10 Years of Young Poets Network & Beyond
The Poetry Society’s Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award is the world’s biggest competition for 11-17 year old poets in the world, and it’s changed hundreds of lives – including mine! After I was commended in the competition as a teenager, I got to meet other young writers at the Foyle Young Poets winners’ ceremony, take part in a young people’s reading at The Poetry Café, and even interview Imtiaz Dharker the day before sitting an English GCSE exam. Those encouraging initial experiences with poetry are partly why I am a poet today, and why I work for The Poetry Society, championing its programmes for young people.
Nowadays, I run Young Poets Network (YPN), The Poetry Society’s free online platform for writers aged 25 and younger worldwide. We run regular writing ‘challenges’ and publish the winners’ work, and help young people to discover new authors, techniques and ideas for writing. We also keep an up-to-date Poetry Opportunities page for young poets. And by publishing young people’s work and running events and workshops, we do our best to foster a global community.
In April 2021, we celebrated Young Poets Network’s tenth anniversary. In the midst of the pandemic, working on these celebrations was so uplifting. Since 2011, YPN has been visited over two million times, and received poems from young people in every single county in England and 88 countries worldwide, from Cyprus to Hong Kong, Mauritius to North Sudan. We’ve published 813 poems and five special edition anthologies, and sent young people to perform at the House of Lords, the National Maritime Museum, UniSlam, professional recording studios and to explore the Bloodaxe Archives in Newcastle. If you’d like a cheering read, you can browse the fond memories and generous reflections of a number of Young Poets Networkers who have grown, gained self-belief and found their tribe with us over the past decade. Here’s what one of those young people, Ellora Sutton, says: “What does YPN mean to me? Friendship. Encouragement. Warmth. Opportunities. And, of course, poetry. I will never not be grateful for it.”
Though I got into poetry as a teenager, there’s no lower age limit for Young Poets Network. Some of the most brilliant poems we receive are by children under 10 who manage to see the world more clearly than the rest of us. A 2019 challenge inspired by the 50th anniversary of the moon landings attracted hundreds of entries; and two of the nine winning poets were young children. Sophie Orman’s poem ‘Moon Watching’ was written when she was 7, and Max Dixon (whose poem ‘Christmas Moon’ won third prize) was just 6 at the time. I love receiving poems by young children, and I hope that as parents, teachers and poets you’ll find our resources helpful in inspiring people of all ages to write.
As I am now officially no longer a ‘young poet’, where possible, I invite young writers to write for the website. Every August, we commission four Foyle Young Poets to set writing challenges, keeping people busy over the summer holidays. This year, Sinéad O’Reilly, Mukisa Verrall, Euan Sinclair and Anisha Minocha will be challenging young people to explore conversations, the absurd, objects and letter-writing. You can check out their resources and submit by 12 September 2021, and join our worldwide community as it embarks on its second decade.
Helen Bowell is The Poetry Society’s Education Co-ordinator, and runs both Young Poets Network and Poets in Schools. In her spare time, she is a co-director of Dead [Women] Poets Society, resurrecting women writers of the past.