Diary of a Foyle Young Poet at Arvon, February 2014

Tales from this year's week-long residential course at the Arvon Centre, Shropshire, from one of the lucky winners of the 2013 competition, 13 year old Magnus Dixon from Aberdeenshire:

“The greatest pleasure was hearing work by others. Everyone was so good, yet voices were so different. It was strange but wonderful. What the inspirational Arvon course has done is changed us into better poets and life-long friends. I plan to submit as many poems as I can to Foyle Young Poets until I am 17, hoping I can go back to the Hurst one day.”


I saw everybody for the first time coming off the train at Craven Arms and felt a thrill of excitement. It was dark and rainy so it was quite hard to recognise the fellow prizewinners. However, as we filed onto the coach I began to notice some unfamiliar faces. One, I supposed, was Ian who (coming from America) had not been at the prizegiving in London. However on the coach everyone chatted happily to each-other as if we'd been friends for years.

When we arrived at the Hurst it was pitch-black, so I could not see any of the surroundings or much of the outside of the building. Stepping inside the house, I was struck by how spacious and beautiful the interior was. I saw a sweeping staircase to the left and several vast thick doors either side. My room was in a huge L shape with a beautiful wooden desk in the corner beneath a large window. I imagined living there and felt a rush of excitement. I retrieved a notebook and pencil and returned to the others.

First we did some fun exercises, thinking of adjectives and abstract nouns. Then we were put into teams. I was in a team with Phoebe, Alex (whom I later found out was from Newcastle) and Jessica. With the adjectives and abstract nouns (and Phoebe's punk influences) we gave ourselves a name, 'the Panic Bats'. We were given sheet of paper with 3 book covers and blurbs photocopied on. We were then asked to write the first 50 words of each novel as a group. I am pround to say that we, the glorious Panic Bats, won!

We had tea, a curry, and talked. Finally, we traipsed upstairs and talked and laughed in Phoebe's room, which was brilliant as I really got to know pleople. I was surprised at how friendly people were and arranged to go with Imogen for an early morning walk the next day.


I woke early to an incessant alarm, but sprang out of bed despite the long journey and late night the previous day. The walk was beautiful. As we dodged pines felled by the storms of the past months we tried not to trample the thick carpet of snowdrops. On the hilltops a mist rolled off the fields and as the sun rose I began to see the real beauty of my surroundings. I even wrote a poem which, though quite bad, was enjoyable to write.

The workshops which started at ten were awe-inspiring. The first workshop with David for the first part focused on bird song, its meaning and rhythm, which was intriguing. The second half was dialect themed. Both the local dialect of the part of Shropshire we were in and the dialects particular to ourselves. Almost at once the effect of the workshop was profound and the process and finished work more fluid.

In the afternoon we wrote and edited and wrote more, pumped by the workshop, while the first group cooked tea which was a delicious spiced chicken. After tea the tutors gave readings, really interesting and different.

Afterwards, Ian hosted a kind of poetry surgery in his room with Alex, Surya, Grace, Imogen, and I where we annotated and gave feedback on each other's poems. It was so good to hear so many diverse voices. (Who wants to hear an orchestra of seven saxophones?) It was such a shame to go to bed. Who needs sleep?


Imogen and I woke early in the morning to trek to Clun. To get to Clun you walk up a long slope to the side of the valley, go for another two miles before stumbling down the hill along another potholed lane. You arrive in the fabled village only to discover nothing is open apart from a village shop that smells vaguely of must and cats where you can reward your efforts with an out-of-date Toblerone before walking all the way back. It was still fun despite feeling the need for a leg transplant halfway home.

Anyhow, after a glorious breakfast the second workshop, taught by Jane, was quite different from David's. Jane scattered a selection of postcards on the table and told us to pick two. I picked 'Penguin Scooter Handbook' and a very dark one depicting Londons flood defences . We then wrote about one of them and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of my work.

After a fabulous evening reading by our one of our judges, Hannah Lowe, my room became host to a caffeine fuelled bedlam with Alex, Surya, Grace, Imogen, Cat and Phoebe. By 12 Alex went to bed, by one everyone wanted to stay, by three we decided to sleep tomorrow and by 6 we had half an hour to sleep and it was time to wake up again.


Tripping downstairs squinting in the bright light I decided it was time to make a mug of something hot and full of cafeine before the workshop.

The workshop was with David once more and we learned about 'Guerilla Poetry', composing our own 'Guerilla Poems'. Mine was a poem about gambling, inspired by Hannah's reading the night before, which I glued to the joker in a deck of cards I left behind at the Hurst. We also learned about diverse poetic forms such as: blues, ghazal and a ballad.

After the workshop I slept for an hour, then had my one-to-one- tutorial with Jane which was really helpful. Afterwards our group prepared tea of sausages, mash and apple and bramble crumble. The best ever! Then I slept . . .


The final workshop with Jane was enlightening. We were finding the right form for an idea, which really made several things clear to me. We were put in groups and told to describe a journey to each other, then write about it. The poem I produced felt fresh and new in my hands, which was a great feeling.

