Poetry, Friendship and Bravery: The Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award


It is certainly a strange world at the moment, even more so with the current Covid-19 pandemic, and whilst we are all having to readjust our everyday lives, the demand for reading and writing poetry is ever increasing. I think it is important that we continue to seek nourishment through writing and reading poetry in confusing times and the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award is the perfect place for young people to express themselves and for all of us to take stock and read poetry written by young people from across the world.

As the Education Officer for The Poetry Society I am lucky that I am always immersed in poetry and constantly blown away by poetry written by young people across the Education programmes we deliver at The Poetry Society. One of the most prestigious programmes that I manage is the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award, the biggest and one of the most significant poetry competitions in the world.

The Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award encourages young people to be bold, brave, to express themselves through poetry and to share their understanding of themselves and how they navigate the world. I am always struck by how talented, compassionate and concerned so many young people are, and how they express this in their poetry which does not shy away from global issues including racism, gender politics, society, climate change and certainly the current pandemic.

I think it’s important that when a young person enters a poem (or 20 poems) into the competition, they feel a huge sense of accomplishment. They have taken the time to express themselves and to create their own piece of art, and it really is a pleasure for the judges and staff at The Poetry Society to read their work.

Teachers also contribute tremendously to the competition, not only as wonderful advocates of poetry but also creating poetry resources based on Foyle winning poems to encourage young people to write their own poems based on poems written by their peers.

In the February half term, I had the great honour of spending a couple of days with the top 15 winners of the 2019 Foyle Young Poets competition on their Arvon writing retreat at The Hurst in Shropshire. Here, the top 15 winners from across the U.K. and overseas spent 5 days fully immersed in writing, reading and performing poetry, as well as cooking, exploring the Shropshire countryside and making new friendships.

The haven of space and time to explore poetry either as a writer, reader or hopefully both is a necessary liberation in a world that many of us can’t quite fathom. Even Storm Dennis had a good go at trying to halt the winners’ writing retreat, but thankfully the poetry gods worked in our favour and everyone arrived without trouble.

As someone who does not regularly write poetry, I increasingly experience the benefit of self-expression through poetry, not just as a reader but also as a writer and I hope more people are encouraged to be as brave, bold and creative as the entrants to the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award. Poetry (as I have learnt) can be a fulfilling sanctuary of creative expression to combat anxieties that many of us are all experiencing, particularly at the moment.

Alice Watson

Alice is  is the Education Officer for The Poetry Society, which runs the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award. She has worked in arts education since 2010 and completed an MA in Education in Arts and Cultural Settings from King’s College, London.

Photo credit: Dan Haworth for The Poetry Society: Arvon Residential at The Hurst for 2019 Foyle winners, poet tutors and in locos.

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