Contest Winners 2020

Contest Winners 2020

A hearty congratulations to the winners of our Second Annual Robert Golden Poetry Contest, and our sincerest gratitude to all who entered the contest.

First, Second, and Third Place winners in both the Adult and Student categories received cash prizes.

Here’s what our judge, Catherine Carter, had to say about the winning poems:

There was such a wide range of subject matter, styles, and techniques in the submissions that the decision was difficult, as it usually is.  For instance, among the three winners in the adult category, “First Kiss” is a narrative poem in free-verse quatrains which uses an incident from the speaker’s past to open up a tragedy of the AIDS epidemic; “Swan Dive” is a lyric description of a death arranged around particularly effective line breaks; “Local Hive” is a lyric on a luminous moment in the body, encapsulated in the taste of catnip tea with clover honey, which turns the body into a living hive; and “Cohosh” begins in the concrete in order to earn an abstract statement about praise which goes beyond the human realm.  They could easily all have been winners if we had three specific categories; they are so different from one another that I shuffled them around in the winners’ slots several times, reading each about six times before the decision finally solidified. 

In the student category, too, there were so many heartfelt cries.  “Photograph”, which eventually made first place, is a wrenching almost-prose poem detailing the creation of an alternate gender identity to show the anguish of having that identity shut down. The second place poem, “Friday the 13th”, uses both the cultural associations of Friday the 13th and the concrete details of the last normal day before the pandemic shutdowns began to make readers feel the magnitude of the change in the world.  The third place poem, “Ally”, uses a tight diamante-like form and visual imagery to evoke a beloved pet and then a turn or volta to surprise the reader with a sudden change of mood.  And the honorable mention, “The Ignorance of America”, expresses a global awareness and an entirely appropriate rage at unchecked genocide.  Again, all four could easily have been first-place winners in their various ways.  It was a privilege to read all the submissions, and I am grateful that so many poets submitted.


Adult Winners

1st Place: “First Kiss” by Janice Northerns (Liberal, KS)

2nd Place: “Swan Dive” by Janet Ford (Taylorsville, NC)

3rd Place: “Local Hive” by Jenny Bates (Germanton, NC)

Honorable Mention: “Cohosh” by Judy Haughee-Bartlett (Summerfield, NC)

Student Winners

1st Place: “Photograph” by Kinsey Beddow

2nd Place: “Friday the 13th” by Isabel Rains

3rd Place: “Ally” by Henry Bibby

Honorable Mention: “The Ignorance of America” by Oliver Floyd

First Place, Adult Category: “First Kiss” by Janice Northerns

First Kiss

At 16, I felt it very late to be learning
my way around a boy’s mouth. I wanted
to whisper let’s practice, wanted even more
for his mouth to find mine without my asking.

Cast as leads in the high school play, Frank and I
were a couple, so the director let the scene slide
in rehearsal. And on opening night, his character
kissed my character, leaving me with no memory
of my first kiss—except all that it wasn’t.

At our 10-year reunion, as the football team
charged the field in Texas aggression, Frank talked
of Houston’s Montrose district, how it felt
like home, his trench coat and tasseled loafers
a warning flare amid shit-kicker boots and Levi’s.

He turned to me suddenly and said,
All those years ago . . . it wasn’t you. It was me.
Caught off guard, I spat back, I know,
slamming the door on an entire past,
our friendship now as fake as a staged kiss.

When the first wave of AIDS swept Frank away
in a miasma of coughed-up blood and rotten luck,
my last words to him turned sledge hammer,
pounding his wrists and feet to a cross
lodged in my throat: I know. I know. I KNOW.

What could I have known? I, with a lifetime to fumble
my way towards grace, while kisses turned deadly
in Frank’s mouth, soft-feathered canaries
wafting up from the mine’s collapsing shaft.

Second Place, Adult Category: “Swan Dive” by Janet Ford

Swan Dive

Between the washing up
and the putting away,
a door blew open and she turned
to the rich salt breath that filled the room
and her mother’s voice,

Now she must go the way of all the earth,
fingertipping down the wall
headfirst.  Frail trailing feet,
even they are not afraid
to follow, toes that know
no landing.

Third Place, Adult Category: “Local Hive” by Jenny Bates

Local Hive

            Catnip tea tempered with clover honey.

High noon for feline hysteria,
living by its crushed smell
in the dark — sedates you
to doze atop a sunny window ledge.

            On the other hand,

honey thick and gregarious
picnics through the cup —
intricate and integrated as bees

             harmonious in your body’s hive.

Honorable Mention, Adult Category: “Cohosh” by Judy Haughee-Bartlett


Stalks of cohosh, taller than a man,
rise like candlesticks from the forest floor,
their pointed plumes of small white blossoms
like flames brightening green shadows.
Bees buzz and cluster to their sweetness.
Once you begin to see,
praise is everywhere you look.

First Place, Student Category: “Photograph” by Kinsey Beddow


I do not recognize the girl I see in the pictures, she is supposed to be me
I do not recognize the girl I see in the mirror, how is she supposed to be me

The girl looks sad, her hair is messy and her clothes look uncomfortable

Her smile is not genuine; it is an ugly fake grin
She was all alone
She stays in her room and cries, blood bleeds red from her tears
She does not recognize who she is
Who is that they are all calling
She is tearing at the walls in the corners of her mind

She pretends to be a boy online, his name was Connor

Connor made her happy
People liked Connor
She started to be Connor

Connor smiled in every picture and loved what he wore

Connor loved himself, and the girl in the picture

Connor was strong against the people who did not like him

He advocated for himself and other people who were not as strong as him
Connor was not strong enough against his mother
Who told him that his presence made her want to die

This broke Connor

Connor still lives on, even if now it is a different name

He is working to feel comfortable in his skin
He stands as a prosecutor strong and tall
He is no longer alone

I recognize the boy I see in the pictures, he is me
I recognize the boy in the mirror, he is me
He looks happy, his hair in beautiful short curls

And his clothes stand strong and proud over his body
His smile is genuine, a goofy grin

Second Place, Student Category: “Friday, the 13th” by Isabel Rains

Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th
despite its reputation,
was a normal day in March.
I wore a green knit sweater
blue jeans and white shoes.
My dad took me to school that morning.

It was a half day. He picked me up
at 12 and we met my sister for lunch.
The next day I found out
we had a two week vacation.
Two weeks passed and suddenly
it’s September, every day feeling the same.

Wake up. Stay home. Go to sleep.

Watching a century’s worth of events

happen all in the same year,
wishing everything was back to normal.

Normal as Friday the 13th.

Third Place, Student Category: “Ally” by Henry Bibby


Ally, a dog with jet black fur
Mixed with ashen snow
A small puppy on the sparkling snow
A small puppy on the glistening green lawn

A small puppy below the blazing star
A small puppy buried in the dry autumn leav​es

Honorable Mention, Student Category: “The Ignorance of America” by Oliver Floyd

The Ignorance of America.

A day passes,
A dictator rises,
A hatred grows,
A people are exterminated.

Population cleansed
Of all minorities.
Foreign nations ignore the problem,
Or in our case today, endorse the genocide.

President Trump.
Too occupied with his re-election,
Or perhaps his own violation of human rights.
To see the killing of millions of Uighur Muslims in China.

Just as Hitler was left to invade nations
And start his own genocide,
Xi Jinping is left to cleanse the Uighur people of their culture

Or force them into concentration camps.

And we sit here today reading poems,

Watching the news,

Knowing of a genocide,
That our president has endorsed.

And we allow it to happen.