Later, walking to Clun with Laura, Jenny and Esme, we met a cohort of rebellious sheep on the return journey, nibbling well-loved gardens, hedges, shrubbery and ornamental leaves. As we crossed the street, bemused, they they started leaping and gallopping ahead of us for the most part of the way home. Fortunately we met a farmer who, with his sheepdog, herded them into a field. It was a weird experience.

In the afternoon we created our group's anthology. Esme and I designed the front cover and helped order the poems on the wall with blu-tack. The ordering on the wall, by the time we finished, looked like a surreal art exhibition.

That night we all read out our poetry of the week. I felt happy at reading my poems, but also a little melancholy as it was the last evening at the Hurst. I had one I had only finished an hour earlier and was keen to read it. However, the greatest pleasure was hearing work by others. Everyone was so good, yet voices were so different. It was strange but wonderful


We woke before dawn so we could walk up the hill and see the sun rise. It was beautiful. As we walked back to the Hurst, we all felt sad at leaving what had become our 'home' and 'family'. What the inspirational Arvon course has done is changed us into better poets and life-long friends. I plan to sumbmit as many poems as I can to Foyle Young Poets until I am 17, hoping I can go back to the Hurst one day..

Diary of a Foyle Young Poet at Arvon, February 2013

Tales from this year's week-long residential course at the Arvon Centre, Shropshire, from one of the lucky winners of the 2012 competition, Conor Mckee from Tonbridge.

"The week was a fantastic opportunity, enhancing my understanding of both the theory and practice of writing; yet perhaps the most important opportunity of all was the ability to meet other young people with whom I could share my passion for reading and writing poetry."


After a long train journey I finally arrive at the Hurst in Shropshire. We are given some time to explore the site. David and I settle into the ‘Beowulf’ room and enjoy our newfound heroic status. Meanwhile, Abby is somewhat more concerned by her room and its proximity to the ‘weeping angels’ having watched too much Doctor Who. After eating an excellent meal prepared by the centre staff we convene in the Ted Hughes room for a talk setting out the ground rules and introducing everybody. For some reason or other I commit to editing the group’s anthology as well as to making pancakes for the entire group. This is followed by a discussion about what we want to accomplish from the week; the general consensus is that we want a better grasp of form. I decide my aim is to write some verse in Terza Rima by the end of the week. Christopher explains the history of the Hurst and the potential for ghost poetry. Naturally, the subject exacerbates Abby’s paranoia about the weeping angels waiting to pounce on the dark journey to the main house! After some thought about the ghostly hoots of Shropshire owls Sarah, Flora and I discuss the similarities between David Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks’ and the Hurst.

J'aime le train: setting off                                                            Arrival at Clun



I get up early driven by the desire for pancakes and some very dark coffee. I discover Christopher and Helen have already been out on a walk and a run respectively and feel a little less proud about my early start. With some help from Emily and David I produce the worlds lumpiest pancake batter and set to work on some rather uneven pancakes. I manage to (just about) flip one but conclude that the art is far too risky for me. We then assemble at 10:00 for a workshop in the studio. We write about location and discover the power that distance can have when recounting our experience of a particular location. We also look at the ability to change the focus of a poem, reading ‘Barnsley is a Tuscan Hill Village’ by Ian McMillan where the introduction of Ian’s whippet ‘Luigi’ is used to shift the energy of the poem. I have my first tutorial with Christopher at 2:30 and we discuss a number of pieces that I wrote before the trip.  I spend a couple of hours struggling to write a ghost poem about Thomas Hardy in Terza Rima before postponing for dinner. In the evening we hear Chrisopher and Helen read some of their own poetry. I am inspired to give Terza Rima another go after hearing a section of Christopher’s work “Airs and Ditties of No-Man’s Land” written effortlessly in this form. Helen continues the whippet theme with her poem “The Dogs”.

The Old Clock House                                                               Workshopping in the Foyle Barn



I perfect my pancake technique remembering to beat the batter properly this time! Today’s workshop proves perhaps the most interesting of the course. We deal with form, in particular the sonnet and its distinctive use of the tern (or ‘whippet moment’ as it was fast becoming known). We looked at a great many poems including “We’ll Go No More a Roving” by Lord Byron and “You’re” by Plath. We were invited to invent our own form and a rationale for its creation. The group came up with a wide variety of inventive structures ranging from my wave with poem with a rising and falling syllabic count to Phoebe’s pyramid poem and Colin’s poem which rhymed the words at the start of a line instead of the end. Following the workshop I complete my Hardy poem converting it into a Terza Rima Sonnet. I have less time to write than usual as it was my group’s chance to cook. Eager to outdo the other groups and impress our guest writer Rhian Edwards, we added garlic bread to the menu, and Flora decorated the table with origami and the tiramisu with a chocolate powder whippet. Rhian proves an excellent guest and impressive reader integrating her poetry (all of which she recited from memory) with songs set to a ukulele.


