Becky Fisher: A dream is like a pile of cotton floating in the sky – young poets and their writing

Amid all the doom and gloom of slashed PGCE bursaries, university English departments being threatened with cuts and closures, and the general frustration and anxiety that COVID-19 has brought to all of us, I have felt very fortunate to have two bright spots in the past week – all thanks to some wonderful young poets. 

Artist: James Brown

I was really lucky to be able to attend the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Ceremony, an afternoon celebrating the brilliant young writers who had been selected as winners. During the ceremony, we heard from a selection of the young poets who had tackled challenging issues personal to them through their passionate, courageous, creative poems. Death, loss, and grief; love, friendship, and community; uncertainty, familiarity, and cultural traditions were all woven through the astonishing work. I found myself closing my eyes to be able to take in all the sounds and shapes the poets were conjuring. More than once, I smiled; my eyes filled with tears; I laughed out loud. If you’re finding things hard going at the moment, and you need a little lift, I encourage you to settle in with a brew and take a moment to listen to the poets reading their work

The Poetry Society Cafe Window illustrating the winning 100 Foyles Poems. Artwork by Imogen Foxell – 7th October 2020 Photo: Hayley Madden.

Another boost to my spirits was the opportunity to observe the inspiring poet, writer, and teacher Kate Clanchy as she ran the first of three workshops in the Poetry Possibility series. Delivered by the Forward Arts Foundation in partnership with the University of the West of England, Reading University, and the English Association, these workshops introduce new and trainee English teachers to ways of teaching poetry in school that focus on enjoyment and creativity. The first workshop was all about creative word games that lead to a poem, and which Kate has used to great success in the classroom. For example, we started by playing the Surrealist Game: grab yourself a piece of A4 paper and a pen and have a go now!

Step 1: Fold your piece of A4 paper in half then in half again, then tear along the fold lines to get four smaller pieces of paper.

Step 2: On the first piece of paper, write a concrete noun.

Step 3: On the second piece of paper, write the definition of your concrete noun.

Step 4: On the third piece of paper, write an abstract noun.

Step Five: On the fourth piece of paper, write the definition of your abstract noun.

Now for the fun part! Match your concrete noun up with the definition of your abstract noun and see what you end up with… For example, you might mix up the definition of ‘a glass’ and ‘hope’ to end up with a statement like: ‘hope is a vessel used to contain liquids that we drink to quench our thirst’. I’ve played the game myself a few times in the days afterwards; the experience is a bit like laying out a spread of tarot cards and looking for the meaning hidden within. 

Kate then led the group through a period of quiet, individual writing, where we used our image-collages to build a poem of our own. Throughout the workshop, Kate shared the incredible work of the young poets she has taught in the past: they had produced such impactful, poignant poems that I actually found it a bit intimidating to write my own – but if I were heading into my classroom the next day I would have felt excited to try this technique with my class. If I haven’t inspired you yet, just turn to Kate’s Twitter account, where she shares the work of her young poets with the world; I promise you will find something there that speaks to you. 

Finally, I’ll leave you with some of the unedited work created by a Year 9 class in Bradford on Avon, led by teacher Amy Battensby. Her class played the Surrealist Game live online, inspired by Kate’s workshop. Many thanks to Amy and her class for sharing these poems with us.

Ella:

Wealth


“Wealth” is a disease that changes your life,

And the life of the people around you.

It fills your mind with countless desires,

And sickens the view of you in other’s eyes.

You become so ill you see people differently,

So sick you treat them differently.

And unless you can find a cure,

Everyone you know is suffering.

Isla:

Sadness

Sadness 

it is grey and colourless 

it smells like the ashes left from a fire 

it tastes bitter and sounds empty 

and it lives alone. 

 

Sophia:

My own poem – Endless thoughts 

 

Thoughts sing and dance around, 

They fly high above the clouds, 

But they fall through doors, 

Of endless sounds, 

And end up Lost to man.  

Their wings take them everywhere, 

But fail on them when they get too far, 

Because in the end they need a break, 

But cannot find anywhere to rest, 

As they fall so slow so fast, 

They find peace in the past. 

You find them in the deepest parts,  

Where one got trapped and another got free 

But they wind up fighting but escape nobody, 

And they submit to the mistakes, 

Made by the wings on their own body   

Chloe:

ate is a feeling like a burning house
One that doesn’t make you feel happy

Izzy:

A dream is like a pile of cotton floating in the sky, when your sad it rains, when your happy it snows and there may not be one at all, a dream may follow you, guide you, be your shadow, it always knows how you feel, a dream may be angry and may bring a storm, it may cloud the sky with darkness, when that is gone and you awake there will always be a rainbow

Harvey:

Time is a child and a coffin.
It is an biography for all things when they started and ended,
Yet there is no entry for it.
It can stretch bend the rules of the universe with no consequence, but does it like a curious child
Does it plays and watches the forever go on and on
Time rules over everything, but it’s forever so does it even see who it rules over for the blink of an eye
Does everyone pass by it before it can say hello?
Is it alone? It is along in the everything forever universe
Does it lie down rest and sleep because it can’t do anything with its omnipotence
It is a coffin? Is it a child and a coffin?

Freya:

Sexism

It floats around the world despite it being 2020
It controls women’s confidence, it controls their body
When was it okay for men to tell women what to wear and what not to wear?
How to look, how to act, what to do
To stay at home, to clean, to look after te children
Since when was that their personality
When was it decided that men should have a higher standard to lige?
Why does it still go on..?

How does it still go on?
Why is it there have such a pay gap?
But when raised, just told to shush

Becky Fisher

Becky Fisher is CEO of the English Association.

