Three time commended Foyle Young Poet Mukahang Limbu shares his experiences and tips for staying close to poetry.
For the Foyle Young Poets of 2020
Without wishing to give COVID more than a sentence, allow me to say how sorry I am that the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award Ceremony will not take place in-person this year. I hope you can take a moment to celebrate what you have achieved by putting some words down on a page.
To be recognised as a Foyle Young Poet was a gift for me. Each year, it gave me a library of 100 poems that still inspire me when the words are lost. Each year, I felt heard and I felt included. And each year I was fortunate enough to make new friends among people who, by some fate, had decided to enter some loose pages into the same competition as me. These friendships, founded on a simple love for writing, were built as we read and listened to one another’s poems. Through the long, hot, plastic days of exams, the slow journeys of procrastination and the monsoons of university deadlines, reading the work of the friends I made through the Foyle Award has kept me anchored to poetry. To this day, when I meet up with my batch of Foyle Young Poets, the coffee, the cake, the place, the hour, the clothes are all variables, but the poetry we share can be relied upon to keep us connected.
It is unfortunate that this year’s Foyle Young Poets are unable to meet in person, but I hope I can make up for some of this loss with my short guide to staying close to poetry, a small token of my friendship.
Poetry at School
I was lucky enough to go to a small comprehensive school that understood the value of poetry. It was a multicultural school that flourished under the guidance of our writer-in-residence Kate Clanchy, with whom poetry first began for me, in lunchtime sessions and after school sessions. Not everybody will have a Kate, but it is always worth asking your teachers if you could have creative writing sessions.
Here are some other ways to engage with poetry at school:
- Ask your English teachers for poetry sessions – they themselves are creative individuals and will enjoy teaching someone who loves poetry.
- Embrace GCSE and A Level poetry – I discovered so many poets in my Edexcel anthology, like Carol Ann Duffy, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Patience Agbabi. These names have stayed with me.
- Try out the library. I promise you there will be almost too many books to read there.
So Many Competitions
There are more competitions out there for young poets, and they’re a great way to keep your writing active and make your voice heard. Don’t be afraid – you entered the Foyle Award. Muster the same courage and know that rejections are normal. Here are some other competitions for young people:
- Forward/emagazine Creative Critics Prize: a wonderful opportunity to converse with poets who have been nominated for the prestigious Forward Prizes. Use the nominations as a voyage – you will definitely find writing that resonates with you.
- The Keats-Shelley Young Romantics Prize
- BBC Proms Poetry Competition
- The Stephen Spender Prize: amazing for those exploring translating poetry.
- The Ledbury Festival Poetry Competition
- The Christopher Tower Poetry Competition
Just have a go. Don’t be afraid to dare.
Accessing poetry collections and anthologies can sometimes be difficult, particularly if your budget is tight, but the good news is that there are lots of ways to read poetry online for free. Here are a few websites:
- Poetry Foundation: the beauty of this website is that it collects poems together so that no single poetic voice dominates. There are collections of queer poetry, poetry on immigration, Asian poetry and more. This is where I read a lot of Ocean Vuong.
- poets.org: from Lorca to Whitman to Eve L. Ewing, an amazing site for reading poetry. Here’s a powerful poem I read recently.
- Poem Hunter: where I read Pablo Neruda and Maya Angelou.
Follow your favourite poets on Twitter or Instagram. Poets are as vocal as anyone else, with large social media followings. And poets read – they read the most. They share pieces that inspire them or post book recommendations. For instance, over lockdown Raymond Antrobus and Anthony Anaxagorou hosted Instagram Lives, where they talked about the poetry they were reading – I had to get a notepad to write down all their suggestions.
With that being said, I offer my final token of friendship: my own personalised recommendations:
- Ocean Vuong, Night Sky with Exit Wounds. He is a GOD.
- Raymond Antrobus, To Sweeten Bitter and The Perseverance. His poems will change your life.
- Rebecca Perry, Beauty Beauty. Beautiful in innumerable ways.
- Wayne Holloway Smith, Love Minus Love. This will break your heart in too many ways.
- Mary Jean Chan, A Hurry of English, Flèche. How can one person write so many amazing poems?
- Jay Bernard, Surge. An important experience. This book deserves everything.
- Frank O’Hara. Just anything and everything he has ever written – on YouTube you can listen to the beautiful recordings of his own readings.
- England: Poems from a School: an anthology by migrant students at my school, Oxford Spires; we need more BME voices in poetry.
- Federico García Lorca. Just beautiful and more than just beautiful.
This list is just a jumping-off point – may you fall in love with any or all of them, as I have. Once again, I hope this guide is helpful in thinking about your next steps as a poet.
Massive congratulations. May you continue to write and love and write a lot more.
Mukahang Limbu is a Nepalese writer based in Oxford. A three-time Foyle Young Poet, and winner of the Out-Spoken prize, he has been published in England: Poems from a School (Picador, 2018), and Nascent (Out-Spoken Press, 2019).