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.