Andrew Johnson and Jonathan Owen speak to the 15 winners
Sunday, 3 October 2010
Britain's new generation of poets have little time for TS Eliot's gloomy assertion that a literary life is "a mug's game". Fired by the power of the internet to spread their words, the nation's teenage versifiers form the vanguard of an upsurge that has seen the number of entries to Britain's longest-running competition for young poets soar.
A record-breaking 20,510 poems from 11- to 17-year-olds around the country were entered in this year's Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award. It is the highest number of entries in the competition's 13-year history.
The 15 winners of this year's competition will not be announced until National Poetry Day on Thursday. Here, however, we publish exclusive extracts from the winning poems.
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Some "show a directness to the reader that adult writers would envy", said Jane Draycott, one of the judges. She added: "This generation think differently about exposure and publicity, because they expose themselves in all kinds of ways through Facebook and YouTube. I don't think they'll feel precious about their early work in years to come, and that's amazing."
Winners from the 15-17 age category will be sent on a special week-long retreat at the Arvon Foundation at The Hurst, set in 30 acres of woodland in the Clun Valley, Shropshire. Younger winners will be mentored by poets who will visit their schools to help the budding writers.
And the future of the competition was boosted last week with the news that the Foyle Foundation has committed to another three years of funding. Judith Palmer, chairwoman of the National Poetry Society, which organises the competition, said: "Older poets often spend decades unlearning all the things they've been taught to do," she said. "These poems are really impressive. There isn't the imitation of other poets you might expect."
Luke Kennard, another of the judges, added: "Teenagers are not afraid of over-reaching yet; whereas 19- to 22-year-olds are so afraid of being pretentious that they hold back and start falling back on clichés."
Ameerah Arjanee, 16, Mauritius
Developed a passion for poetry last year after reading poems of Nizar Qabbani that were used as chapter introductions in a novel. Has begun to write her own poetry as a result.
Dom Hale, 17, Lancashire
Can't remember deciding to start writing poetry: "It just sort of happened." Influences include Margaret Atwood and Ted Hughes. This is the second year running he has been a Foyle Young Poet.
Catherine Olver, 17, London
Has been writing for as long as she can remember and did a series of mermaid stories aged five. A keen walker, she is studying for A-levels in philosophy and ethics, Latin, Ancient Greek and English.
Evie Ioannidi, 16, Athens
Introduced to poetry through Edward Lear's work and started writing her own. Won a national bilingual story-writing competition in 2007. Acted in her school's English Theatre Society.
Eleanor Coy, 13, Great Missenden
Lists JD Salinger, F Scott Fitzgerald and Sylvia Plath among her favourites. Called her Foyle Young Writers Award "absolutely amazing". Helps write for Chiltern Open Air Museum publications.
Fergus Blair, 17, Lewes
Discovered poetry through "The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock" – which "made me understand the vastness of poetry's potential to engage so many different aspects of a reader's mind".
Kim Clarke, 17, Glastonbury
A budding poet since learning to read at the age of five, she credits Dr Seuss as being responsible for her love of poetry. "Writing has been my only true passion, my dream," she says.
Daisy Syme-Taylor, 17, Wiltshire
Surrounded by books from an early age, she is inspired by landscapes and nature. She began writing poetry when she was eight. A fan of ancient poetry. Cites Beowulf as an influence.
Sarah Lucas, 17, West Sussex
Prompted to write through studying poetry at school. Relishes the chance to "experiment with language and the sounds of words" and won the Poetry Live! competition in 2009.
Phoebe Stuckes, 14, Somerset
Began writing poetry 18 months ago and was commended in the 2009 Foyle Young Poets competition. Influences include Kate Tempest, Brendan Cleary and Seamus Heaney. Likes cycling.
Sara Henry, 17, Connecticut
Developed a passion for poetry with her teachers' encouragement. Has done creative writing courses at Oxford and Stanford. William Carlos Williams and Robert Frost are her favourite poets.
Ella Duffy, 15, Manchester
Plays the piano, flute, saxophone and oboe. Has performed on the Edinburgh Fringe in a children's poetry and music show. Inspirations: Imtiaz Dharker, Gillian Clarke andJohn Agard.
Fielding Ronshaugen, 17, Manchester
As a child, she wanted to read books for a living, but says she has settled for dreaming of becoming a writer instead. Her favourite poets include William Carlos Williams and Elizabeth Bishop.
Sherrie Talgeri, 15, Berkshire
Began with nursery rhymes. Overall winner in the 2005 Rotary Writing Competition, aged 10. Plays the piano, enjoys writing prose. Loves coloured paperclips and Roman numerals.
Kiera Hall, 13, Stoke-on-Trent
Her teachers encouraged her to enter the Foyle Young Poets Award. Her favourite poem is "Warning" by Jenny Joseph. A keen freestyle skier, she is also a 15,000m runner.