Sidney Lanier Poetry Competition

2020 Poetry Festival Events


 April’s Poetry Events–Postponed

Unfortunately, due to requests for social distancing, we have to postpone all of the planned poetry events. We hope to reschedule some of them in the future.

Please see the winning poems below. We are grateful to our screening judges for choosing the finalists and especially to North Carolina Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green for selecting the winning poems. Congratulations to the winners!


Adult Division

First place: Max Heinegg, “Cassiopeia”

Second place: Greg Rappleye, “Helldivers”

Third place: Kathryn Jordan, “Time’s Calculus

Honorable Mention: Greg Rappleye, “Turnips”

Honorable Mention: Greg Rappleye, “Burning Out the Redwings”



Student Division

First place: Neil Rostick, “Past the Concrete Wall

Second place: Cash McFarlane, “Nature’s Song

Third place: Katrina Shauf, “Stars”

“Cassiopeia” by Max Heinnegg                                                                                              “Helldivers” by Greg Rappleye
Over a dock in Islamorada, winter shows up                                          -Curtiss SB2C Helldivers;
the Hunter’s badge of stars.                                                                      downriver Detroit, July 1943
his shield & cudgel raised, but not needed
against the mortal Scorpius, whose tail                                                   The girl who’ll be my Mam is all alone,
sleeps in summer skies.  Tonight,                                                              out of the asylum on a weekend pass,
                                                                                                                  sitting on the steps of Maggie’s faded two-story,
I remember Orion’s other death,                                                               listening as the Helldivers from Grosse Ile
the target when Apollo taunted                                                               strafe Plum Island, sortie after sortie,
a smitten sister, Bet you can’t                                                                   each scored by an ensign aboard a grey tug
pierce that dot in the distance which                                                       anchored at mid-channel, because “Practice makes perfect,”
was her lover’s head above water,                                                            and our best will be needed at Truk and Iwo Jima.
as he swam in peace, miles away.                                                            Not supposed to drink (amobarbitol, too young),
Her immortal grief couldn’t sway Zeus                                                    she’s on her fourth beer from Waddy’s extra
to bring him back, but in honor,                                                               icebox, and is eating blind robins on dark rye–
her father strung the stars.                                                                      over-salted herring fillets; stinky, the worst snack ever.
                                                                                                                She knows that Paul Witkowski, who’s slumped
On the steps back, we pause to catch                                                     in a wheelchair on the porch of a bungalow
the circumpolar queen mother,                                                               kitty-corner across St. John Street, who lost both legs
who only boasted once that her girl                                                       and much of his face to flaming bunker fuel
outclassed the holy spirits of the sea,                                                     aboard the Oklahoma, will persuade himself
rousing their father to revenge.                                                               the Helldivers are Japanese Zeros
Young, I thought that myth only                                                             and begin to scream, sure that he’s back
how wealth makes one feel untouchable.                                              at Pearl; four hours a day, seven days every week
                                                                                                               he wails, unless the Helldivers-thumping live ammo
The night sky should be the end of hubris                                             to the Plum Island mud before pulling up
& the jealous possession that rules us,                                                  and circling back, their 1700-horse Cyclone engines
but this is one of the last times                                                              roaring all the way down Eureka Road–
their inseparable youth & beauty are ours entirely,                               don’t score well enough and need more practice,
before they quit their rooms & cleave to others.                                   sometimes flying deep into the buzzy, mosquitoed dusk,
Now I know silence is a safer vanity, & why                                          Paul Witkowski and Mam echoing those perfect
she had forgotten what the world is                                                      machines wail for wail, scream for scream.
ready to take away.  Yet,
a ruinous secret, I too love
my daughters more than I fear the gods.


“Time’s Calculus” by Kathryn Jordan                                                                                      “Turnips” by Greg Rappleye
In the post-acute care room, rumpled                                                   This root, when boiled, has ever been considered as safe a vegetable for
sheets no Sunday morning romp,                                                          the invalid as any in the vocabulary of esculents; and even the fevered
but hillocks of phone, hearing aid,                                                        invalid, when prohibited all other vegetables, has been allowed to
O2 tube socks.  I want to sit again                                                        partake of this, not because of its nutrition, but because of the absence
in your kitchen, stained glass sparrows                                                of it, not having sufficient to injure the weakest body.
singing sun through the window, you                                                              –Asenath Nicholson, Annals of the Famine in Ireland (1851),
stirring up scrapple in a skillet, gold                                                                   Chapter VI (2)
bangles jingling, sizzling breakfast.
                                                                                                              So in her traveller days, when Mam did what the doctor
Those afternoons spent smacking                                                        told her not to, and drank whiskey over her blood pills
fragrant tennis balls, white skirt,                                                          and her flesh went hawberry red, and purple veins bulged
legs game-strong— now you grip                                                        along her face and shoulders and arms, and the capillaries
the orange ball, lift it up and down,                                                     burst in her eyes, turning her the image of the legendary
as Eric, the OT guy, sculpted beard,                                                      Red Hulk of Marvel’s Fate of the Hulks, a creature
upbeat voice, says, “You got this.”                                                         whose tricks were howling with rage and an urge to catch fire,
The red light glows an aura around                                                      she boiled turnips in brine, until the snailback was redolent
your finger, measuring oxygen,                                                             of them and shawling her head, she inhaled turnip-steam
blood numbers rising and falling,                                                         and drank turnip broth, then slowly worked the softened roots
time’s special internal calculus.                                                            and butter pats to a lukewarm paste, and ate what she could
                                                                                                             keep down with a tea-and-honey chaser, until the medicine
Nurses come and go as you eat                                                            was gone from her and the whiskey gone too, and her body
from the tray, honey hair brushed                                                        shriveled to a kind of human form, and for a time she was small
smooth, nails done coral, soft plush                                                     and pink and no longer screaming, and could no longer burst
blue bed jacket nearly touching                                                           from nothingness into flames.
canned turkey gravy on the plate.
It’s all I can do not to reach over,
as if you were my child, and
redirect your arm gently, ever so.


