The August Challenges: #1 – Edgelands

The August challenges are designed by Foyle Young Poets to send you into a fever of creativity over the summer. First off, four-time-Foyler Magnus Dixon takes us to the rich, mysterious edges of our familiar places…

image by Tama66

In this August challenge, I would like you to take me on a journey to your edgelands, the forgotten and abandoned spaces inside or on the peripheries of your villages, towns or cities. The word “edgelands” – coined by Marion Shoard in 2002 – describes the unkempt transition zone between the urban and the rural. Robert Macfarlane, writer and word hoarder, describes “edgeland” as:

“the debatable space where city and countryside fray into one another. They comprise jittery, jumbled, broken ground: brownfield sites and utilities infrastructure, crackling substations and pallet depots, transit hubs and sewage farms, scrub forests and sluggish canals, allotments and retail parks, slackened regulatory frameworks and guerilla ecologies.”

Why You?

As young people, we are the natural custodians of the edgelands. As children, we build dens in their woods and play football in their scrubland. As teenagers, we use them as an escape from exams and a busier life; in the edgelands, nobody watches you and you can be yourself. As young adults we go to them in our cars – our high miler Seat Ibizas or rusting Peugot 206s; we eat takeaways overlooking the water, or ratchet up the volume of our aux-plumbed stereos.

The edgelands have been written about most notably by former Foyle Young Poet judge Michael Symmons Roberts and Paul Farley in their collection of essays simply entitled Edgelands. However, never has a body of work been produced by the custodians of the edgelands themselves. I would love to collate a poetic map of some of these unnamed but beloved spaces, to chart their secret histories, their landscapes and their emotional attachments to young poets worldwide.

How to Approach This Challenge

The challenge is to write a poem about (or situated in) your local edgelands, the places you are deeply familiar with. If you like, you could also send a photograph or drawing of these liminal spaces.

The competition will be judged based on the quality of your poems, so don’t worry about your artistic skills or photographic finesse. The pictures are just to get a richer map of the places that are, or have been, important to you. When all entries are collected, we will have charted the uncharted, through a poetic map more detailed and richer than any before it.

image by vschoenpos

How To Go About It?

Take a short trip to your local edgeland(s), taking a notebook and a camera or phone. Write down everything you see, smell, hear, touch and (if you’re filled with a sense of adventure or even just a casual disregard for basic hygiene) taste. What you’re writing doesn’t have to be poetry, just words and images that come into your head. If you get stuck, regain your flow by writing words that rhyme with an image you have just written until you come up with something different. Picture yourself as a junkyard scavenger, take as much raw material with you as you can. Additionally, you can take pictures or sketch a few drawings to remind yourself of particular details that might help with metaphors or similes in your poem.

Now look at what you’ve written, and star or circle your favourite images or phrases, the ones that most strongly transport you back to your chosen place. Then use these images or words as the backbone of your fledging poem and start writing.

Once you think you’ve finished, show your poem to someone, a parent, a teacher or even a friend who knows the place and space of your poem as well as you. Ask them for feedback and advice, and don’t be squeamish when editing or paring back the poem into its most brawny form. Editing is a crucial part of being a poet: you want the poem to be as powerful and passionate as the landscape it describes.

This is your opportunity to map the unmapped and to reveal the unseen. I look forward to reading all your entries!

How to enter

This challenge is now closed. Thank you to everyone who entered this challenge. You can read the winning poems on the left hand side of this page. Judge Magnus Dixon would also like to pass on the following note:

“When setting the challenge, I did not expect to be blessed by the sheer volume of poems entered.  I read through them all, hungrily, in one sitting when the deadline closed.  I was looking for poems that took me somewhere, that allowed me to feel and explore a place and believe I was really there.  Then I left them for a week and read through them again, pen in hand, writing all over them and circling lines that jumped out at me, starring potential poems.  Most of the starred poems were the ones that I had remembered and had stayed with me over the course of the week.  By the end of that process I had 15 poems, all vivid and beautifully crafted.  I left them again and when I returned, I looked for poems that stood out from the others, that had a quirk or a facet that made me think, or made me stop to reread.  This was the process by which I whittled down my winners.

Judging the challenge has been an amazing experience, I thought every single poem was amazing, and I feel incredibly lucky to have caught glimpses of other people’s edgelands from across the globe.”


Magnus will choose a handful of winning poems to be published on Young Poets Network and be sent an exclusive Young Poet’s Network notebook.

Magnus Dixon is 16 and was a Foyle Young Poet in 2013, 2014 and 2015 as well as being a commended poet in 2016. He can usually be found in the edgelands of Cruden Bay, a former fishing village in the north east of Scotland, where he writes, thinks, runs and walks his dog.  He is incredibly excited to set the Edgelands challenge and looks forward to reading the entries!

Published August, 2017

2 thoughts on “The August Challenges: #1 – Edgelands

  1. Hi, I’m writing about a small patch of forest near my home. Can I write about the future of the place, even if I don’t know it?
    Love the idea of the challenge. It feels like a well loved secret when writing about the little hidden places.
    p.s. sorry for the late comment.

    1. Hi Freya,

      Sorry for the late reply! Obviously the deadline is now unfortunately passed, but for future reference: you can interpret the theme of any challenge however you want, and of course you can write about something you don’t know for certain about.

      We hope to receive an entry from you in another challenge soon. Our fourth August challenge for under-15s is still open:
      And so is the Timothy Corsellis Prize for poems and essays inspired by WWII poets:

      Best wishes,

      Helen at Young Poets Network

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *