Note: The 2016 RhymeZone Poetry Prize will be announced on January 10, 2016, and the submission deadline will be April 12, 2016.

2014-2015 Poetry Prize Results

Reaching an understanding

For the first RhymeZone Poetry Prize, we asked people to write poems on the theme of "Understanding". We received 3,556 submissions from more than 3,000 people from all across the United States and Canada. The poems touch on all aspects of the contest theme, and there's a staggering diversity of styles, forms, meters, rhyme schemes, and topics.

We're thrilled to announce the winners today. It's important to know that for every winner there were more than 350 poems that weren't selected, many of which were also outstanding. If you'd like to read or search through the submissions that were posted publicly, head on over to the RhymeZone Forum.

Meet the judges

  • Robin Carroll holds a B.A. in English from Kennesaw State University. She works as an instructional designer and in her free time is pursuing a non-degree program in creative writing at Emory University.
  • Fritz Holznagel is a writer living in Somerville, Massachusetts. He has won an Emmy, the Jeopardy Tournament of Champions, and has written for entities from the Dictionary of American History to Where In the USA is Carmen Sandiego? to Google. A member of Phi Beta Kappa, he holds a bachelor's degree from Willamette University.
  • Barbara Ann Kipfer is a lexicographer with more than three decades’ experience in writing and editing dictionaries, thesauri, and other word books and creating Internet and software lexical content. Kipfer holds an MPhil and PhD in Linguistics, a PhD in Archaeology, an MA and PhD in Buddhist Studies, and BS in Physical Education.
  • Claudia Perry is a knitter, drinker of wine, and a promoter of the Oxford comma. Her musings and rants can be found at
  • Lauren Singer is the assistant judge of the Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest and the Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest. Originally from New York, Lauren is currently completing her graduate degree at the University of Chicago. Her poetry has been published in Nerve House, Bareback, Feel the Word, Read This, One Night Stanzas, Kosmosis, and other literary magazines across the country.

How did we pick the winners?

The judges considered three criteria as they read through the poems:

  • How thought-provoking is the poem? Does it say something original?
  • How well-crafted is the poem? Other than the content, does it impress you with its quality?
  • Does the poem adhere to the contest theme of “understanding”? Does it treat the theme in an interesting, distinctive way?
First, the contest administrator stripped out all personally identifying information (name, hometown, etc.) from the poems and loaded them into a custom software tool that made it easier to read through the entries more efficiently. Using this tool we picked several hundred finalists from the submissions. All five judges then did a closer read of each finalist, assigning points on a 5-point scale to each poem for each of the 3 judging criteria. The “thought-provoking” rating counted for double, so a poem could achieve a maximum of 20 points per judge, or 100 points in total. The highest-scoring poems were the winners. This year, the top ten poems received between 80 and 85 points.

The Winners

The approximate hometowns of the Poetry Prize winners
(excluding one who wished to be anonymous)

His Hands, and a Question

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Lisa Timpf (Everett, Ontario)

Score85 / 100
Author notes This poem was inspired by a family illness. “More broadly," says Lisa, "it tries to embody the sort of emotions or scenarios that play out between people with serious or terminal illnesses and their loved ones.”
Judge reactions Robin: "The poem presents the stark contrast between an old man’s strong, capable hands that once did skilled labor and his weakened condition as he lies in a hospital bed. The relationship between the two is perfectly drawn in just a few well-chosen words."

Mary Tells Him the News

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Julie deGarie (Missoula, Montana)

Score84 / 100
Author notes "I am not particularly religious," says Julie, "but I have always been intrigued by the story of Joseph and Mary—her bravery in confessing her pregnancy, as opposed to hiding it by staying away, and his willingness to understand and accept her. That had to be terrifying for both of them, even given their faith. Both of their actions were extraordinary given cultural attitudes at the time. This was an attempt to capture what Mary might have felt when she took that ultimate risk, and literally placed her life in Joseph's hands."
Judge reactions Lauren: “The poem is just one tightened fist right to the heart, that manages to speak itself out in simple language without ever hovering a cliché, and that is saying a lot, since the last line is about stars! Beautiful, beautiful.”

