Foyle Young Poets: What Next? Finding Your Poetry Path

Former top 15 winner Elizabeth Thatcher shares some top tips for how to keep developing as a poet.

If you’ve just won the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award, you might be wondering where to go next with your writing. In this piece, I’ll share some general pointers that I think could be useful to any emerging young poet.

Read, Read, Read

After winning the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award, everyone emphasised how useful it was to read alongside your writing, and they were right. The more I read, the more I absorbed (often subconsciously) and used in my own work. At the beginning, I found myself slightly mimicking the style and voice of the authors I was reading, testing out what felt right, which was crucial in developing my own poetic voice. I’m still reading and learning, and this is an ongoing process for every poet, no matter how experienced! Remember you don’t have to force yourself to finish books you aren’t enjoying – everyone has different tastes, and by following your nose you’ll gain an idea of yourself as a poet and have fun.

Here are some ways you could get started:

  • Make use of your local and school libraries. Also, the National Poetry Library is an amazing resource with lots of free online content to explore.
  • Read journals to find a range of current poets. If you find somebody you particularly like you can go and explore more of their work.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations! You could ask anyone from other young poets to your English teachers. Check out The Poetry Society’s reading suggestions, provided by young poets, for young poets, here.

Additionally, the poetry you study at school is a consistent way of reading new poets and analysing them in depth, and more useful than it seems at the time! I still draw on skills I learned in secondary school, because a good knowledge of poetic techniques means you can add new dimensions to your writing and appreciate features you recognise in other people’s work. For example, learning about the effects of different types of line breaks on a poem meant I chose my own line breaks more carefully. You can also use the poems you study as a springboard to explore poetry further; if you liked a Keats poem from class, go and read more of his poems, and others in the same genre.

Generally, the more you read, the more your poetry will improve.

a photo of some first books, including books by Lisa Kiew, Tristram Fane Saunders, Theresa Lola, Sarah Howe, Rakhshan Rizwan, Emily Berry and Kayo Chingonyi

Write, write, write 

The things I wish I’d been told when I first began to write are:

  • It’s important to practise – don’t be afraid to write absolute nonsense! Just write as much as you can, and try experimenting with different styles.
  • It’s equally important to edit. When I was younger, I didn’t realise how useful editing can be: as soon as I started to edit, my poems improved.
  • Take advantage of online resources. I’ve found the Tips and advice section of Young Poets Network helpful, and if you want to find a carefully curated list of competitions and journals you can look at the Poetry opportunities section (I use this a lot).

Whatever you do from this point is your choice. In the end, you know what’s best for you. I used to worry that I was reading the ‘wrong books’ or not reading enough, but I’m learning to ignore that voice in my head, because there’s no such thing as the right or wrong thing to do. Personally, I started out by reading poetry online and writing privately – and I still do – but now I read a wider range of poets and share more of my work than before, whether it’s with friends or to competitions/journals. For me, that was a good progression, because my aim was to gain confidence and meet new people. But it’s important to note that’s individual to me. You could never share another poem in your life, or you could send off every poem you write, and either way you’d still be a poet! The best way to go forward is to pursue the poetry you enjoy at a pace that suits you, and everything else will follow.

Elizabeth Thatcher smiles reading at a podium next to a green banner that says Foyle Young Poets
Photo: Hayley Madden for The Poetry Society

Elizabeth Thatcher is a top 15 winner of the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award 2018.

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