Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award - A Student's Perspective

In September, I received a voicemail from an unknown number telling me they were from the Poetry Society and to call them back because they wanted to talk to me about my poem. I was initially surprised as I’d written my poem all the way back in July, then I was nervous because I thought they were disqualifying me. But when I phoned them back they asked me if my poem was ‘Sonder’, and whether it began with ‘There is a part of the station where trains once blinked in and out of existence’, to which I said yes. Then they told me I’d been selected as one of the 85 Commended Winners with Foyle Young Poets of the Year! I immediately started laughing and thanking them over and over. They gave me details of the awards ceremony, which was to be held on National Poetry Day, 6th October 2016, and to only tell my closest friends and family until the winners were publicly announced on National Poetry Day. Naturally, I told my closest friends and family as soon as possible, as well as some teachers, friends outside of school and some members of my village choir… making them keep the secret, of course. I was just so excited to have actually won something, considering I haven’t been writing poetry for very long.

The day finally came and I arrived at the Royal Festival Hall at 11 am, ready for an 11:30 start in Function Room 5. Lots of poetry events were happening as well as a Radio 3 music event. I was given a goody bag with lots of poetry books, a booklet with the Overall Winners’ poems, Poetry Society merchandise and a certificate. Then, after having my photograph taken, the doors to the function room opened and I was able to mingle with the fellow winners. I made a few friends who were just as interested in creative writing as me; it was interesting to find out what processes they use when writing. Some people insisted on only using notebooks to write their poetry, some people specialised in sonnets and some people wrote their poetry based on historical events. For me, inspiration happens anywhere at any time, whether I’m listening to a moving speech or simply looking out of the car window, so I have to get my phone out to make a note for later. I find that poetry demands to be written, no matter the circumstance. We were also introduced to a publisher, who spoke to us about our favourite poetry, which was very exciting!

After this, we sat down to hear the list of Commended Winners, read by judges Malika Booker and Ian McMillan, who stood in for W.N. Herbert. They were very lovely people and told us we didn’t have time to loudly applaud every winner, so just to murmur and click our fingers in true poet style. Next, the Overall Winners read their poems, some of which were extremely stirring and compelled me to write more poetry. We then had a group photo and I took a photo with Malika Booker, who also signed my poetry booklet. I stayed behind to meet more fellow poets and made friends with people from all walks of life, including a girl from New Jersey who had done a TED talk and had been to the White House! When we were finally politely asked to leave the room, my mum and I watched some poetry readings that were happening on the other floors of the building, by poets such as Hannah Lowe and Keaton Henson. A poem that really stuck with me was a poem by Rob Auton, in the form of a letter from Santa requesting something of Rob. It started out humorous, but as the poem went on it turned very motivational. The poem discouraged listeners from making our only goal in life to get to the end of the day and sleep, as we become very close minded and shut out the opportunities that are right before us. Chris Riddell illustrated the poems live, Malika Booker sat next to me during the readings and Hannah Lowe was on the table next to me at Wagamama so it was all very surreal. To add to this, I found out that the text I sent Chris Evans on BBC Radio 2, telling the show that I’d been selected as one of the winners of Foyle Young Poets had been read out.

Since then, I’ve realised that I am actually good enough and that I should stop doubting myself. I always convinced myself that creative writing was just a hobby, but I think that maybe, after years of indecisiveness, I know what I want to do in the future, but I won’t set anything in stone. Winning a writing competition was the first item to tick off on my bucket list, so now, instead of dreaming, I’m going to go through life achieving those dreams and start ticking more items off my bucket list. National Poetry Day opened my eyes and showed me infinite opportunities. If you’re going to take anything from this, my advice is that if you love something, just go for it. You never know what might happen.