2016 Blank Verse Poetry Contest

Sponsored by Sacramento Theatre Company and the Sacramento Poetry Center in honor of STC’s 2016 production of Twelfth Night.

The submission window is now closed. Thank you for your submissions, and Congratulations to our winners, Alysa Joerger (Adult Division) for “Learning to Play” and Megan White (Youth Division) for “My Heart Will Wait”.

STC held a blank verse writing contest with two grand prizes: the winner of the youth division received a $50 honorarium, and the winner of the adult division received a $100 honorarium. Both winners will be published in the Sacramento Poetry Center’s summer edition of Poetry Now.

Blank Verse

William_ShakespeareShakespeare’s plays abound with verse, and the most common poetic form he uses is blank verse – unrhymed iambic pentameter. In iambic pentameter, the lines generally consist of ten syllables – or five iambs, where an iamb is a two-syllable foot with the second syllable stressed, such as “conCEAL” or “what ELSE.”

Read these three examples below from Twelfth Night in order to get a feel for the sound of blank verse. You’ll probably recognize that it “sounds like Shakespeare.”

While blank verse doesn’t require rhyme, it may use it at times – two of these selections employ rhyme in their final couplet. You might also notice a fair amount of enjambment in these passages – where the flow of the verse continues over the line break (“as haply shall become/the form of my intent”). This makes the verse’s rhythm more natural and less “sing-song.”  There are also a few extra syllables here and there, if you’re counting. It is the general “frame” of iambic pentameter that defines the blank verse form. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but the overall feel of the phrasing is moved forward by the down-up, down-up lilting beat:

(o TIME, thou MUST unTANGle THIS, not I).

If you wish to research this form more fully, you can find plenty of definitions and examples online – poets.org is always a good reference for poetic forms!


Jim Moose, Senior is a World War Two Veteran and retired attorney who has been writing and publishing poetry for the last decade. His work has been featured in Tule Review, Poetry Now, and other literary journals, as well as in the stage play River City Anthology.  An avid practitioner of blank verse, Jim has published eight books of his poetry. He lives in Sacramento with his wife Virginia.

Brian Harrower is the co-director of STC’s production of Twelfth Night. He was the founding Artistic Director of Gnosis Theatre Company, and served as Artistic Director of Big Idea Theatre for two years. Recent directing credits include The Lieutenant of Inishmore, The Life and Undead of King Henry V, and Twelfth Night at Big Idea Theatre.

Steve  “Doc” Cirrone has been teaching English literature, creative writing, critical thinking and composition for over 23 years. He received his PhD in Shakespeare and Renaissance Philosophy from the Claremont Graduate School in 1997. His dissertation, “Shakespeare’s Magic: Gender-Based Occult Value in Midsummer Night’s Dream, I Henry VI and Macbeth” applied a new historical approach to Shakespeare’s drama in order to determine how Shakespeare used contemporary occult practices to inform his plays. Cirrone has written a number of full-length plays, including the published The Tragedy of Doctor Gnosis, a modern retelling of Marlowe’s Faust, and has also completed several novels. He is currently tenured at Sacramento City College where he continues to inspire his students to push their academic limits. In his spare time, he enjoys being with his husband Charley, painting, writing music and playing piano, and hanging out with Roxie, his old, stinky pit-bull.

The Winners

LEARNING TO PLAY by Alysa Joerger – Adult Division

The heartfelt chords of clarinets never
could complement the modern pop rhythms
inside my head. Remember when you once
had played for me in sunset blues and pinks?
I still recall those earthy sounds – so brave.
I did not know that music could become
substantial like a flooding rain after
a year of drought – or fire scarring homes.
The fractured reeds now play off-key. Forget
the classical; I miss the easy days
of pop. Our rhythms are always out of time;
my forced rhymes and your clarinet always clash.

MY HEART WILL WAIT by Megan White – Youth Division

I hear the bells ring, taking you away
My love, this country that is my heart longs for you
For how long must I wait for your return?
In this city of our eternal love
Even a short absence is hard to endure
Fight for this land as you fight for my heart
It waits here at home until your victory march
I wait back home willing to play my part
You must go your way and I must survive
Come home to me soon, do not wait too long
This flag of our country flies in my soul
Your name always on my lips in a prayer
Take my heart as a compass to lead you home
It is yours now, my soldier, to protect
Love it like you love this land of the free
But do not forget to come back home for me