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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!
  • 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.
  • Chomp (or champ) at the bit.



  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 [email protected] 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.  

Want some inspiration? Here’s a Charles Bernstein poem that plays with idiomatic language: 

If you want to learn more about the horse-themed idioms, check out this article

There will be three free virtual workshops open to all ages leading up to the submission deadline. 

JANUARY 16, 10 AM-12 PM with Kristi Maxwell

FEBRUARY 20, 10 AM-12 PM with Kristina Erny

MARCH 25, 6-8 PM with Makalani Bandele

Venue Information

This event takes place online.

Organizer Information

Louisville Literary Arts

2240 Taylorsville Road
Suite #1 Box 5621
Louisville, KY 40255

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Amy Miller
[email protected]