Commended Foyle Young Poet Andrew Pettigrew shares some tips on what opportunities you should grab hold of next.
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably just won the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award. Congratulations! It’s an amazing achievement and you should feel proud of yourself.
So, what next? This is not the end of the road — in fact, for many of you this will just be the beginning. In this piece, I’ll outline some of the wonderful stuff that comes after this momentous success, so get comfy and read on.
A World of Competitions
This may seem obvious, but the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award isn’t the only poetry competition out there. There are loads. Entering contests can be daunting, and I for one have always recoiled at the long pages of ‘Competition guidelines’ you sometimes have to wade through. But ignore the Demon of Dauntingdom because you should now have the confidence to enter any competition you want.
After winning the Foyle Award myself, I entered other creative writing competitions and I even won some. Although not specifically poetry-related, I was shortlisted for the Young Walter Scott Prize, and later became a member of Scottish Book Trust’s Storyboard, not to mention some magazine publications. I’m not writing this to boast: what I’m trying to say is that after becoming a Foyle Young Poet I felt confident enough to continue writing, and you should too!
A Wise Mentor
If you’re a Top 15 winner this year you will go on a writing retreat, which is guaranteed to be incredible.* For those of you who are commended, be assured that these retreats are offered by other competitions and programmes as well. I’ve been on two so far, and they were both completely wonderful.
The best thing about these retreats is having access to a personal writing mentor. My mentors were unfortunately nothing like Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, but they really did help improve my writing skills. Having a mentor can have a truly positive impact on both your writing and your confidence. You never know, they might even help you blow up your very own Death Star.
*The Poetry Society normally invites older top 15 winners to attend a week-long writing retreat at Arvon’s The Hurst Centre, while younger top 15 winners will receive a free poet visit to their school. If this can’t happen this year because of Covid-19 restrictions, The Poetry Society will provide alternative equivalent mentoring.
An Opportunist Poet
The word ‘opportunist’ brings up all kinds of bad images, but I’m not suggesting you steal your neighbour’s silverware and sell it on eBay. What I mean is that you should always be looking out for opportunities, even if they come in unexpected forms.
There are numerous opportunities out there besides competitions and prizes. After winning the Foyle Award, I was lucky enough to be offered a few such opportunities. To give you an idea, I’ve interviewed the poet Ian McMillan, created and judged a poetry challenge for the Young Poets Network, presented my poetry at the Scottish Parliament and on live radio, penned blog posts for writing websites, and even signed a poetry book for the Queen. Okay, that last one may not (yet) have happened, but you get my point. So keep an eye out and be ready to write literally anything.
To University and Beyond
I’m assuming most of you are still in the gloom and doom of secondary school, and if you are, my condolences. But after you leave school you might fancy university or college, and there is nothing stopping you from taking your poetry even further. As I write this, I’m preparing to go to the University of Strathclyde, where I’ll spend four years studying English & Creative Writing. Not only will I be scribbling stanzas in my spare time, I will also be doing it as part of my degree. Excitingly, the course encourages us to be as creative as possible, so instead of slaving away at an essay, we could write a sonnet. Studying poetry academically is one way to keep your interest in writing alive.
But if you decide Higher Education’s not for you or that you’d prefer to study cognitive psychology or something, you can still keep up your poetry in your free time by joining a poetry group. For example, The Poetry Society has regional poetry groups called Stanzas (find your nearest Stanza here), where poetry enthusiasts share what they’ve been reading and writing, and offer one another support. Before lockdown started, I was preparing to present my work at a stand-up poetry club – yet another avenue of opportunity you could explore.
In sum, be open-minded and embrace the opportunities that come your way. Before I go, let me congratulate you one last time on winning, and never forget: keep writing!
Andrew Pettigrew is a writer and poet. Losing his sight and hearing before the age of 11, Andrew has won the Pushkin Prizes, the Seeing Ear Creative Writing Award, and the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award, as well as having presented his poetry on the Janice Forsyth Radio Show on BBC Scotland, the Scottish Parliament and the StAnza Poetry Festival.