Evening session with cake and creativity                              Lunchtime with words. And a pig. 



After the customary pancake and coffee fuelled start we are introduced to a filming team who will be observing this morning’s workshop. The workshop is far freer than usual and we are looking at a number of poems which begin with everyday actions (such as Jo Shapcott’s ‘Procedure’) and try a self portrait poem. Even with the cameras on the atmosphere remains as relaxed and enjoyable as ever. Later in the day after some writing time we have individual interviews on camera. I also have my tutorial with Helen, where I further work on my sonnet. Dinner has an absurdist theme with statements about the pretentiousness of art and the juxtaposition of poetic sentences with fruit. Kathryn manages to outdo Flora’s whippet with one twice the size stencilled in icing sugar on the chocolate pudding. In the evening we meet to read our favourite poems in the Ted Hughes room. I select T.S. Eliot’s ‘Journey of the Magi’ .It is an experience which introduces me to a number of writers I had never encountered before as well as reminding me of a few old favourites. Clare fittingly read the Hughes poem ‘Horses’. Afterwards, Sarah, Flora and I (later joined by David) decided to make hot chocolate the ‘old fashioned way’ with cocoa whilst others watched ‘A Knights Tale’. The trouble was, we weren’t entirely sure on the proportions of cocoa and milk and ended up making a beverage that tasted of sawdust and had the consistency of slurry.

 The beautiful blue remembered hills                                      The infamous icing sugar 


My pancake technique is now at its finest and demand has risen to such a level that I need more than twice as much batter. We are all surprised at how fast the week has passed realising that this is our last day. The main task is to form the anthology. Flora and I set a 2:00 p.m. deadline but inevitably decide to postpone it for a final adventure to Clun. Tally decides to disappear and hide then we all enjoy a moment of internet access in the Tea Room. Afterwards, Clare, Flora, David and I collect the necessary poems for the Anthology. I set to work formatting the work till interrupted by dinner. As this is our final night we all read our finished poems to the group and conduct a mock award ceremony in which I was pronounced ‘domestic goddess’ for my pancake making skills. Eventually, we continue the heroic anthology effort with Emily and I working until 4:00 a.m. to complete it ready for printing in the morning. Kathryn provides a beautiful cover for the collection which we decided to call ‘The Whippet Moment’.

 Getting to know the locals                                                     Afternoon stroll. With much knitwear.


After a good three hours of sleep I get up in order to print the anthology. We need fifteen copies before 10:00 a.m. so this is quite rushed and sadly there is no time for pancakes. We say a solemn goodbye to each other and to the Hurst, then set off on our long journeys home.

Diary of a Foyle Young Poet at Arvon, February 2012

Tales from this year's week-long residential course at the Arvon Centre, Shropshire, from one of the lucky winners of the 2011 competition, Safrina Ahmed from Birmingham.

"A huge thank you for this opportunity: I can safely say being part of Foyle Young Poets has allowed creativity sweep across my life like rain, and honestly transform it."


After four hours of travelling, a lot of confusion and the realisation that Shropshire is VERY dark in the evenings, I arrive at the Hurst with Ruth, Emma, Polly, Flora and Jenny. We are greeted by the rest of our fellow Foyle winners, the tutors Glyn Maxwell and Imitiaz Dharker, as well as our loco parentis Jo Colley and Colin Watts. We are then shown to our rooms by Peter Salmon, the Hurst’s centre director, and told dinner will be ready by 6:30pm. After a delicious dinner (‘hippy food’ according to Matt), we are ushered in the Ted Hughes’ Room ( ‘The Hughsie’) to be told house rules etc, and I begin to realise Peter’s voice can make anything sound interesting. We are then left to explore the wealth of books available, and let our excitement settle even further for the night.

Glyn and Safrina reading through some work on the final evening


I get up early, and force Eleanor, Jenny, Ruth, Emma, Amanda and Joel to come for a very brief walk around the Hurst’s grounds with me, which eventually ends up with us spending the majority of our time staring at the Hurst’s horse Merlin. We then assemble in to the Hurst’s homely dining room for breakfast, and are whisked off to Glyn Maxwell’s workshop in the Foyle Studio.

Glyn’s workshop begins with us all staring at a white piece of paper (‘the white space!!!’). He then explains the impact of line breaks and a well assembled structure and it suddenly makes sense why I’m staring at a piece of white A4 paper, and that this man is very wise. We are then instructed to individually write the ‘first line’ of a poem, and Glyn chooses one specific line, which was ‘I could sink with weight of sleep’. We continue to write the rest of this poem, right up until lunch which is at 12:30pm.

After lunch we are told that there will be time slots available for individual tutor sessions with both Glyn and Imitiaz, and that the rest of the afternoon is free. I spend the rest of my afternoon polishing old pieces of work, and creating new pieces too.

