“They Really Care”: YPN at 10

It’s Young Poets Network’s tenth birthday! Today we hear from three poets who discovered YPN at the start of their journey and have since found even more success as adult writers, winning prizes, publishing their first books and (most importantly) building communities.

Fathima Zahra

Fathima Zahra gesturing as she performs a poem
Photo: Suzi Corker

I came across a flyer for Young Poets Network at UniSlam in 2018. I didn’t know of many places to send my work to or resources for editing poems, tips on submitting etc. then and was pretty excited to have come across it.

The writing challenges were well curated – every time I was feeling blocked, I’d look up one of the challenges and it would push me to read more poems and curate a game to try a new form/ themes in my work. The brief and range of ideas were always relevant, interesting and pointed to new directions. I gained confidence in my editing skills and started submitting to other competitions and magazines that I wouldn’t have before.

I got the chance to read my poem at the Moon Festival in 2019 and got to meet other YPNers. It was the first time I was meeting these poets in person, after having read their work for months. It was pretty cool to see everyone, listen to their poems and have my parents and friends turn up to support.

YPN has got everything – whether you’d like to read new poems, find resources on writing or find free writing challenges to submit to, YPN’s incredibly resourceful and has been an immense space of support and encouragement that was crucial to me in my journey. I’m now doing an MA in Creative Writing and Education at Goldsmiths in London and am working on my debut pamphlet, forthcoming with ignitionpress this August.

Fathima Zahra standing with other young poets and Poetry Society members in front of a sign saying "Moon Festival"

Rachel Lewis

I found out about Young Poets Network after being a Foyle Young Poet. I’ve won three YPN challenges, but specifically after one of them as part of the prize my poem was professionally recorded and set to a film made for the poem. This was an amazing final product to have to showcase my work and a huge confidence boost. The whole experience was brilliant and made me feel like a professional poet for the first time. I still sometimes send people the link to introduce them to what I do and it was 5 years ago now!

YPN also put my poem on a cupcake once which I loved, and guest tutoring a workshop series for YPN aged 25 was really fun and helped me develop my facilitation practice as well.

If you’re thinking about getting involved in YPN, definitely do it, without hesitation. YPN has helped me take myself seriously as a writer, for which I’ll be forever grateful. They really care about developing new writers and they’ll be able to help you regardless of whether you’re just starting writing or have been writing for years. 

Rachel Lewis looks to one side in front of some greenery
Photo: Christy Ku

My debut poetry pamphlet, Three Degrees of Separation, explores my experiences of love, loss and joy in recovery from long-term mental illness. The pamphlet won the 2019 Wordsmith Prize and was published with Wordsmith HQ, and you can grab a copy here. I’m now working on a second collection exploring my family’s history as Jews in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. I’m also a workshop facilitator and regularly run free writing sessions open to anyone – you can follow me @rachel_lewis_poet on Instagram, @rachellewispoet on twitter or subscribe to my newsletter to stay updated on these.

Jerrold Yam

Jerrold Yam leans on a brightly lit up window, the rest of the room is starkly black
Photo: Justin Ong

I got involved in Young Poets Network during my first year of university in 2013. I was looking for a poetry resource and community aimed at young writers, with which I could grow and challenge myself. I’m very thankful to have found a community in YPN, and to be involved in the various challenges and activities it has organised over the years. YPN taught me to take my time with the writing process, exploring different subjects, forms and perspectives – it’s not a journey to publication but refinement. It’s the single most relevant, multi-faceted, structured and expansive resource for young writers no matter the goal.

Besides “working with language” as a corporate lawyer in London, I’ve been continuing to write poems about family, religion, and sexuality. My poems have been published, or are forthcoming in places such as Ambit, Wasafiri and Prairie Schooner, and three poetry collections published in Singapore (where I’m from) by Math Paper Press and Ethos Books.

Book cover for Jerrold Yam's collection 'Intruder'. A stylised drawing of a a knife slicing a loaf of bread on a blue tableWriting is such an adventure – it’s brought me to events and people I never thought I’d get the chance to meet, much less form friendships with. They remind me that writing is fundamentally about communication and connection, beyond a list of publications and prizes. I’m very grateful to YPN for the opportunities, experiences and nurturing over the years.

Jerrold’s latest collection, Intruder (Ethos Books) is available now. www.jerrold-yam.com / @yam.biguity

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

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