The Mountain Troubadour 1972 text

A Few Words about Our Summer Contests

by Carol Milkuhn

On a visit to our archives in Barre, I spent an afternoon browsing through scrapbooks, file folders, and old Troubadours. As I turned pages, I found many references to the history and origin of our Summer Contests. Since we are now focused on entering those contests, let me share some of what I learned.

To my surprise, I found mention of many contests that have not survived the test of time.  Long discontinued, “The Plymouth Prize” stipulated that the winning poem “be based on ideals represented by Calvin Coolidge.” Other examples of forgotten awards include “The Green Mountain Prize,” which was “open to any poet in America” and “The Hewitt Award,” given for a religious poem. I found one award, “The Normandy Prize,” especially touching. Given in 1949, endowed by a father who had lost his son, it went to a poet who wrote about “the death of any American in WWII.” I had uncles who fought in WWII; I cannot imagine the pain of this father.

By the late 1970’s, the list of Summer Contests became recognizable. As we know, “The Laura J. Spooner Memorial Award,” (est .1974) “The Goldstein Award,” (est. 1974) and “The J. Richard Barry Memorial Award,” (est. 1977) are among those we now list as Summer Contests.

The 1972 Troubadour contains an announcement that Laura Spooner’s daughter, Mrs. Warren Austin, is establishing the Spooner contest. Mrs. Austin explains that “Laura J. Spooner believed that she should write poetry about her personal experiences because this is what she knew best.” A later Troubadour, however, cites the grandson, Forrest Lee Austin, as endowing the award in 1974. But in both cases the criterion for the award remains the same; this award is given to a love poem, again emphasizing the importance of personal experience in crafting poetry.

If you submit to the Goldstein contest, you are entering a contest established by Frank and Roberta Goldstein themselves. An active member of the PSOV and an accomplished poet, Roberta Goldstein served as President of the PSOV from 1970 to 1973. With her second husband, restaurateur and heralded actor Frank Goldstein, she owned and operated Henry’s Diner in Burlington for more than 50 years. The Goldsteins were patrons of the arts, and of drama and poetry in particular—hence their sponsoring of an award in their name.

Richard Barry was a Vermonter and a Vermont poet. Unassuming and hard-working, this writer was a rural mail carrier for several years as well as being the author of Vermont Neighbors, a book of poetry. Impressively, this memorial award was established by an admiring PSOV membership. Appropriately, it is given for a Vermont or country-themed poem.

The turn of the century witnessed the addition of several more awards: “The Mary Margaret Audette Award” (est. 2002), “The Marian Gleason Award” (est. 2010), “The Chris White Award” (est. 2010), and “The Carol and Arnold Abelson Award” (est. 2022).

Again, the PSOV tradition of funding awards as memorials is reinforced by these later contests. Established by her daughter in memory of Mary Margaret Audette, a longtime member of the PSOV, the Audette award stipulates that it be given for “light” or humorous verse. “The Chris White Award” recognizes the contributions of a longtime member and PSOV President from 1990 to 1999. “The Carol and Arnold Abelson Award” is given for a poem that focuses on an historical or political event. As such it reflects my interest and that of my late husband in politics and our belief in the importance of politically inspired poetry.

Unfortunately, I never had the privilege of meeting Marian Gleason. The last of the original Charter members and PSOV President from 1967 to 1970, she wrote short, insightful poems; hence the criterion that poems submitted to the Gleason contest must not be longer than twenty lines. And to the end, she remained an inspiration for PSOV members; the scrapbooks in the archives preserve pictures of PSOV meetings held in Wake Robin in the 1990’s, with Marian Gleason at the center of the photographs.

As PSOV members, we are lucky to have seven Summer Contests that we can submit to, year after year. Hopefully these few words will enrich your understanding of the criteria associated with each contest as well as encouraging you to continue submitting your work.

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