BTS: 20 Years of Foyle Young Poets

On Monday, the Poetry Society and the Foyle Foundation put together an event for educators and writers celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Foyle Young Poet of the Year competition, to discuss how the competition helps young talents to thrive and how to inspire more kids to pick up a pen and let the emotion flow. I was one of the lucky volunteers who kept the day running smoothly, and what a wonderful day it was. Admittedly, on paper, a day spent mostly hauling around boxes packed with chapbooks and posters and decorating tables may not seem like a good use of time, but in actuality, it was one of the most inspiring days I’ve had in a very long time. 
Firstly, just being able to spend a day with my fellow volunteers, women who, whilst at various stages of their lives, were all as passionate and excited about literature as myself was rather novel. It is incredibly gratifying to be able to stand around and talk about all the wonderful ways writing has enriched my life, argue about authors and poets and just generally shoot the literary shit. Plus, as a thank you for setting up and checking names at the door, we volunteers were allowed to sit in on the talks and readings, which were performed my previous Foyle winners. 
The two winners from last year, both still under eighteen and with undoubtedly promising futures, were so talented it was almost sickening. Their poems had the kind of honesty and authenticity many professional authors will never achieve. They spoke with nervousness and all I wanted to do was sweep them up into my arms and say, ‘listen, you have so much talent and power, you have nothing in the world to be worried about.’ Their names are Cia Mangat and Mukahang Limbu and I can’t wait to hear what other delights they will produce in years to come. The other poet was an older Foyle winner, one who now, in turn, works with children. Her name is Juliette Simms, and she has the kind of warmth to her words and in person that is hard to capture, when she speaks, no matter how softly, she transports the room to whatever world, magical or mundane, that she creates. I loved her energy, and she is just as warm and lovely in person as she is onstage. 
My highlight, though, may just have been a speech given by Jay Bernard (once the original keynote speaker Daljit Nagra pulled out on the day due to sickness), a former Foyle and Slambassaders winner who spoke so eloquently and off-the-cuff about how the opportunity to write and create offered not only an outlet but eventually a whole new way of life. I really think Jay will be a huge literary name one day and I fangirl’ed my little tail off (by which I mean I flirted badly and felt my cheeks flush horribly red.) The talk they gave was unquestionably inspiring, but also just gratifying to hear… success is possible against odds, even when nothing looks like it will fall in your favour. I feel very lucky to have heard it. 

The awesome goody bags we were giving out as part of the event were full of lovely treats, as demonstrated above – I have been powering my way through these poetry books and each one is so full of promise and aching potential. I have not been able to put down my (okay, figurative) pen since reading them. 
I have found myself so inspired by the event I have been putting as much mileage as possible into finishing a draft of a chapbook. I have written four new poems since Monday night, and altered many more (as well as dipping in and out of my novel attempts), something I do not plan to stop until the collection feels complete. From there, the plan is to fire out copies of it to publishing houses and see if I might be able to go the real route with this one, rather than self-publishing like I did with my previous two (much shorter) collections. I know I am capable, I know I’ve written lots of singular poems people have liked enough to print, so why would a whole book be inferior?
All in all, it was a wonderful day full of wonderful treats and it has inspired me immensely. 

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