At 6:30pm, we again, arrive in the dining room for a dinner prepared by our fellow Foylers and are told there will be a reading from our tutors Imtiaz and Glyn. The readings are both beautiful and eye-opening, as they truly depict what the human voice can add to a poem, and I begin to truly feel at home at this place.


Like Tuesday, we are given the opportunity to attend another wonderful workshop, which this time is led by Imtiaz Dharker. Imtiaz instructs us to write the first two lines of a poem, and pass it onto someone else to finish. At first, this seems daunting, and it feels like you are giving a stranger not a set of words, but something very precious and priceless. However, once we read out what we have produced, the process doesn’t seem scary at all, but is actually an eye opening experience, and one that illustrates that as writers, our voices are so vibrant and unique. After a short tea break, we continue with the second half of the workshop, which consists moving to the the Hurst’s lake. Imtiaz asks us to write about the lake- how it inspires us, how we perceive it, what it reminds us of, and it very soon becomes evident that although presented with the same image, as writers, the direction of our work varies greatly.

After the workshop and another huge lunch, I continue to edit my ‘lake poem’, get to know my fellow Foylers even more, and then, meet with imtiaz for our one on one session. During the 30 minute session, I read some of my work to Imtiaz (who thought it’d ever happen?) and feel a shade of luck only possible to feel at a place somewhere like this

After dinner, we have a guest reader, Frances Leviston. Frances reads a few pieces from her Public Dream collection, as well as some of her new work. She reads with an accuracy and confidence that you cannot help be hooked by, and leave feeling that bit more inspired.

Foylers having a candlelit chat with Guest reader Francis Leviston


As Thursday begins, so does another workshop. This time led by Glyn Maxwell, we start by dissecting a number of poems and discussing the merits they each possess, such as form, line breaks and language, and how these variables can help to achieve greater feeling for the reader.  A short tea break later, we start on the second half of the workshop, which consists of  a writing exercise involving a pack of playing cards. We are each given a card, and what is on each card dictates certain variables in the poem (e.g. hearts = alone in a room, 2 = hot weather). It is an interesting exercise, and one that definitely helped me understand how to move from event to event within a poem without sacrificing any emotion.

We continue writing and editing until lunch, where we are told one to one sessions will continue. I book a session with Glyn for a few hours later, and begin to piece together the work I would like to include in the Foyle Arvon Week Anthology. After lots of editing, coffee, and biscuits later, my session with Glyn arrives. I show him a collection of my work, and like Imtiaz did, he provides me with feedback that is invaluable. We focus mainly on the structure of a piece, as well as creating a fitting ending for a poem. Despite calling my work ‘cute’, I leave once again, more inspired than I thought was possible.

 After dinner, we are given the chance to read some of our favorite poems to one another in the ‘Hughsie’. I choose Japanese poet Akiko Yasono, as her work, although usually focused on the traditional subject of love, is innovative and unconventional for her time. It feels wonderful to be in a room full of like minded people, and to be surrounded by so much poetry. This is definitely one of those moments you want to fold in to the creases of your skin.


Today is Friday, meaning it is anthology day. We all print out the pieces we’ve been creating and refining, as well as a very strange but wonderful front cover Joel Lipson drew. Myself, Ruth and Flora then begin to start photocopying the anthology, and despite a lot of rage, they come out looking great, and in the end everyone helps put the anthology together, especially as we faced the emergency that is a paper shortage.

 As previously mentioned, today is Friday. Meaning it is also my cooking day. At 4:30pm, I head to the kitchen with Ruth and Jenny, and with the unofficial help of Colin, cook a very decent meal, despite feeling nauseous after ‘sampling’ everything.

 After dinner, we assemble, for the last time, in the Hughsie where we read the work included in the anthology. The anthology is packed full of personal poems ,lake poems, poems dedicated to Glyn Maxwell, and poems dedicated to our home towns. As I hear my fellow Foylers read, I notice that this experience is one that will forever thread us together, and it seems like a very appropriate time to say a huge thank you for this opportunity: I can safely say being part of Foyle Young Poets has allowed creativity sweep across my life like rain, and honestly transform it. I recommend this competition to every young writer who may not necessarily have a huge passion for poetry, but a passion for being heard.

Diary of a Foyle Young Poet at Arvon, February 2011 

Tales from this year's week-long residential course at the Arvon Centre, Shropshire, from one of the lucky winners of the 2010 competition, Sara Henry from Connecticut, USA.

"This journey has been transforming and surreal....I would wish it on anyone with a passion for this craft, and encourage all young writers to submit to this competition while the chance still remains"

The group sharing their work at the Hurst Arvon Centre, Shropshire Feb 2011.


I arrive with Sherrie, Evie, Ameerah, and Daisy at the Hurst late, feeling soaked with both melatonin and adrenaline. The day’s journey from the States was long, but as I drag my embarrassingly large blue suitcase over the threshold and see the other Foylers sitting around the dining room table, I cannot help but feel excited. I meet everyone, including our tutors, Jane Draycott and Luke Kennard, and our in loco parentis, Jo Colley and Colin Watts, and settle in. After dinner and some chatting, we all congregate in the Ted Hughes’s room and do a hilarious group exercise led by Jane and Luke, which is based on our versions of a novel’s first line.


