“Hugely Democratising”: YPN at 10

To round up our tenth anniversary celebrations, we’re hearing from three Young Poets Networkers about how YPN has helped them on their poetry journeys. Nadia Lines, Ellora Sutton and Lucas Sheridan tell all – including why you should get involved, too.

Nadia Lines

Nadia Lines in a flowery shirt
Photo: Dan Haworth for The Poetry Society

I got involved with Young Poets Network when I was fifteen. I was looking for opportunities for young writers, as I was beginning to take poetry more seriously, and they published my first poem. I still remember opening the email telling me that I has won the Turn Up the Volume challenge – it is honestly one of my happiest memories of being a teenager. It was so exciting, and was the first time that I had been told that my poetry was good, and worth reading. The validation encouraged me to keep going. It was so incredible to see my name listed as a poet, and to see my poem out in the world. I honestly cannot thank YPN enough for that moment.

I have so much more confidence in my writing now. The regular challenges encourage me to write frequently, and the opportunities to perform and meet other poets that YPN offers are beyond anything I could have imagined. YPN is such a relaxed and friendly scene. Poetry may sometimes seem aloof, but poets are normal people, who go to school, have jobs, families, lives, and we write.

I’m in my first year of reading English at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge. I am currently studying from home, but I should be moving back to college very soon. In 2020 I won the Tower Poetry Competition (which is insane) and in 2019 I won the Orwell Youth Prize. Thanks to YPN I have performed for Extinction Rebellion, the Moon Festival, on BBC Three Counties Radio and on the BBC’s Words and Music. I have been published in Modern Poetry in Translation (again thanks to YPN) and in two issues of the Keats Shelley Review. My Foyle poem is published in Chris Riddell’s anthology Poems to Save the World With. I was a 2019 Foyle Young Poet of the Year, and I won with a poem I had written for a YPN challenge, and I will be forever indebted to the organisation for that, let alone the fact that they have provided me with such constant support and a platform to share my writing. I cannot tell you how much of an impact YPN has had on my life. It has basically allowed me to start building a career in the field that I love. At the moment I am looking for publishers for my first chapbook/pamphlet about my first term at university.

YPN showed me that there is a place for me, and all young poets. I am sure they would love to help you find yours.

@NadiallLines

Lucas Sheridan

Lucas Sheridan smiles, wearing a dark blue and black stripy t-shirtI got involved in Young Poets Network when I was in Sixth Form, I think I just happened across a challenge whilst browsing and decided to enter! When I was named one of the winners, I got to travel to London to read a poem of mine at a Poetry Society event. I think I may have even got to skip a day of college! I remember being so nervous travelling down and thinking about what everyone would be like, and the event. It was such a relief and something I’ll cherish that I found a lovely tucked away place (The Poetry Café!) full of people willing to talk to me about poetry. I think that was my first time properly getting to discuss poetry in a non-academic way, and it made such a difference to me that it was a welcoming and supportive space.

It’s been a long time since then, but I definitely have more intention in my work, and I’m more willing to separate myself from my poetry to mess about with it and experiment. Performance-wise, I’m much more confident and feel I have a greater depth and range to my performances.

I also enjoyed the summer poetry course during the first UK lockdown in 2020 so much. It was a key part of my week and I got so much from spending time with other young poets from all over the world. It developed my poetry practice endlessly and shaped how I think about the process of editing and forming a poem. I still ask the people I write with now the questions we explored in the sessions last summer.

Thank you Young Poets Network, for adding so many strings to my bow, and for always making us feel like winning isn’t the goal, the process and the learning is. It makes such a difference to pressure, and to the communities of poets we go on to create or be part of. Anyone can use YPN to motivate you or inspire you in whatever way suits you. There’s so much information and opportunity there for us all!

Ellora Sutton

Ellora Sutton smiling with a necklace reading "poet"I first heard about Young Poets Network back when I was in Sixth Form – so maybe eight years ago? I was just starting to discover my love of poetry through studying Carol Ann Duffy at A Level, and YPN offered a space for exploration and learning. I didn’t really have a clue about writing poetry, and the workshops/challenges have had a deep influence on me. It offered a support, a sense of community. I think there’s often this misconception of writers, especially poets, as being isolated up in a garret somewhere – YPN laughs in the face of this, and makes poetry feel welcoming and accessible, like anyone can read, write, enjoy it. As someone who can’t drive and who lives in quite a rural area, the poetry world can feel very far away – I can’t, for example, go up to London every week for a reading or workshop. YPN plugs that gap, bringing poetry right into my home. It is hugely democratising.

Reading at the Moon Festival in Woolwich was a wonderful experience. The reading itself, of course, but also meeting my fellow YPNers, many of whom I’m now friends with. It was one of those moments where I felt like a ‘real’ poet. I’ve become much more confident in my poetry, actually seeking out open mics to perform at – something I would never had done without YPN.

I’ve won other competitions, such as the Artlyst Art to Poetry Award, the Mslexia Poetry Competition, and the Pre-Raphaelite Society Poetry Competition. I don’t think I would have been able to do this without the development and insight provided by Young Poets Network. For example, the Re-Re-Re-Drafting Challenge changed the way I edit my work, as have the translation challenges. YPN is a great training ground, and it has given me the confidence to enter more competitions.

Every time I open up one of the Young Poets Network challenges – old or new – I always learn something, I always read poems and try approaches I never would have on my own. And when you do have success with the challenges, it is a massive confidence boost.

Ellora’s debut pamphlet, All the Shades of Grief (Nightingale & Sparrow), is available now / @ellora_sutton

Find out more about Young Poets Network’s tenth anniversary celebrations and how you can get involved.

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