Fritz: “Perhaps this is a reference to the Biblical Mary, with its subtle references to cedar and lilies of the valley. But it also reads as tropical and mysterious and timeless. Lovely use of imagery here.”


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“Roger Dodge” (pseudonym) from upstate New York

Score84 / 100
Author notes "This sonnet was inspired by a continuing love affair of four decades duration, between two individuals married to good people, with families they respect and do not wish to destroy. "
Judge reactions Robin: “This poem makes excellent use of the sonnet form to explore the course of a spring-into-summer romance. Though the seasonal theme is often used, the sharp imagery brings freshness and life to a traditional form.”

Barbara: “I love the use of nature, the seasons, and color in this poem. The words moved me quickly into a feeling of being in that season.”

Country Fair Oxen Pull, Summer 2009

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Glenn Powers (Edgecomb, Maine)

Score83 / 100
Author notes Says Glenn: "When my son was just three, I took him to a county fair up in Windsor, Maine and we walked around observing all of the 4-H animals, and perusing the crafts, blacksmithy, etc. We stumbled upon the oxen pull and sat to rest and watch. It was a loss of innocence that I couldn't protect him from and the realization of the poem."
Judge reactions Lauren: “Wonderfully executed, a real knack for the right adjective in this piece, and a truly intriguing subject matter done with grace and poise. Love the theme of exploring language as a new journey. Lovely.”

Claudia: “The details of the cruelty and the son’s fears are rendered as much by absence as presence. Although violence is the currency of the realm these days, it still has the power to shock.”

Homestead Neighbours. Mother and Mrs Svenson.

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Ed Hughes (Winnipeg, Manitoba)

Score82 / 100
Author notes "Some years ago," says Ed, "an old Swedish, second-generation Canadian-born lady told me how her grandparents emigrated from Sweden to the prairies of Western Canada. When she was a child, her Grandma had told her about how, although she never learned to speak English, she developed a friendship with a homestead neighbour from Scotland who only spoke English with a strong Scottish accent. My informant told me how these two neighbouring farm ladies helped each other out in so many ways, without ever managing to cultivate a common language. This became the basis for the poem, showing that although language is important, it is not essential to understanding others and building relationships on mutual respect and sensitivity to common human needs."
Judge reactions Robin: “This poem is sweet, funny, touching, and profound all at once. The connection forged by two women who do not understand one another’s language is a lovely expression of our common humanity.”

Fritz: “Just charming storytelling. Rough images like trundling wooden wagons and oat cakes reinforce the difficulties of life and the vitality of the bond these women share.”

Claudia: “A powerful detailing of how understanding can transcend speech. You can the beauty of the connections that extend to the next generation.”


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RhymeZone Forum member pipersfancy

Score82 / 100
Author notes Says the author: "My daughter came to me and disclosed that she felt she was a boy, rather than a girl. There had been no previous indications that this might be the case—however, her past includes surviving a lengthy separation of several years from me due to parental interference. During this time frame, my child suffered severe emotional and sexual abuse, and there is still a lot of ongoing counseling going on to work through this trauma. Amidst this counseling, a diagnosis of gender dysphoria has also been given, with the advice of allowing my child to express himself in ways that feel authentic to him. "Trans" was my first attempt in writing to process and make sense of what was happening both to my child, and to me."
Judge reactions Claudia: “The best poetry can use its form to caress a narrative. This poem exceeds all expectations and conveys deep feelings about a subject that’s becoming more common.”

Lauren: “This was just such a moving topic for the subject of the contest. I really felt for the narrator of the piece and was so moved by her acceptance and bravery during this time. We hear so many horror stories about family members abandoning their loved ones during these transitions and to read such an uplifting and powerful account of this personal experience was very inspiring. The well-written symbolism of the piece, in whole, and the tone throughout, really just make this a knock-out piece.”