I get up early, compressing my jet-lag into a small pebble and tucking it away into some dark corner of my skull. At least I hope that’s what I’m doing. I walk into the dining room for breakfast, and am politely and energetically greeted by Dom, Sherrie, and Fergus. The accents—amazing. As I sit down and take in my surroundings with clearer eyes, I notice the Hurst’s—for lack of a better word—hominess. It’s in the worn wooden benches, the row of shoes by the door, the tea kettle nestled on the kitchen counter. I could walk around in my PJ’s here, which in my book is always a good thing.

By 9:30 a.m. we’re all assembled in the Foyle Studio, a rustic building perfumed with poetry books and coffee. There are pens and biscuits on the work table. Jane leads today’s workshop, which focuses on a postcard- inspired exercise. About fifty postcards are arranged behind us on the floor and we each pick one to write about. Mine is entitled “Beggar King” and pictures a haggard, half-naked man leaning forward in a bare chair, enveloped in a royal purple background. After writing for a bit, we go around the table and read our poems-in-progress aloud. For the first time in my life, I am not nervous in this situation.

At 12:30 we break for lunch, a feast including large, unsliced loaves of bread and fresh ham and cheese. After lunch the afternoons is free; free to take a walk to Clun with friends, rest, and edit work. Dinner, happily prepared by four Foylers, is at 6:30 p.m. and we share the meal together as if we’ve known each other for years. And hadn’t we? That’s what this kind of a workshop does to people.

After dinner, we spend our second evening attending a reading by Jane and Luke. Both are marvelous and it’s revealing to hear their work in their own voices. We get plenty of time afterwards to ask them questions about writing and publishing, which they answer with insight. I try and keep my eyes open for as long as possible without blinking, so I can memorize everything that’s going on. I’m joyfully trapped in the moment, every cell in my body awake and listening.

What was I saying about jet-lag?

From L-R : Evie Ioaniddi, Sara Henry, Sarah Lucas, Dom Hale, Fergus Blair discovering the local area


Wednesday generally follows the same recipe as Tuesday, which only leads to good things. The morning workshop is led by Luke, who guides us in one of his specialties, prose-poetry. We complete a number of sequential sentences, the first beginning with “At the edge of the desert I saw…”.  The possibilities of this exercise are endless! Everyone has a completely different, brilliant, and surreal take on it.

After lunch, I meet with Jane for a half hour one-on-one session. It’s eye-opening. I try to collect everything she says like a cloud collecting air vapor. We go over a number of poems and I scribble down her notes on specific pieces and poetry writing in general. I feel deliciously spoiled as I finish redrafting my work by the computers.

Following our glorious homemade dinner, we have the opportunity to hear a reading by our accomplished visiting poet, Jack Underwood. I already have a number of preconceived notions of what he would be like based on his name, which sounds like a poem itself. All these outlines are cast aside, however, when I meet the man himself. He’s a funny, calm, and gifted person, who reads with confidence and precision. We’re cradled by the wine-colored walls of the Ted Hughes room as we sit and listen and learn.


Things carry on as usual, and I already start to dread leaving the Hurst. The morning’s workshop, led by Jane, centers around picking two basic words, such as “Mouse” and “Night” and putting them together as the start of a poem. Jack Underwood stops by for a fond goodbye. We also participate in a prose-poetry exercise introduced by Luke about places and how they get their names. After our tea break, we each write a picture-inspired poem; our inspiration is drawn from a ghostly illustration of an abstract, black-and-white spiral.

A few hours later I have a one-on-one session with Luke, which, like Jane’s, is also invaluable. We go over a number of pieces, focusing both on the overall structure and the nitty-gritty details. His perceptive eye and enthusiasm for my work is extremely encouraging. He suggests a few books which he thinks I would like, and I am later struck by how dead-on he is about my literary taste. I smile to myself, ecstatic, as I type up revised drafts on the computer during the watery afternoon.

 In the evening we all get to read a poem or two of our choice to the group. It’s fantastic reading practice and I can tell we’ve all got that itch to show off our favorite poets. I read “A Blessing” by James Wright, and I have the pleasure of hearing several masterpieces in the voices of my friends. We play card games after the reading, and every once in a while someone’s pen darts out to a pad of paper, inspired.

Fridge poetry.


The last day. Damn. I get up early to print out the (finally) finalized drafts of the pieces I’m submitted for the Foyle Arvon Week Anthology. During workshop, we produce a lot of writing, with one exercise centered on journeys. We pair up and each person tells their partner about a significant journey they have taken. I tell Catherine about my journey to school and she describes her journey to the bus stop in the morning. I love writing about the ordinary parts of living, so this was one of my favorites.

