The annual Belfast Poetry Festival is in the fall, but preparations are in the works for much of the year. In late spring, the call goes out for the Maine Postcard Poetry Contest, open to both year-round and seasonal residents and even summer folk, as long as they have access to a Maine post office or mailbox. Poems are judged anonymously, by an outside judge — a poet of national reputation — so reputation and publishing status don’t come into it. It really comes down to the work.

This year’s first-place winner, chosen from the more than 60 who entered, is Marilyn Hotch of Camden, who will be reading her work in public for the first time Friday, Oct. 18, during the festival’s Poetry Performance Night that starts at 7 p.m. at Belfast Free Library, 106 High St.

Hotch has been a writer for years, but in a professional capacity, as a lawyer. Now that she is retired, she has begun to find another voice, encouraged by her comrades in the Poets' Corner Workshop at Rockport Public Library.

“I’m finally getting to really do it, and I love it,” she said.

The Poets' Corner Workshop is run by Jim Ostheimer and George Chappell, a published poet and former journalist and teacher who lives in Rockland. The group meets on the first and third Thursday of each month from 4 to 5:30 p.m. It was Chappell who told Hotch about the contest and encouraged her to enter.

“George gave me the information, I didn’t know anything about it,” said Hotch a few days after her winning was announced.

This year’s judge is Laurel Ann Bogen of the Beyond Baroque literary arts center in Venice, Calif. She is the author of 10 books of poetry and short fiction and, from 1996 to 2002, was literary curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. An instructor of poetry and performance for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program since 1990, Bogen received the Outstanding Instructor of the Year in Creative Writing in 2008 and was selected Best Female Poet/Performer by the L.A. Weekly. She is a founding member of the poetry performance troupe Nearly Fatal Women.

Hotch’s winning poem, “Mother,” is about dysfunction and its aftermath within a family. In her remarks, Bogen said “Mother” has a haunting quality.

“Long after I read it, the poem was still creeping around somewhere in my medulla oblongata … the use of imagery and heightened language works on another subliminal level: we are all children of dysfunctional families. And the way we survive is by making art out of the madness,” Bogen said.

Hotch’s poem is among the 10 finalists, all of which may be read by strolling around the downtown art venues. She said the experience of having her poem chosen for first place is truly affirming and she encourages other would-be poets to give it a go.

“It’s exciting! You really write for yourself, so to have someone else respond to your work, you know you really got it,” she said.