Chad's Heroin

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Matthew Bartlett (Sioux Falls, South Dakota)

Score82 / 100
Author notes "The poem was written while meditating on a real experience I had in Portland, Oregon, after meeting and having spent over an hour with 'Chad,' listening to his life story. I cried thinking of how many people might see him and blindly put a dollar in his hat or just walk away, never truly knowing or caring about the circumstances that led him to his addiction and homelessness, and therefore never really giving him anything that might truly help him."
Judge reactions Lauren: “I found this piece to be moving and powerful, and as chaotic as the subject matter. I felt really present throughout the poem and the images were vivid and beautiful. The very idea of the smell of heroin was intriguing to me, and presented in a way that I found myself quite taken with. Lovely, moving piece.”

Fritz: “My hands smell like heroin” is a truly arresting opening line. “Chad left his hairline behind a traffic cone, years ago” is a funny line that takes things in a new direction. This poem can be confusing in its specifics but the flavor is very strong.”

Things That Made Me Laugh

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Judy Whitehill Witt (Glen Allen, Virginia)

Score81 / 100
Author notes "Writing poetry is a way for me to discover meanings hidden by the veneer of my daily experiences. It wasn’t until I probed behind the humor of that wedding day and put it into words that I grasped the significance of my dad’s atypical behavior."
Judge reactions Fritz: “This is one of the best and most subtle interpretations of the theme of understanding. The humor of the red socks and wedding-day jitters, the mother-in-law’s exasperation, and the hard-earned wisdom of time are all described in a few short lines.”

Barbara: “I am one of those people who is hard to advise and have had to learn via my own failures. Tied for my favorite poem because it feels written for me.”

Open to the Elements

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Lucia Galloway (Claremont, CA)

Score80 / 100
Author notes "My father's experience of losing his mother when he was 8 years old inspired the poem. I inherited from my father a notebook in which he had recorded some of the incidents of his childhood, and the poem is my attempt to imagine what a young boy might have felt and understood about her death--what it was like to lose her."
Judge reactions Fritz: “The flapping funeral tent as metaphor for our own fragile skin and breath -- what a fine image. The reader’s toes get cold along with those of the young boy at the graveside. A powerful moment described in a deep and thoughtful way.”

Coffee Beans

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Becky Willhite (Salem, OR)

Score80 / 100
Author notes "My Grandpa suffered from Alzheimer's. I drove up to Portland to visit him in the hospital and he couldn't remember my name. One of the nurses offered me a cup of coffee. My son was young at the time and a coffee shop we frequented offered a Pooh's Picnic which was hot chocolate, whip cream and animal crackers. Those experiences brewed into Coffee Beans."
Judge reactions

Fritz: “Passion makes poems better, and the coffee passion comes through clearly here. There’s also good humor and a nifty new take on measuring out one’s life in coffee spoons. May we all put off the decaf days until the last possible moment.”

Claudia: “T.S. Eliot may have measured out life in coffee spoons. The poet here does a masterly job of conveying life passages cup by cup.”

Barbara: “This piece really evokes a sense of being there, smelling the smells, feeling the feelings.”

Honorable mentions

We’d also like to recognize a few authors whose scores were close to the top ten, or whose work was rated highly by fellow RhymeZone Forum users, or who were particularly helpful to their fellow writers on the Forum. These eight authors will receive prizes of $50 USD each:

John Wertz, "On Understanding" Stopeka, "A Single Cup"
The kurlman, "My Last Days" D.F. Russell, "Upon a Winter's Eve"
Aenigma, "Splendid Fruit" Wendy K., "A Grief Counselor Witnesses Different Kinds of Tears"
Marsha A., "The Search" Bonnie M., "The Incident"

Thank you!

A huge thank-you goes out to John Knowles (aka “Electron John”) whose tireless help as administrator of the RhymeZone Forum was invaluable for making this contest go smoothly. Thanks as well to the five judges, and to the many others who helped advise and organize this effort.