“Winning the Foyle is like fixing a rocket booster to your writing”
Adham Smart – Foyle winner in 2006, 2007 and 2009
Founded by The Poetry Society in 1998 and supported by the Foyle Foundation since 2001 the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award is firmly established as the key competition for young poets aged between 11and 17 years. Marcus Stanton introduces the competition and describes its impact on poets and poetry.
Over the past two decades of Foyle The Poetry Society has received more than 195,000 poems from well over 80,000 poets. In 2017, Foyle attracted 10,921 poems from 6,079 young poets (around 3,000 of which came from schools) from 72 countries, from as far afield as Azerbaijan, Brazil, Japan, Syria and Zimbabwe. Out of these entries the judges had to select 100 winners, made up of 15 top poets and 85 commended poets. Top 15 winners go on to attend a week’s writing course at the Arvon Residential centre, The Hurst, in Shropshire and receive ongoing support and encouragement from The Poetry Society, through publication, performance, promotion and access to a paid internship programme. In the past, Foyle Young Poets have been showcased on BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio 6 and in the Guardian and The Times. They have featured in performances at the Ledbury Poetry Festival, Proms Lates at the Royal Albert Hall and at Stanza Scotland’s International Poetry Festival.
Perhaps most importantly, Foyle has helped to start the career of many of today’s most exciting poets and writers. In a recent survey of young writers commissioned by The Poetry Society, competitions such as Foyle are seen by many (61%) as a coveted route to being published and making their creative presence known to the world.
Acclaimed poet Caroline Bird was a Top 15 winner at age 13 and 14 in 1999 and 2000 and is judging this year’s entries with the brilliant Daljit Nagra. She says:
‘If I hadn’t won the Foyle Award I don’t think I’ve have had the necessary recklessness to say – with my audible voice – I am a writer.’
‘I entered because someone had given my mum a leaflet for the competition (‘your daughter writes poems, doesn’t she?’) that she had pinned to the fridge. I was twelve years old. I distinctly remember making a big ceremonial trip, on my own, to the post box. I never thought I would win; it was just a massive deal for me to print them out and put them in an envelope.’
Sarah Howe, 2016 T.S.Eliot Prize Winner and Foyle winner in 2000 reflects on how life changing it was to win Foyle: ‘I don’t think sixteen-year-old me could have foreseen that future when she saw the competition flyer tacked up on the (English) noticeboard, and thought, ‘Why not? Surely I can work out how to write a poem?’
A recent winner of Foyle is Cyrus Larcombe-Moore from Tavistock Devon. Cyrus was a Top 15 winner in 2016, and was longlisted in the National Poetry Competition the very next year: ‘Winning in 2016 was a validation, proof that I could be a writer and a poet, and gifted me self-belief, leading me later to enter the National Poetry Competition.’
‘To have your writing recognised at an international level by people who don’t know you is incredibly encouraging. Winning the Foyle is like fixing a rocket booster to your writing,’ said Adham Smart, a Foyle winner in 2006, 2007 and 2009.
2018 Ted Hughes Award winner, Jay Bernard was a Foyle winner in 2005:
‘Thirteen years later many of the people from my year are on my bookshelf, or I see their names pop up as editors, journalists, lawyers, or workers in arts organisations.’
Asked about the relevance of Foyle to the wider poetry landscape, Caroline Bird said: ‘We need to read young poets and listen to young poets…that utter freshness can’t be brought back, and teenagers have a rawness – their eyes are peeled in a way that adults can rarely achieve.’
‘The competition has always been borderless. To bring together young writers across such great distances and to celebrate their writing as one cohort – this is a radical and essential act. The Foyle Young Poets Award has been doing this for twenty years; it must continue for many, many, many more to come,’ says Martha Sprackland, Foyle winner in 1999 and 2005.
This year’s winners will be announced at a special ceremony and reception at the Southbank Centre, London on 2 October. The top 15 winning poets will have their poems published in an anthology in March 2019. The anthology of last year’s winners, There was a word for that, is available in print and online at http://poetrysociety.org.uk/competitions/foyle-young-poets-of-the-year-award/
The annual anthology is one of the most widely circulated poetry anthologies in the world.
The Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award 2018 is open for entries until midnight (BST) on 31st July 2018. Entries are free and welcome from individuals or via schools. A free pack of anthologies and resources are available by emailing email@example.com. The competition entry form, rules and all resources can be found at foyleyoungpoets.org