 Today is also my cooking day; Daisy, Evie, and I (with the unofficial help of Colin) set to work on Cottage Pie and Eton Mess. Despite my obvious lack of prowess in the kitchen, dinner turns out just fine, and I enjoy the conversation time with my fellow cooks.  As night falls, dinner is served and the final anthologies are handed out, gorgeously designed by Tessa.  Everyone prepares to read a few poems for the group in the Foyle Studio. I am stunned by the reading; we’ve all produced so much in only a week! It’s a great final thread for our Foyle experience. 

After an electric night of games, talking, and anthology signing, I find myself in bed, packing my suitcase (now dubbed “The Mother”) for the long trip back to the States. I turn over the images of the past week like leaves and tie them together with string. I can’t say which part of the day I like most—morning, afternoon, or evening. In this case, I’ll be satisfied with the mystery. All three are incredible. The mornings are blazingly prolific, the afternoons are restful and reflective, and the evenings are cozy and eventful.

This journey has been transforming and surreal. It’s something which you harbor in your heart for decades, a secret anchor that pins you down and reminds you why you must write. I am so thankful for the life-long companions I have gained, the new techniques I have learned, and the opportunities which have streamed across my life like watercolors. I would wish it on anyone with a passion for this craft, and encourage all young writers to submit to this competition while the chance still remains. 

The 15 Winners spent a week at the Hurst Arvon Centre, in Shropshire - read more about the centre and the Arvon Foundation here www.arvonfoundation.org

Read the 15 Winning poems here or return to the Foyle Homepage


Diary of a Foyle Young Poet at Arvon, 2010

Read all about it in the Independent on Sunday, 7th March 2010, too

 Tales from this year's week-long residential course at the Arvon Centre, from one of the lucky winners of the 2009 competition, Phoebe Power.


I arrived at the Hurst in the evening, and had a chance to chat with the other winners before dinner. We met our tutors, Lemn Sissay and Caroline Bird. After dinner, Caroline led a workshop, setting our creativity in motion by asking us to conjure images of ‘happiness’. Caroline took the best imagery from each of us and put together a brilliant collective poem.


We met in the Ted Hughes room at 9.30, where we were split into two groups. Half of us stayed with Caroline, and the others went with Lemn to the Foyle Studio, a converted barn packed with poetry books. Caroline did a series of exercises with us, including one where we wrote a poem inspired by ‘A Fragrant Cloud’ by James Tate, and another where we imagined a time capsule had been found containing things from our life. At the end of every exercise we read out our work, which gave me more confidence in my writing, and it was interesting to see how others had interpreted the task. We stopped for lunch at 12.30, with a bit of time to relax until 2pm, when the groups swapped and my half worked with Lemn.

In Caroline’s workshop we had written several quite spontaneous poems in a short space of time, whereas Lemn had a different, but equally exciting approach. He led us through the careful craft of a single poem about someone we loved, giving us a structure and rhyme scheme to follow. With Lemn’s help, we teased out the precise nuances we needed. It was wonderful to be given time to explore something very personal, while improving our skills of creating original, powerful imagery. At 4.30 the evening’s cooks got started, while the rest of us chatted, or edited and typed up our work. Each night there was a team of three or four to cook, with the cooks for the following day washing up. Tried-and-tested recipes were used (all delicious), and it was a brilliant way of working with other people, and relaxing with a practical task after a day of thinking. After dinner, Lemn and Caroline performed their work. They were both fantastic, and showed how poetry can swallow an audience with a great performance or reading, even while it works equally well on the page.


A second day of workshops. With Lemn we wrote a poem starting with ‘Let there be…’ with some brilliant work being produced by everyone, including poems based on ‘Let there be Sin’, ‘Let there be Secrecy’ and ‘Let there be Longing’. Caroline gave us another set of tasks, including a poem about our perception of contemporary life that started, ‘I’m being told’. We also did an interesting exercise where Caroline read out a list of unusual words (such as ‘baleful’ and ‘calcium’) and we had to mould a poem around them. It was intriguing to see how the words caused certain ideas to rise to the surface. In the evening a guest poet came to perform, Luke Wright. He performed brilliantly, and like Caroline and Lemn, you could trace his unique style, which encouraged me to write in my own way without worrying, because it was clear how important honesty is in poetry.


There were one-to-one tutorials throughout the day, each lasting half and hour. The tutors were positive, understanding and helpful, scrutinising every piece of work I showed them. During the rest of the day, we had time to work on their suggestions, redraft and edit the poems written in the workshops, print them out and read them to each other. We were also busy flicking through poetry books, finding favourite poems to read after dinner. They were either known from before the course, or discovered during the week, and hearing other people’s choices was an insight into new authors and poems. I read ‘The Circle’ by Don Paterson and ‘You’re’ by Sylvia Plath, which was invaluable practice for reading my own poetry the next evening.