“Burning Out the Redwings” by Greg Rappleye                                                                    “Past the Concrete Wall” by Neil Rostick
-Agelrius phoeniceous
                                                                                                              Further and further I go
The blueberries are a-flesh,                                                                  Past the limbs of trees strewn with ivy
fat with juice, wanting only quick fingers,                                            Like a snake wrapping around its innocent prey
but now the redwings wheel and strafe                                               But still I walk on, past the concrete wall
wherever the migrants pick—
drawing blood, driving children out of the field.                                  Descending further into silence, past the pile of small branches
So the men block the service road;                                                      I bend down and see a speck of green glinting in the sun
spray petrol along the ditch                                                                The morning dew crystals shimmering against the gray
and (here is the dangerous part) blow-torch                                       But still I walk on, past the concrete wall
the cattails, until at flash-point–
as a great whoosh of oxygen                                                               A creek runs through the shadows
claps in from the high-bush                                                                As it carves a way for itself through the soft Earth
the already risen birds, panicked                                                        As it has always done-and will always do
fall for an old trick                                                                              Even as I walk on, past the concrete wall
and dive to the cacophonous fire.
Blown aflame, the redwings                                                               The littlest brown spider crawls on me
corkscrew across the blown sky,                                                         Its delicate paper thin legs cling
arcing like penny rockets, like hissy little meteorites,                       Until it falls down into the mud at my feet
scattered as far as the windbreak.                                                     And like a spring it bounces upright and crawls away
And at dawn, when the migrants come back                                    Its destination will always be a mystery
to pick their way to the ashy ditch,                                                   For only mother nature can know
those who dreamed the scree of flaming birds                                As I walk on, past the concrete wall
will fill their buckets with berries
again and again.  But having lost a sweet taste;                              I step once more on the worn trail
a simple necessary sweetness,                                                         Through the emerald green blades of the onion grass
will no longer eat of the ripened fruit                                             But I stop and look at such a thing that many pass
as they work across the field.                                                           The pine needle fans
                                                                                                         An ombre of deep green and sunlit brown
                                                                                                         But this was not made by Vincent Van Gogh
                                                                                                         The delicate brush strokes made by time and patience
                                                                                                         Their work is never done, so they continue on
                                                                                                         As I walk, past the concrete wall
                                                                                                         And even as I am away from the brick and mortar
                                                                                                         I still hear and see human nature, what we have done
                                                                                                         You say this land is yours, that it’s private property
                                                                                                         But nature belongs to all
                                                                                                         We use these woods as a landfill for our own needs
                                                                                                         But what about the crystal clear stream, the onion grass, the spongy moss
                                                                                                         And even the brown spider
                                                                                                         Yes, the little brown spider that bounced like a spring
                                                                                                         But maybe they’re right-All of them
                                                                                                         Who cares about the little spider or the delicate leaves of autumn
                                                                                                         The chill of a winter breeze
                                                                                                              Step by step I walk away, past the concrete wall
“Nature’s Song” by Cash McFarlane                                                                                     “Stars” by Katrina Shauf
I hum as the sun warms my face with its golden rays                         What is a star? I’ve never seen
                                                                                                             Anything so brilliant,
And a rustle comes from the breeze playing with the leaves              Amid a heavenly gleam
                                                                                                             As the legends told of inky black nights
The birds sing their separate songs, each filled with praise                Enchanted prayers engulfed in bright fiery lights.
As the trees creak with every push of the wind                                    Is that a star? What you hold
                                                                                                              When your spirit is resolved
And the dry grass crunches with every step of my feet.                        And your soul glimmers of gold?
                                                                                                              When you wish upon it, does the wish come true?
Croaking loudly in unison, the toads make themselves known             Does it grant you your dreams of a life all anew?
They startle all with a plop when into the water they drop.                  Is that a star? On the ground,
                                                                                                               The yellow flowers’ petals
I hear small footsteps of squirrels running through the fallen leaves   That sleep, beautiful and sound?
                                                                                                               Are they laced with toxin like burning flames?
As acorns thud the ground and bounce around                                     Do they kill you quickly, leaving just remains?
The brook babbling as it finds its way down the mountain                   Are they a star? Lying down
                                                                                                               Eternally slumbering
And water droplets trickling as they seep though the rocks.                  In their coffins underground?
                                                                                                               Do they still glow now, with their lights burnt out?
In the distance, there’s a faint screech from a lone hawk                      Are they up in the sky, or still underground?
From the high branches the squirrel’s cackle                                         Are you a star? Do you shine?
                                                                                                                Do you watch over monsters,
And from the sky, the crow’s caw                                                            Above the fabric of time?
                                                                                                                Are you infused with determination?
As if they laugh and are saying “haha”                                                    Will you, one day, bring us our salvation?
Come play along                                                                                     Did you come from above to save us all?
                                                                                                                Did you shoot like a star when you took your fall?
This is nature’s song