15th October 2020

Powerful poetry for uncertain times

The Poetry Society announces the winners of The Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award

Entries soar for the 2020 competition

Lauren

The Poetry Society has announced today the top 15 winners and 85 commended poets of the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award 2020 at a virtual prize-giving ceremony.

Run by The Poetry Society and generously supported by the Foyle Foundation, this has been an extraordinary 22nd year for The Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award. Since 1998, the Award has been finding, celebrating and supporting the very best young poets from around the world. The Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award is firmly established as the leading competition for young poets aged between 11 and 17 years old.

A staggering 15,966 poems (44% more poems than in 2019 and 47% more than in 2018) from 6,791 young poets (up 14% on 2019 and up 22% on 2018) were entered. Young writers from a record-breaking 118 countries (an increase from 76 in 2019, 79 in 2018) entered the competition from as far afield as Afghanistan, Ecuador, Mozambique, North Korea and the Seychelles, and every corner
of the UK.

From these poems, this year’s judges Keith Jarrett and Maura Dooley selected 100 winners, made up of 15 top poets and 85 commended poets.

Keith Jarrett said:

“It’s been a privilege judging this year’s prize. At a time when so many of us have been physically separated from friends and family, I’ve felt connected to thousands of young voices from around the world [through their words]. The poems have been passionate, political, tender, troubling, humorous and, in many cases, brave. (It sometimes takes a lot of bravery to articulate what it is to exist in the world – especially when this involves feeling anxious or unsafe – and then to send it in for a competition!) Some of the poems responded to immediate events – and this was clearly the case when they referred to Black Lives Matter protests, the pandemic, or recent government actions. Others dealt with timeless themes: family, bereavement, cultural traditions, all the uncertainty that comes with adolescence, nature and the seasons, the environment, chickens[!]… I wasn’t expecting such breadth, and it was overwhelming at times. I cried. I laughed. I raised an eyebrow.

“Above all, the confidence of these poems, of these poets was astounding! I truly feel the future of poetry is in safe hands, and it is vital these young voices are nurtured and supported wherever they find themselves in the world.”

Maura Dooley said:

“If we had thought for a moment that this long year of Covid, of international unrest, of the tragedies that led
renewed attention to Black Lives Matter might make humour impossible, or attention to very personal experience tricky, then how wrong we were. As always, it is language that is the most resilient, flexible, musical, colourful substance we have and how these poets moulded it to their own fabulous shapes! Poems came in from all over the world, about all kinds of things written in every kind of way. There were poems of astonishing skill, poems of great tenderness, angry poems, poems that made me laugh and sometimes those were even all the same poem. There were patterns on the page, stories and rhymes, prose poems, haiku and sonnets, there were poems which opened doors to worlds new to me and left me gasping and amazed. What more could a reader ask? Thank you.”

Judith Palmer, Director, The Poetry Society, acknowledges the difficult choices the judges faced in a bumper year of competition entries:

“A huge congratulations to all 100 young poets and an enormous thank you to our judges. This has been a year like no other for Foyle; with the competition launching at the height of the pandemic and the start of lockdown and closure of schools it was uncertain for us how the competition would fare. It has in fact been amazing to see so many entries. Poetry is a source of self expression, and I think at this time more of us are turning to it to make sense of the world around us, to remember what makes us who we are, and to just lift our spirits. For a young poet to reach the top 100 in such a competitive year is a huge achievement and one to be proud of.”

In response to the amazing quality of writing and due to the unusual circumstances this year that prevent an awards ceremony in central London being held, Keith Jarrett has written a poem dedicated to and inspired by the Foyle Young Poets of 2020, and artist Imogen Foxell has been commissioned to create an artwork that will adorn The Poetry Cafe window in Covent Garden in celebration of The Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award 2020.

Winners of the award receive a fantastic range of prizes to encourage them to puruse their writing. The top 15 poets receive a special mentoring programme over the course of the next year to help them develop as writers. All 100 winners of the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award receive a year’s youth membership of The Poetry Society and a goody bag stuffed full of books donated by Foyle’s generous sponsors. The Poetry Society continues to support winners throughout their careers providing publication, performance and development opportunities, and access to a paid internship programme.

The top 15 poems will be published in a printed winners’ anthology (also available online) from March 2021. The 85 commended poems will appear in an online anthology. Both anthologies showcase the talent of the winners and are distributed free to thousands of schools, libraries, reading groups and poetry lovers across the UK and the world.

The Top 15 Foyle Young Poets of the Year 2020 are:

  • Imogen Beaumont, 15, Weston-Super-Mare, North Somerset
  • Linnet Drury, 17, Oxford, Oxfordshire
  • Victoria Fletcher, 17, Harrow, London
  • Anna Gilmore Heezen, 17, Milnathort, Kinrosshire, Scotland
  • Preesha Jain, 17, Chelmsford, Essex
  • Leandra Li, 11, Greenwich, London
  • Lauren, 14, Enfield, London
  • Brigitta McKeever, 17, Watford, Hertfordshire
  • Zara Meadows, 18, Newtownabbey, County Antrim, Northern Ireland*
  • Indigo Mudbhary, 16, San Francisco, USA
  • Em Power, 18, Feltham, London*
  • Libby Russell, 18, Hailsham, East Sussex*
  • Maia Siegel, 17, Roanoke, Virginia, USA
  • Daniel Wale, 15, Kenilworth, Warwickshire
  • Anna Winkelmann, 13, Bath, Somerset

* aged 17 on 31 July 2020, the competition deadline

Lauren said:

“When I heard the news, I didn’t believe it. I had entered lots of competitions before, which had never really amounted to anything, and so was really surprised that someone had read my work and actually thought it was something special. Afterwards, I kept reading through the poem, thinking “this was good enough?”

Winning the award, to me, was validation. It showed me that my words could actually make a difference, and made me realise just how special poetry is. It also taught me to believe in myself a bit more, since the judges had now believed in me.

I am so thankful to the Poetry Society, Keith Jarrett and Maura Dooley, for this chance, and would like to congratulate all the other winning poets and the amazing poets who entered! As well as say thank you, to my friends and all my teachers, especially Mrs Friel, as for without them, I would never have got this far!

I know that this award will open up so many doors, including meeting so many creative people, as well as the opportunity to be published, and feel so lucky to have been granted it. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.”