Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award
This time last year, I had finished my A levels and was going to meet some of my ‘poetry friends’ in the centre of London. We were going to see one of our favourite poets, the TS Eliot prize-winning Ocean Vuong, in conversation with Sandeep Parmar, at the Southbank Centre, and the following day, we were travelling to a little town in Herefordshire called Ledbury to read at their annual Poetry Festival. I’m more than aware that this is not the typical summer blowout of an eighteen-year-old – but bear with me.
I got very, very lucky. I was chosen as one of fifteen winners for the Foyle Young Poet of the Year Award in 2016, 2017 and 2018, an international competition that aims to seek out the best poems of 11-17-year olds. The prize: publication and an Arvon writing course at the Hurst, in Shropshire. These are the tangible rewards offered, but the most fulfilling result of the competition is the boost of confidence it can give you. Writing, I quickly realised, was not just something to hide away in my bedroom; it was something that had been validated and could be shared.
The friendships I came away with from those Arvon courses were the best outcome of the competition. The week is an organised chaos of poetry workshops in the morning, free time in the afternoon; there are cooking endeavours in the kitchen and muddy walks to the nearby village. Tutors on the course have included Pascale Petit, Kayo Chingonyi, Raymond Antrobus and Malika Booker, and guest poets have included Sarah Howe and Caroline Bird. Where there is little sleep, there are many excited, quiet revelations about poetry. Teenagers who also read and were as enthralled by poems as I was – that was a huge discovery for me, and something I never would have found without Foyle. I feel incredibly privileged to have met young poets from around the world: many of whom I am still in touch with, go to university with, and count among my closest friends. It is rare for any person, let alone a teenager, to find a trusted group of people they can show their writing to. I’m very grateful to the competition for that.
In the craziness of times like these, I hope that young people can also turn to poetry. There is a lot of talk about being creative while a virus is raging around the world; I think for many, it has been rather paralysing, but for some, it can be a means of comfort and of self-expression. It is strange to think that this time last year I was travelling around the country, able to take advantage of opportunities that had come directly from the wonderful people at The Poetry Society. My heart really goes out to all of the young people stuck at home, particularly those who may feel shafted by the pandemic – if parents are key-workers, if exams have been cancelled. There is a self-consciousness to writing poetry; I think far too often, people are dissuaded by the pretentious and elitist image that it can still hold. Nonetheless, I hope that more young people can see beyond this view and use this extra time to write a poem, because it can do a world of good. I know it did for me.
Lucy Thynne is 19 and studying English. A previous winner of the Foyle Young Poet of the Year, her work has also been recognised by the BBC, the Forward Arts Foundation and the Young Romantics Prize. She edits fiction for her university magazine and is an Editor at the Oxford Review of Books.
The Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award is the biggest international poetry competition for 11-17 year olds in the world. Run by The Poetry Society, the competition is free to enter, with no theme or line limit. Teachers can enter class sets of students’ poems and receive a discount on The Poetry Society’s Poets in Schools booking service, and individual poets can enter as many poems as they like for free! The competition closes on 31 July. Find out more and enter at foyleyoungpoets.org.