Poetry Derby

The Poetry Derby joins the joy of writing with the excitement of the Kentucky Derby through a series of guided poetry workshops. This is open to school children and community members, with professional readings and contests for all.


Join us to celebrate the winning poems in this year’s Third Annual Poetry Derby on April 21, 7-8:30 p.m., for a virtual reading.


One of the things 2020 demanded of all of us was, “Hold your horses!” For many, much of the year felt like living inside a pause—waiting. In a season of reimagining, a year of making do with what we have, a period of resourcefulness, the Third Annual Poetry Derby’s challenge centers on revitalizing idioms, those shared turns-of-phrase we use in conversation as a kind of shorthand and a method of connection: touchstones in language. The idioms we’ll be playing with—should you choose to accept the challenge—are horse-themed: the aforementioned “hold your horses,” along with, “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink,” “a horse of a different color,” “eat like a horse,” “get off your high horse,” “one-horse town,” and “chomp (or champ) at the bit.”

If you want to learn more about these idioms, check out this article:

The rules:
Use one of the horse-related idioms as your title
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).

Want some inspiration? Here’s a Charles Bernstein poem that plays with idiomatic language: https://www.poetrynook.com/poem/time-and-line

Our Derby Poetry Partners are The Commonwealth Center for the Humanities and Society, the Kentucky Derby Museum, the Creative Writing Program & Department of English at the University of Louisville, and Louisville Literary Arts.

Thanks to the following Kentucky poets who facilitated writing sessions and helped with judging: Makalani Bandele, Kristina Erny, and Kristi Maxwell.

Runners-up (alphabetized by last name):

Eleanor Ferguson, “Hold Your Horses”

Eli Hughes, “Lead a horse”

Anna Lauren Jacobs, “Hold Your Horses”

Martha Rose, “A Horse of a Different Color”

Megan Token, “Hold Your Horses”


For last year's winning poetry: