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.

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.

submissions are open!

I am pleased to announce that we are accepting submissions to the Pinesong Awards for 2020 from now until January 12.

Click for full details or to submit your work.

In honor of this, I’ll be posting three entries this weekend featuring the Poet Laureate Award. We’ll hear from the 2019 winner of the award and our preliminary judge and our North Carolina Poet Laureate.

I wish you all happy and productive days of writing!

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:


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.

inspiration and edification

While making preparations for the Pinesong Awards, I’ve been contemplating what the contests have to offer. The opportunity to have some world-class poets read your work. The incentive to explore different themes and forms. The chance that your work will win an award and be published.

Then I asked myself, can we expand on that? Offer something a little more personal?

Perhaps insights into the minds of contest judges, and the opportunity to read work that they want to share? Or the chance to be inspired and advised by poets who have succeeded here in the past?

So I’ve reached out to our judges and to the poets who won first prizes in 2019. I asked them to share one of their poems and to respond to one of the following inquiries:

  • What do you remember about the first poem that you fell in love with?
  • Describe your ideal writing day.
  • Which of your achievements has been the most fulfilling?
  • Who is your favorite poet, and why?
  • How do you refill the well of your creativity when it seems to have run dry?

Over the next few weeks I’ll share their responses here. My hope is that this will offer something of value to you. Something that a typical contest may not offer.