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Poetry Derby: Contest & FREE Workshops


One of the things 2020 demanded of all of us was, “Hold your horses!”


For many, the year felt like living inside a pause—waiting. In a season of reimagining, a year of making do with what we have, a year of resourcefulness, the Third Annual Poetry Derby’s challenge centers on revitalizing idioms, those shared turns-of-phrase we use in conversation as a shorthand. The idioms we’ll be playing with are, of course, horse-themed!





Hold your horses!

The Contest



  1. Use one of the horse-related idioms as your title. 

  2. At some point in the poem, reimagine or enliven the turn-of-phrase that appears in the title. For instance, imagine what you might see if you were to look a gift horse in the mouth. I guess it depends on whether the horse has an ocean inside it or National History Museum dioramas, each tooth a display case for a bygone era. We’d love to see some world-making in these poems and some play (horse- or otherwise).

  3. Poems should be submitted via email to by March 15, 2021, or to Prof. Kristi Maxwell, Commonwealth Center for the Humanities and Society, Stevenson Hall, 4th Floor, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY, 40292.

First-, second-, and third-place winning poems will be published on the Commonwealth Center for the Humanities & Society website. Writers of the top 12 poems will be invited to share their work at a public reading. Due to streamlining the competition this year because of pandemic-related limitations, we'll have one all-ages race instead of two. Winners will be announced in early April.

Partners of the Poetry Derby include the Kentucky Derby Museum, the Commonwealth Center for the Humanities and Society, the University of Louisville English Department, and Louisville Literary Arts.


Want some inspiration?


Here’s a Charles Bernstein poem that plays with idiomatic language: 

To learn more about the horse-themed idioms:


Check out this article from Mental Floss.



There will be three free virtual workshops open to all ages leading up to the submission deadline. These workshops will help you generate ideas for your Poetry Derby submission using example texts and prompts. Click on the image below to register. 

Learn more about the instructors HERE.

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