In preparation for later, in the morning Lemn and Caroline ran a performance workshop. Caroline gave us some dramatic phrases such as ‘We need to talk’ to include in an improvised sketch. After half an hour each group performed their piece, and they were all hilarious and imaginative. Lemn and Caroline then gave us lots of advice on reading poetry aloud in front of an audience. In the afternoon were more tutorials, and time to polish our poems ready for the evening. We gave a selection of poems to Melissa, Hannah and Phoebe Walker, who were the ‘curators’ for a special exhibition in the Ted Hughes room. All the furniture was moved, and lengths of string put up. Everyone’s poems were hung from the string or stuck on the wall, and the lights turned off. With a beautiful piece of music by Sibelius playing, everyone entered with torches and read the poems in silence. It was a lovely way to read poetry, and established the perfect atmosphere for the reading that followed.

In the Foyle Studio, everyone read a couple of pieces of their best work. All the poems were phenomenal, and I loved hearing the variety of styles. Afterwards, Lemn and Caroline encouraged us all to continue writing at all costs. They explained the importance of creativity, and their words uplifted and instilled me with new energy for writing.

As well as giving my poetry space to develop, the course also gave me a set of lovely new friends! Poetry is essentially our thoughts and feelings in the truest way we can represent them, and sharing this meant there was a wonderful openness and trust in the group. By the end of the week, I loved everyone and felt as if I had known them all my life. The casual, non-competitive atmosphere made it easy to write honestly without feeling self-conscious, and this was reflected in the work.


Diary of a Foyle Young Poet at Arvon, 2009


Tales from this year's week-long residential course at the Arvon Centre, from one of the lucky winners of the 2008 competition, Michael Kalisch.


First day at the Hurst and it has flown by. We woke up sleepy and groggy - well I did at least after having spent a good deal of the night chatting and getting to know each other a little better. However, we were soon energised, to a point, by the early-rising Ian McMillan, who herded us all into the Foyle Studio (“Don’t call it a barn whatever you do!”) for a morning of poetry exercise and exploration.

From 9.30 till 1(ish), we were treated to an intense workshop consisting of an array of writing exercises, reading and analysis led by the self-styled “good cop-bad cop” duo - say which one is which at your peril - of Eva (Salzman) and Ian. Whilst hard work, this workshop was immensely rewarding, and by the end the majority of us already felt we had the beginning to a promising poem or two. For many of us, myself included, this was the longest period of time we had sat down for just to write poetry - it was a rare and most welcome luxury to be given that space to work.

After the heartiest of hearty lunches we were itching to get to work on the ideas borne out of the morning’s workshop, and we all quickly scuttled off to find a quiet spot from which to work. The beautiful rural setting of the Hurst made finding a tranquil patch outside very easy, and soon, walking through the woodland that surrounds the site, one could see young poets dotted about on hillsides, tree branches and by the lake, busily scribbling in notebooks. Much of the afternoon was left aside for writing, broken up with 20 minute tutorials-or 40 minutes in Eva’s case, who got a little too into it! This proved to be a very sensible and productive arrangement - we were given the freedom to work individually, yet the tutorials also provided structure and focus, giving you something to work towards.

From 4.30, four people are designated to cook the evening’s meal - a recipe for disaster (sorry, awful pun)! Well, judging by the exemplary cuisine served up, most definitely not: truly delicious.

After exploring the vast and diverse collection of books at the Hurst, we gathered in the Ted Hughes Room for the evening’s treat - Ian and Eva reading their own work. What was most interesting was to see the contrast in these two eminent contemporary poets’ work and reading style. Ian’s set, complete with slapstick gags and a sing along chorus, was a hilarious poetic romp, clever, honest and at times poignant. It was arresting to compare the playful joviality of Ian’s verse to the witty, often ironic and understated dynamic of Eva’s work. Personally, having read some of Eva’s poetry before, it was revelation to hear how she delivered her own work. A real treat.


Wednesday, and after a night of guitar-fuelled revelry led by the immensely talented Rowan and Jonny, its back to the barn-eh, I mean “Studio”- for another morning of poetic experimentation and exploration: I sort of wish that every school day started like this. Experimenting with form and rhythm today, the workshop once again bore some useful and interesting ideas.

Lunch was followed by something a little daring, a little audacious, a little… “out there” - a group trip to the big, bad village of Clun to stock up on essentials (Milky Ways and sticky toffees). Mentioned by Housman in 'A Shropshire Lad' (“In valleys of springs and rivers / By Ony and Teme and Clun,”), Clun is a, um, quaint, peaceful village, rather sleepy - one could probably hear it faintly snoring in fact at night - and was perhaps, it seemed, a bit of a shock to those members of the group from London and Manchester. However, as a Devonshire lad myself, I must admit Clun seemed to be a rather bustling, happening place.

Certainly, Clun provided poetic inspiration – as well confectionary delights - and it was back to the notebooks and tutorials for the remainder of the afternoon.

It was around half past six when something odd happened. I was outside with Adham, admiring the vibrantly clear Shropshire night sky and making up alternative constellations, when a figure appeared, emerging slowly from the darkness of the path. As the figure drew nearer, we could make out a slender, tall, rather dashing older gentleman, all corduroy and tweed.

