The Kentucky Derby Museum is the site for the April 22 Poetry Derby as well as UofL-led writing workshops.
The Kentucky Derby Museum is the site for the April 22 Poetry Derby as well as UofL-led writing workshops.

Horses and hands, verses and feet. The University of Louisville is sounding a call to the poets to enter the starting gate for the inaugural “Hands and Feet: A Poetry Derby,” set for April 22 at the Kentucky Derby Museum.

“The Poetry Derby prioritizes a playful approach to language and form, capitalizing on the fact that horses are measured in hands and poems are traditionally measured in feet,” said Kristi Maxwell, the UofL assistant professor of English organizing the competition.

“In keeping with the horsey theme, participants will write modified sonnets of 16 lines (rather than 14) as a nod to the average height of thoroughbreds, which is 16 hands. That said, the poems’ contents do not have to be horse-themed.”

High school students and adults in Louisville and surrounding areas can submit sonnets for the contest during the March 1-15 entry period. Poets can send in up to three poems, but no more than one per writer will be selected.

All submissions must be typed, marked “adult” or “high school,” and include contact information (name, mailing address, telephone number and email address). Entries can be sent by email to or mail to Poetry Derby, c/o Kristi Maxwell, 315 Bingham Humanities Building, 2216 S. First St., University of Louisville, Louisville KY 40292, with a postmark between March 1 and 15.

Leading up to that, Derby hopefuls have been participating in free monthly community workshops Maxwell leads at the Kentucky Derby Museum. The walk-in workshop include an introduction to the sonnet form and poetic meter, writing exercises and a chance to share work. The last free Thursday workshop is from 3 to 4:30 p.m. March 7.

Additionally, Maxwell’s undergraduate and graduate students have led poetry workshops in several Louisville high schools as part of their “Teaching of Creative Writing” course. Those will include St. Francis, Marion C. Moore, duPont Manual, Iroquois and Fern Creek.

Poems (8-12 by high school writers and 8-12 by adults) will be selected for the April 22 reading and Kentucky Derby Museum celebration, with each category including a win, place and show. Event collaborators are the museum and UofL’s English department and Commonwealth Center for the Humanities and Society. Organizers hope the Poetry Derby will become annual.