Inspiring a Whole New Generation of Poets: 20th Anniversary of the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award

By Stanton, Marcus | School Librarian, Summer 2018 | Go to article overview

Inspiring a Whole New Generation of Poets: 20th Anniversary of the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award


Stanton, Marcus, School Librarian


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 11 and 17 years.

Last year almost 11,000 poems from over 6,000 young poets were entered into the competition with the judges selecting 100 winners, made up of 15 top poets and 85 commended poets.

Teachers and librarians have been essential to Foyle by entering students into the competition. Some have been awarded the accolade of Teacher Trailblazer and have contributed lesson plans and resources via The Poetry Society to assist teachers and librarians with writing poetry. One of this year's Teacher Trailblazers is English teacher, Francesca Pridham from Winstanley College in Wigan. Francesca's school writing club produced six commended winners in 2017. Francesca has supported the award since the very beginning; one of her students was even a Top 15 winner in 1998, the very first year of Foyle.

Teacher Trailblazer

Last year we welcomed Joanne Bowles, Senior Librarian at Tor Bridge Academy in Plymouth as a Teacher Trailblazer. Joanne's runs the annual Poetry Week at the school where she tries to involve all year groups in writing poetry.

"Contrary to what some might think, an important part of the week isn't sharing the library's collection of poems but getting the students writing and editing their own poems.

It's an exercise in writing with their fingers and their ears, as they begin to listen to the words they write, which helps them when they do read poetry from the library as they gain a different interpretation and a deeper appreciation of the words on the page," explains Joanne.

Joanne confesses that she is no expert on poetry and recognises that it can at first seem daunting compared to ordinary prose:

"I find a lot of poetry difficult to understand, and I'm honest about this to my students. I make poetry a learning experience for all of us--the result is that the students can, and often do come up with another meaning for a poem I thought I understood!"

Despite the popularity of youth-oriented slam and spoken word poetry events, students can often have a negative or simply the wrong idea as to who writes poetry, the themes and where poetry exists to be read, seen and heard. Sometimes it's just a matter of signposting to the students where to look.

"I have played a variety of YouTube videos/clips of poetry readings in the library during lunchtime. Students don't need to sit and listen formally to this--they can flit in and out or just catch bits of it whilst they are looking for books. It captures those students who might normally avoid a formal poetry reading experience, but also offers a non-judgemental space for those students who might not want to admit they like poetry to their friends." says Joanne.

"Once you have opened their eyes to what poetry actually is, students will recognise this in rap and grime. The same applies to song lyrics. Give them the current number one with the title missing and read it aloud as a poem. Once you have got students listening to this and beginning to break it down and analyse it, then you have them hooked and more willing to tackle 'heavier' works," adds Joanne.

An essential part of Tor Bridge's Poetry Week are competitions and Joanne encourages the students to tackle Foyle and other external competitions but also competitions within the school set around the theme for that year's Poetry Week. It helps being a large secondary school made up of four schools as the competition can create a buzz and excitement between the competing students.

Some prizes are also more valuable than others.

"Chocolate is a prize everyone appreciates, but prizes are not everything. I have found that simple recognition as a winner or getting on to the shortlist really does enthuse even the most reticent students. …

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