“I’m Hugo” he said, “Who are you?”. Hugo Williams, well-known poet and journalist, winner of the 1999 T.S. Eliot Prize was going to be reading for us tonight. I must admit I was a little bedazzled, having greatly enjoyed his fantastic collection Billy’s Rain, to meet one of my favourite poets. I therefore no doubt appeared a little dumb and slow-witted as he chatted politely to us. He told Adham and I of his trip to Clun, how he had stopped off at the “Museum of Lost Content” (another Housman reference- “That is the land of lost content / I see it shining plain,”), “Which was, no doubt significantly,” he said, “closed”.

After dinner (again fantastic - the food really is top notch) we gathered once again in the Ted Hughes room and waited for Mr Williams. We were treated to a fantastic selection of Mr William’s poems, most on the subject of his time as a boy at Eton. Entertaining, amusing and poignant, listening to Mr William’s was the unquestionable highlight of the week for me. As a reader and speaker, he was modest, enigmatic with a dry sense of humour - I felt immensely fortunate to be one of such a small audience at this memorable reading.


Thursday, and it has been a case of back to work. Aware that we have to produce an anthology of our week’s work for Friday evening, many of us are fine-tuning and tweaking poems written earlier in the week (Mr Jack Snoddy has been an example to us all - has an immense and enviable patience for self-editing), as well as adding new ideas to burgeoning notebooks. The workshop was again an illuminating and rewarding experience, and I believe many of us feel that we have come on a great deal during the week.

After lunch however, an albatross looms large above my head, so to speak. I am on cooking duty tonight. As 4.30 rolls by I make my way to the kitchen. Walking to collect my apron, I imagine that this is what the final walk on Death Row feels like; or perhaps this is how John Terry felt as he walked from the half way line to take that penalty on that fateful Moscow night. This may seem a little dramatic; but cooking and me do not go well together. In year 8 at school I was excused Food Technology class because of my “staggering incompetence” - a crushing comment for a thirteen-year-old boy, though one would conclude fair after tasting my Bakewell tarts.

Anyway, I donned the apron, took a deep breath and volunteered for what I thought sounded like the most low profile job - chopping vegetables. I promptly set about slaughtering a pepper. “Eh, Mike, that’s actually a bread knife you’re using”, Colin points out. Oh. Right. That explains it. After this initial hiccup, however, I sort of got the hang of it. True, I probably averaged about three peppers an hour but still, I was quietly pleased with my contribution.

After dinner and a touch more star gazing, it was time for something a little special-dance lessons with Eva. This brought about one of the funniest sights known to man - Ian McMillan attempting to salsa. Enthusiastic? Certainly. Graceful? Umm…..I must admit I didn’t fair much better, ending up sort of doing a sideways shimmy followed by a spasm of the back - I fear I’ve inherited my father’s dance moves.


Friday and its anthology day. Knowing that we all have to produce something that at least resembles poetry for the much talked about anthology, there is an extra focus and zeal to our work in the morning’s workshop - put it down to fear. An editorial team has been assembled, with old-hand Amy at the helm, and throughout the day she runs an impressively tight ship, employing a network of bureaucrats to do typing and even some heavies to chase up poets who haven’t “paid up” in the form of a piece for the anthology.

Amidst the general confusion and panic, there is however, an oasis of calm, a solitary figure who stands apart from the tumult: one Mr Adham Smart, who, perhaps to mark the end of the week, has complimented his now obligatory fez with an impressive goatee beard, fashioned with some creative use of a marker pen. He is a sight to behold, and in normal circumstances I’d be a little taken aback, perhaps even tempted to ask such stupid questions as, “Why?” But I feel no such urge here at the Hurst; here, it seems normal, everyday-one comes to expect such things.

As the day progresses, things pull together, and the anthology finally starts to take shape. With all pieces now collected and typed up, there is only the small issue of photocopying and stapling. A simple task? Well, one would think so, but it actually proves to be something of a nightmare, and one is reminded of that well known, age old joke; how many Foyle Young Poets does it take to operate a photocopying machine? It turns out there are two answers: fourteen, or just one in particular, Mr Adham Smart. With a Zen-like calmness, Mr Smart single-handedly battles the photocopier and comes out victorious.

True it did take a good few hours, but by 10.30, the anthology, finished with a wonderful front cover courtesy of arty Abigail, was complete. It was then over to the Ted Hughes room, where we all read our work from the anthologies; a wonderful way to mark the end of the week.


Saturday, and after saying all my goodbyes, it is back to Devon for me, after a wonderful, inspirational week. Coming back into the real world has been a strange thing after the Arvon course, rather like waking up from a dream: a beautiful dream in which, in the valley of Housman’s “blue remembered hills”, one could sit and write and discuss poetry for hours, and where men wore fezzes with goatee beards; a place where you and your work are made to feel valued and appreciated. One question remains - Can I go again please?  

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