Alice Watson: Combat the World with Poetry

Combat the World with Poetry

The world can really feel like a strange place at times, even more so with the recent Covid-19 pandemic, and whilst many people are clearing supermarket shelves of hand sanitizers and buying more toilet rolls that an Andrex puppy can jump into, I think it is important that we continue to seek nourishment through writing and reading poetry in confusing times.

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. This year’s Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award was launched on 5 March to coincide with World Book Day and I couldn’t be more excited that this year’s judges include the inspiring Maura Dooley and amazing Keith Jarrett. For more information about the competition please visit foyleyoungpoets.org.

The Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award encourages young people to be bold, brave, creative, 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 and climate change.

I think it’s important that when a young person enters a poem (or 20 poems) into the competition, that 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 me to read their work. Every young person who enters the competition this year will receive a certificate to congratulate them on their achievement, and I hope that each entrant displays their certificate with pride and continues to express themselves through poetry.

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. At The Hurst, all of the winners were given time to explore new skills and experiment with poetic forms and work with world class poet-tutors including Mimi Khalvati, Raymond Antrobus and guest tutor Anthony Anaxagorou.

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

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 poet gods worked in our favour and everyone arrived without trouble.

As someone who does not regularly write, 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 the panic of supermarket sweep.

Alice Watson

Alice Watson is the Education Officer at The Poetry Society. She manages the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award and supports the delivery of SLAMbassadors, Look North More Often and Artsmark at The Poetry Society. She has previously worked at Lauderdale House and Shakespeare’s Globe and studied an MA at King’s College, University of London in Education in Arts and Cultural Settings. To get in touch please contact Alice Watson.

Alice Watson: In Celebration of the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award.

Image credit: Ben Rogers for The Poetry Society

In Celebration of the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award

One of my first experiences of poetry was when I recited Edward Lear’s ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ at my school eisteddfod.

This was a big deal. My headmistress was proudly Welsh, and despite my school being in Deal, Kent, the eisteddfod was a big calendar event. With two Welsh grandmothers, one of whom was a published poet in the local area, I was determined that I would perform my favourite poem with confidence and bring the house down.

Or at least, this is what I had dreamt in my bedroom, and not quite what happened on the day. In a state of stage fright, I caught the worst case of the giggles and was told to finish the line I was attempting and to “GET OFF THE STAGE!”

Despite this moment, my love for poetry and performance has never diminished and to work at The Poetry Society and deliver one of the biggest poetry competitions in the world, the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award, is a dream come true.

Top 15 Foyle Young Poet winners and judges Caroline Bird and Daljit Nagra. Image credit Hayley Madden for The Poetry Society

The Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award is synonymous with excellence in poetry and has recognised, nurtured and supported some of the best known poets in the English-speaking world. However, the Award is not just about the excellent winning poems, it is also about the very act of a young person expressing themselves. There is a bravery with each poem that I wish I had known as a teenager. This year, the competition received over 11,000 poems from over 6,000 young people from across the world, and whilst it is exhausting to read that many poems (and to eat that many biscuits during the judging process) it is such a privilege to read poems by the young people who will shape our world.

Left to right, Kara Jackson Foyle Young Poet and Youth Poet Laureate Chicago, Patricia Frazier former Youth Poet Laureate Chicago, Em Power Foyle Young Poet winner 2017, 2018, Fiyinfoluwa Oladipo Foyle Young Poet winner 2018, Natalie Richardson Foyle Young Poet and former Youth Poet Laureate Chicago and poet Rachel Long. Image credit Helen Bowell for The Poetry Society.

The Foyle Award connects to so many more poetry activities outside of the competition itself. Some of this year’s highlights include sending poet Ryan van Winkle on an epic adventure to the Isle of Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, to run poetry workshops with 150 students across a week. We welcomed three youth poet laureates from Chicago, two of whom were Foyle Young Poets, to The Poetry Café to lead workshops for recent Foyle winners and entrants, and to share a stage with them at our free Young Poets Takeover. And we sent three-time Foyle winner Mukahang Limbu and 2019 judge Raymond Antrobus to Wogan House to catch up with Cerys Matthews on her BBC6 Music radio show.

Left to right, Mukahang Limbu Foyle Young Poet winner 2016. 2017 and 2018, Cerys Matthews and Foyle Young Poet judge Raymond Antrobus. Image credit Helen Bowell for The Poetry Society.

Last year we celebrated 20 years of the Foyle Award, and what really struck me was that approximately 100,000 young people in the last 20 years have shared their work with The Poetry Society, and whilst we celebrate 100 winners each year, I think it is also important to celebrate the very act of writing poetry itself. Like many of us, I was only taught to read and recite poetry at school, and I wish I had been given the tools and confidence to write poetry myself, and share in the power and freedom that it can give a young person. That is why, in celebration of the legacy of the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award and its ongoing commitment to poetry, we will be launching a new teaching resource for teachers using Foyle Young Poets’ winning poems as inspiration for lesson plans that will enable young people to write poetry themselves in and out of the classroom.

Left to right Foyle Young Poet winner 2017, 2018 Suzanne Antelme and 5 time Foyle Young Poet winner and former judge Helen Mort. Image credit Hayley Madden for The Poetry Society.

On the 2nd October 2019 this year’s top 100 winners, selected by judges Raymond Antrobus and Jackie Kay, will be announced at the Southbank Centre and another 100 young people will join the Foyle Young Poets family.

Alice Watson

Alice Watson is the Education Officer at The Poetry Society. She manages the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award and supports the delivery of SLAMbassadors, Look North More Often and Artsmark at The Poetry Society. She has previously worked at Lauderdale House and Shakespeare’s Globe and studied an MA at King’s College, University of London in Education in Arts and Cultural Settings. To get in touch please contact Alice Watson.