Take Note: Bloodaxe Archive Challenge #4

In our final challenge with the Bloodaxe Archive, we’re asking you to pay attention – almost as if you were making your own archive. Note down and photograph your week, and use the materials you gather to create a new poem(s). Find out more…

This challenge is now closed. Congratulations to the winners, whose poems you can read in the sidebar. Congratulations, too, to the longlisted poets whose work impressed the judges: Emma Barclay, Joyce Chen, Jack Cooper, Miriam Culy, Eleanor Fullwood, Rachael Harris, Matilda Houston-Brown, Tallulah Howarth, Nadia Lines, Amber Marino, Marina McCready, Em Quinton, Abigail Rosario, Ella Standage, Ella Stanton, Elspeth Wilson and Alannah Young.
Carolyn Forché’s notebooks

The challenge: For one week, keep a notebook and/or photograph objects every day, to inspire a short poem(s) of up to 20 lines.

‘As a child, I kept a diary that had a small lock. It became a notebook of secret thoughts. Later, I began carrying small notebooks around with me wherever I went. In them, I captured the moments of my day: something I saw or heard, images, pressed leaves or petals, sketches and doodles. I wrote in pencil so it would be easy to erase, but I never erased.

These notebooks helped me to remember my days and the words and phrases that had occurred to me, and these sometimes helped to inspire my poems. Eventually, I began writing in them: poems, fragments, notes and stories. I have over one hundred and fifty little notebooks now. Keeping them has become part of my writing process.’

Carolyn Forché, poet and author

We’ve been inspired by Carolyn Forché’s method of gathering materials for her poems: recording snippets of conversations, interesting images, and even collecting physical objects like pressed flowers. She’s almost creating an archive of her every day. Collecting things like this is a way of noticing, of paying attention, and this will reward you with detailed and precise poems.

So, for this last Bloodaxe Archive challenge, we’re asking you to record your week in a similar way, to inspire a new poem or poems.

The challenge

Step 1

Record your week! There are a couple of ways you can do this:

Keep a notebook for a week. Record your thoughts, ideas, dreams, experiences, interesting things you overhear or read in a physical notebook, or on a phone, computer or other device. You can also collect small objects, like Carolyn Forché does.

What you write down doesn’t have to be profound, or even interesting – if you’re struggling to begin, write down what you did that day. Summarise a conversation you had. Record a quote from a book, the internet, a friend. Just try to write something down every day.


Take photos of objects during the week. You might like to capture objects that you use daily like a toothbrush, or which mean a lot to you or another person, or are unusual in their colour or texture. Try photographing something so close-up you almost can’t tell what it is.

You can use a phone, device or camera – they don’t have to be printed out – and you can interpret the word ‘object’ however you like. You can also draw pictures of objects, or cut out pictures from magazines or newspapers if you like.

Stuck? Take a photo of water (in any form) every day. Or something green. Or your shoes. Or your dinner. You don’t have to keep to a pattern though – follow what intrigues you and gather as much material as you can.

Step 2

At the end of the week, look back through what you’ve gathered. Do any of the objects you’ve photographed remind you of any of your written thoughts or dreams? Put the photos in different orders: could you tell a story from them?

Step 3

Write your poem(s) inspired by your week’s records. We recommend reading poems from the Bloodaxe Archive about objects to spark off some ideas (see below) – but your poem can be any kind of response to your notebook and objects.

Each poem must be no longer than twenty lines. Here are some prompts to get you started…

  • Add a person to the mix. Are they using it, looking at it, destroying it, the owner of it? Are they a book/TV/film character, a celebrity or someone you know, or someone totally invented? How do they feel about the object and why?
  • Put an object in an unusual setting. A handbag on the moon. Why is it there?
  • Describe an object for a Martian. How can you make someone who’s never seen a shoe understand what a shoe is? (Read ‘A Martian Sends a Postcard Home’ for more of an idea.)
  • Start a poem with a phrase from your notebook. Make every line in your poem end with a different object you photographed. You can edit this later but it’s a good way to force yourself to include concrete imagery!
  • Define all the objects you have and then make it strange!
    • What is the purpose of each object? What does it smell/taste/feel/sound/look like? e.g. This glove is an item of clothing that keeps my hands warm in the winter. This tree is a tall plant with a hard trunk…
    • Now replace the names of the objects with something you wrote about that week in your notebook, e.g. My dad is an item of clothing that keeps my hands warm in the winter. He is a tall plant with a hard trunk.
    • Now edit it so it makes a bit more sense, e.g. My dad keeps my hands warm in the winter, or try making a list poem out of all the definitions, e.g. My dad is: …

Get inspired by the Bloodaxe Archive

See how other poets have done it by searching the treasure trove that is the Bloodaxe Archive.

  1. Go to ncl.ac.uk and click on the icon ‘Words’.
  2. On the drop-down menu, explore the archive through the theme of ‘material’.
  3. Words related to ‘material’ will now appear at the bottom of the page. Choose one of the object words, such as ‘Paper’ or ‘Wood’ to find a poem.

