JMRL and WriterHouse Announce Poetry Contest Winner!


The poem, “Play a Note,” by Fred Everett Maus has been selected as this year’s JMRL-WriterHouse Poetry Contest winner. Joan Mazza was named runner-up for the poem “Elinor White Frost.”

Congratulations to Fred and Joan for their beautiful works, and thanks to all who entered this year’s competition.

Both the winner and the runner-up are WriterHouse members and were selected from a record number of entries (over 90) with a very diverse array of subjects and poetic forms.

WriterHouse Executive Director, Sibley Johns, had this to say about the 2020 Contest:

“We never thought that in our fifth-year of this great partnership with JMRL co-sponsoring the poetry contest, we would be in the middle of a pandemic, but maybe the quarantine time sparked people to write more.”

Both poems are published below.

This year’s judge was once again Henry Hart, Poet Laureate of Virginia. To read his feedback on each poem, go to JRML’s blog at



“Play a Note” by Fred Everett Maus,

Hold a piano note. Ping
you sustain it,
it decays, touches the air
more softly, more softly

but for a long time,
maybe longer than you want.
When you want, lift your finger
and dull thick felt

stills the string, spreads
silence. You could be God,
create a note from nothing,
kill it when you are ready—

or was the string at rest
till you struck it into sound,
perhaps a cry,
and the felt is your mercy?

Hold one note,
and listen, past the end. Then
think of fast scales,
passagework, virtuosity,

squandering, notes
here and gone, dozens,
hundreds, thrown
like faces in the streets.


“Elinor White Frost” by Joan Mazza,

Since that morning’s lecture, bothered by the story’s
missing parts, I search for details of her life, her poems,
educational pursuits. Before her marriage to Robert,
she sensed a bit of greatness of her own,
was high school valedictorian, alongside him.
Imagine her saying no to his proposal, feeling justified.

She hadn’t expected him to ask, wasn’t kindled into passion.
Love was something earned, not mandated or demanded,
not even by someone on whom she, too, had hopes.
Poetry brought them together, then quietly set them
apart. She raised children, stayed home to school them

mourned them when they sickened, died. He hadn’t
lasted two days in kindergarten or first grade,
uncomfortable around people,
shaken by a trifling rebuke.

What happened to her fortitude before losses
and his hardness beat her down? Before
miscarriages and death shrank her

to a zero in poetic history,
her writing

never read?