sloe-eyed rescue from the pound.

“Compatible” makes the first choice,
the rest, a comet tail of chance.

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