“There Is So Much To Learn”: YPN at 10

To celebrate ten years of Young Poets Network, we’re hearing from the people who use the website most. In this feature, Lydia Wei and Iona Mandal reflect on how much they’ve grown by taking part in the challenges.

Lydia Wei

Lydia Wei performing at a podium with Foyle Young Poets in the background
Photo: Hayley Madden for The Poetry Society

I first got involved with Young Poets Network by participating in their poetry challenges. At the time, I felt like I was in rut creatively. I hadn’t written since I was young, so I thought it’d be really lovely to have some challenges to inspire me to write some new poems again.

The first YPN challenge I submitted a poem to – the Wish List challenge – I didn’t win anything, but weirdly enough this ended up being quite encouraging! I received a very kind email from YPN that said there were some ‘wonderful’ images in my poem, but it just needed more editing. This was super helpful for me – I was happy to hear that my voice/instincts were right, I just needed to apply myself more on the craft level. And this small note encouraged me to work harder on my poems and try my luck with other YPN challenges!

Visiting The Poetry Café for the first time on a special trip to London is a great memory. I got to take a quick peek at The Poetry Society behind the scenes, seeing their offices and their cool bookshelves loaded with tons of poetry books. And working with my friend Em on a zine about anime boyz for a YPN challenge was so fun. I was really happy to be able to use my poetry (and graphic design) skillz to honor Kaworu Nagisa in verse.

Participating in the challenges on YPN definitely forced me to think more about the actual craft and construction of my poems. In general, writing often for challenges helped develop my creativity and allowed me to explore new subjects that I was interested in – however, with YPN, knowing specifically that there would be an audience reading my poems meant I needed to make sure there was a basic level of clarity in my writing, so I had to polish it on a very nitty-gritty, technical level, which was super helpful for improving my work.

If you’re thinking about getting involved in YPN, DO IT!!!!! You will grow so much as a writer – there are so many challenges and opportunities to inspire you and push you. Plus, the young poets of YPN are all so cool and marvellous and mind-blowing, and it’s just such a treat to get to know them and read their work.

Photo of a group of fifteen Foyle Young Poets standing together in the woods hugging and grinning
Photo by Dan Haworth for The Poetry Society

Iona Mandal

Iona Mandal smilesI have always enjoyed writing for YPN. I started as a novice in 2014 when I took up the challenge of retitling a poem. I was selected one of the winners by Matthew Sweeney. I was one of the youngest on YPN then I presume, at only eight years old. I have gained confidence in words and performance over the years. In 2020, I was one of the 100 Foyle Young Poets and this year in February, I participated in the online Young Poets Takeover at Versopolis’s Festival of Hope.

I have found the site amazing in terms of finding various upcoming competitions listed on YPN, which I think is brilliant. My entry and winning in the 2020 Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award was inspired by YPN. I have been lucky with the David Shepheard Wildlife Foundation Global Poetry Competition in 2014 which I got to know about through YPN in 2014. Then followed the Fowey Festival of Words Award 2014, the Elmet Trust Ted Hughes Young Poet Award 2016, the Divine Poetry Award, 2018 & 2020, the Forward Arts Foundation National Poetry Day Lost Words Competition Award 2018, the National Schools Poetry Competition, etc. Winning all of these would not be possible unless YPN listed them.

I have grown in baby steps and enjoyed my journey so far. I like the interesting prompts and the poems on site penned by some of the best in the craft. I have to date been published seven times in YPN and so proud of it. I have entered challenges where I didn’t win but in the end, I was proud of the entry I sent. I have sharpened my writing skills and feel more confident to face the mic. But there is so much to learn!

Please do not wait, get into YPN. It’s a store house of writing challenges and poetry opportunities and all for free!

Poem by Iona Mandal (first published by The Poetry Society as a Foyle Young Poet in 2020), illustrations by Chris Riddell.

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

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