  1. On the map of interconnecting dots, choose a poem which features your chosen object, or at random! Read on and get inspired…

Two examples

Steve Ellis ‘Found on a Junk Stall’ from Home and Away (1987)

What is the significance of the notebook found in the junk stall? What histories do your photographed objects contain?

 Found on a Junk Stall A thirties schoolbook of Standard French Poets, card-covered, ink-creased. In the front the motto-crowned ladder of signatures shows the notes on the poems are Dorothy’s, a few soft scrawls in the margins in the same loose hand as her name: ancient wisdom she’d taken down to knit into essays and hand back in. I can see the classroom as she writes: the dense weight of a pre-war summer drenching the rows of bent heads, a teacher talking and a pen scratching what I read now: ‘Death’s inescapability’, ‘the illusion of hope’; and with hopes of sloughing gymslips for evening-gowns, ‘a poem that shows the inadequacy of Love’. I hope she lived to find these themes good to get marks with but useless for life; that she enjoys life still: the old dear living next door seems happy enough and might be her. Her son’s down now: his car in the drive, the rose-bushes scrupulously circled with plots of lawn, it all looks fine: just as if a child had carefully built the street from a kit (yet mightn’t be trusted not to get bored).


Jackie Kay: ‘Dusting the phone’, from Other Lovers (1993)

How effective are the comparisons of ‘The future’ to ‘a long gloved hand’ or ‘an empty cup’? How could you turn your objects into metaphors?

Keep searching the archive until you find something that inspires you.


Selected poets will be published on Young Poets Network and sent an exclusive Young Poets Network notebook, Bloodaxe poetry books and other goodies, and invited to perform at the prestigious Newcastle Poetry Festival in May 2020. Please note: the 2020 Newcastle Poetry Festival has been cancelled due to the pandemic. We aim to invite the first-prize winner of this challenge to the 2021 festival.

How to enter

This challenge is for writers aged up to 25 based anywhere in the world (though we can’t pay international expenses to attend the poetry festival). The deadline is midnight, Monday 20 April 2020. You can send a poem written down, or a recording as a video or as an audio file. If you are sending a written version of your poem, please type it into the body of your email. If you are sending a video or audio file, please attach it to the email (making sure it’s no bigger than 4MB or it won’t come through) or send us a link to where we can see/hear it. You can enter as many poems as you like, and you can include as much of your notebooks and photos as you’d like to.

Send your poem(s) to [email protected] with the subject line ‘Bloodaxe Archive challenge #4’, along with your name, date of birth/age, gender, the county (or, if you’re not from the UK, the country) you live in, and how you found out about this challenge (e.g. YPN email/Twitter/Instagram/through a teacher/through a friend etc.). This data is used for statistical purposes and help us reach as wide an audience as possible. These anonymised statistics will be shared with our partner Newcastle University.

If you are aged 12 or younger on Monday 20 April 2020, you will need to ask a parent/guardian to complete this permission form; otherwise, unfortunately we cannot consider your entry due to data protection laws.

We welcome entries from schools and youth groups. Use this class entry form to enter students from your class or group.

The Poetry Society offices are currently closed and staff are working from home. Please do not post entries during this time. If you are having trouble submitting, please email [email protected]

If you would like us to add you to the Young Poets Network mailing list, include ‘add me to the mailing list’ in the subject line of the email. If you would like us to confirm that we’ve received your entry, include ‘confirm receipt’ in the subject line. You may refuse to provide information about yourself.

You might also want to enter this poem in the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award, with a chance to win some amazing prizes and further development opportunities. We can do that for you. If you are aged 11-17 on 31 July 2020 and would like us to automatically enter your poem into the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award, please write in the subject line ‘Enter me into Foyle’ and provide us with your date of birth, school name (if applicable) and home address (so we can send you a Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award anthology next year) in the body of the email. Please note: published work is not eligible for entry into the Foyle Award, so winners and commended YPN challenge poems will not be entered into the Foyle Award.

By entering, you give permission for Young Poets Network, The Poetry Society and Newcastle University to reproduce your poem in print and online in perpetuity, though copyright remains with you. Please do be sure to check through the general Terms and Conditions for YPN challenges as well.

If you require this information in an alternative format (such as Easy Read, Braille, Large Print or screenreader friendly formats), or need any assistance with your entry, please contact us at [email protected].

Published March 2020

2 thoughts on “Take Note: Bloodaxe Archive Challenge #4

  1. Hello,I am Aman. I am curious that whether I have to write a poem on each day of my recorded week or I have to write a single poem collectively on the whole week?

    1. Hi Aman,

      Thanks for your comment. Either is fine! It would be super impressive if you wrote a poem every day in your chosen week, but absolutely not necessary. We look forward to receiving your poem(s)!

      Best wishes,

      Helen at Young Poets Network

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