Welcome to our ninth Foyle Friday feature! This week we’re speaking to Jay Bernard, Phoebe Power and Imogen Cassels about their work in film, poetry and academia, and the joy of befriending fellow young poets.
FYP: Commended in 2004 and winner in 2005.
What did winning mean to you? Foyle is a unique opportunity because you are faced, quite straightforwardly, with the question of whether you are going to be a poet. Thirteen years later, many of the people from my year are somewhere on my bookshelf, or I see their names pop up as editors, journalists, lawyers, or workers in arts organisations.
What have you been up to since? I work as a writer and film programmer at BFI Flare (London’s LGBT film festival). My first full-length col
lection is due in 2019 with Chatto. I am the author of three pamphlets, The Red and Yellow Nothing (2016), English Breakfast (2013), and Your Sign is Cuckoo, Girl (2008), and have been featured in numerous anthologies and magazines, including TEN: The New Wave, Voice Recognition, Out of Bounds, and Flicker and Spark: A Contemporary Queer Anthology. I can be found @brrnrrd and jaybernard.co.uk
Advice for potential Foyle entrants? Even if you never win, even if you decide that poetry is not for you, the experience of entering with serious intention and then being selected for the quality of what you have produced – that does something. Quite a lot, actually: you’re part of an international group who have this happy, sacred thing to share.
FYP: Top 15 winner in 2009 and commended in 2010.
What did winning mean to you? It felt amazing! I think the best thing about Foyle Young Poets is the way it connects like-minded young people. Attending the Arvon course was especially important. It was like a turbo-boost to the poems I was writing at the time, and aspects of what we explored on the course still inform the way I think about poetry now. I was already set on the idea of studying English and trying to be a writer, but winning Foyle confirmed my sense of what was really important in life.
Favourite poem then? I liked the poem ‘Rain’ by Don Paterson and that whole collection, Sylvia Plath’s Selected Poems, and Dylan Thomas.
Favourite poem now? It’s really hard to narrow down to one, but I might include Anne Carson, Denise Riley’s poem ‘Lure’, as well as lots of poets of the past who are special like John Clare, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Marianne Moore. Another person who inspires me is the artist Laurie Anderson, who works in all kinds of hybrid ways with text, performance, music and visual art.
Top tip for poets? A few years ago I read a phrase by Ruth Padel which sticks with me, about the best poetic style being one which keeps growing and changing. This helps me if I’m not sure what’s happening next. It was also one of the driving forces behind writing my debut collection Shrines of Upper Austria (currently on the shortlist for a Forward Prize for Best First Collection!), where I tried to experiment with different forms and voices.
Top tips for Foyle entrants? Enter more than one poem. Edit your poems first. Don’t show your parents your poems. Go for it!
What did winning mean to you? Winning FYP was very joyful and exciting, especially as I’d been entering for five years beforehand; it gave me a certain confidence and, through the Arvon course, an openness to experiment. Most importantly, though, it included me in a network (one which is inherently somewhat elitist, and is a strange lovely privilege which I’ve often queried since) of other young writers who were doing all sorts of different things, and who suddenly became wonderful friends.
Favourite poet then? Probably Simon Armitage.
Favourite poet now? Probably some liquid suspension of Lisa Robertson, Eley Williams, Andrea Brady, Emily Berry, Vahni Capildeo, Anne Boyer and Denise Riley. Dylan Thomas has stuck with me all the way through.
What have you been up to? Recently I’ve been patching together my first poetry pamphlet, The Arcades, which is forthcoming with Sad Press. Magically, I had a poem in the London Review of Books in May. All being well, I’m starting a PhD next year.
Advice for poets? I’ve learnt (ironically) that prizes and publications are things which can bring happiness, but which might also be good to detach our happiness from. Writing matters even if it doesn’t go any further in the world than your desk. And read new things, and write new things, and don’t be afraid to experiment.
The Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award is an opportunity for any young poet aged 11-17 to accelerate their writing career. Since it was founded in 1998 the Award has kick-started the career of some of today’s most exciting new voices. This year the Award celebrates its 20th anniversary, with lots of exciting activity throughout 2018.
Each year 100 winners (85 Commendations and 15 Overall Winners) are selected by a team of high profile judges, this year Caroline Bird (herself a former winner) and Daljit Nagra. There are loads of exciting prizes up for grabs, including publication, mentoring, poetry books and long-term support from The Poetry Society. Teachers can also access free teaching resources. Find out more at foyleyoungpoets.org
Don’t miss the other features in our Foyle Friday series…
- 2017 FYP Andrew Pettigrew interviews 2008 judge Ian McMillan
- We speak to former winners Helen Mort, Ankita Saxena and Richard O’Brien
- We interview FYPs Jade Cuttle, Richard Osmond and Laura Potts
- We catch up with former FYPs Amanda Chong and Phoebe Stuckes
- FYPs and novelists Michael Donkor and Anbara Salam speak to YPN
- YPN interviews literary agent Hattie Grunewald and once YPN editor Phoebe Walker
- Margot Armbruster interviews fellow FYP Peter LaBerge, founder of The Adroit Journal, in an American special
- FYP Meredith LeMaître interviews Sarah Howe