Press release: 3 March 2009

Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award 2009
Are you the young voice of Poetry in the UK?

Open to young people aged 11-17, The Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award 2009 launches at the Sage Gateshead, 3rd March. Time to get writing!

The Poetry Society is proud to announce the launch of The Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award 2009 and to introduce this year’s judges, top poets Lemn Sissay and Selima Hill.

This exciting scheme is the only national poetry prize of its kind that seeks to unearth, promote and support young poetic talent from across the UK. To enter all you need is to be someone who questions, explores, delights in, or is simply inspired by the world around you.

In a time of change and uncertainty, our young poets are powerfully voicing what many in power are struggling to articulate. Since the launch of the Foyle Young Poets Award 12 years ago, winners have addressed difficult issues such as terrorism, prejudice and violence. Their poems challenge the misperceptions that young voices have nothing to say.

Previous winner of the Foyle Young Poets and Respect Slam, Jay Bernard, comments:
"Some of us are excited about the US elections, curious about global warming or worried about increasing levels of violence. In a society where young people are mostly looked down upon, writing is a chance to talk about these things, to use words brilliantly and to find others who want to listen. Take it. Shake things up. The world is ours."

Those young poets whose work is selected as the most promising will attend a week long residential course at a prestigious Arvon Centre, where they will be tutored by this year’s judges, Lemn Sissay and Selima Hill. Those winners under the age of 14 will receive a visit to their school from a professional poet.

Lemn Sissay has this message to spur on any would-be young poets out there: "Get writing! If you don’t do it now then when will you? I bet some of you write poetry secretly. Why secretly? You use your imagination everyday, even if you think you don’t…Write yourself a dream or a nightmare. Say what you never thought you could say. Write that secret. Write that lyrical poem. Write that funny poem. Write if you’ve never written a poem before."

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Notes to Editors

  • The Foyle Young Poets Award is open to open to writers between the ages of 11-17 years old. Poets can enter as many poems as they choose of any length on any theme. You can enter onlien at
  • The Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award is sponsored by the Foyle Foundation. It meets two of the Foyle Foundation’s core criteria for support in Arts and Learning and in particular encourages creativity and literacy among young people at school. These are key success factors for young people to go through life. The Foundation is very keen to work with the Poetry Society to build on what has been achieved so far and to encourage young people both in and out of formal education to become involved with the scheme nationwide Ian MacMillan is the Foyle Young Poets Ambassador.
  • The Poetry Society was founded in 1909 to promote “a more general recognition and appreciation of poetry”. Since then, it has grown into one of Britain’s most dynamic arts organisations, representing British poetry both nationally and internationally. Today it has 3500 members around the world, publishes the leading poetry magazine Poetry Review, and has an extensive education programme. As well as the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award it runs The National Poetry Competition, one of the longest-running and most prestigious competitions of its kind. "The Poetry Society is the heart and hands of poetry in the UK – a centre which pours out energy to all parts of the poetry-body, and a dexterous set of operations which arrange and organise poetry’s various manifestations. It has a long and distinguished history, and has never been so vital, or so vitalising, as it is now." Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate. To find out more visit
  • Lemn Sissay is the author of four poetry collections: Tender Fingers in a Clenched Fist (1988); Rebel Without Applause (1992); Morning Breaks in the Elevator (1999) and The Emperor’s Watchmaker (2000). He is also the editor of The Fire People: A Collection of Contemporary Black British Poets (1998), and his work has appeared in many anthologies. His stage plays are Chaos By Design, Storm, and Something Dark. Examples of his television explorations include a 6-part jazz series for BBC2, and in 2004 he presented the first National Poetry Slam and The New Brit for the BBC. His work has featured in various short films including the British Film Institute sponsored The Elevator, featuring Gary Lewis.
  • A documentary about Lemn’s extraordinary life and search for his father, Internal Flight, was recently broadcast on BBC1. He has been commissioned to write poems by various bodies including the World Service, and his work has become public art, particularly in Manchester, where his poems appear on buildingsand streets. Lemn Sissay reads his work around the world and is featured on many albums, most notably Leftism by Leftfield. The Independent on Sunday says of his work: "His poems are the songs of the street, declamatory, imaginative, hard-hitting..."
  • Selima Hill was born on 13 October 1945 in London, England and grew up in rural England and Wales. She read Moral Sciences at New Hall, Cambridge (1965-7). She regularly collaborates with artists and has worked on multimedia projects with the Royal Ballet, Welsh National Opera and BBC Bristol. She is a tutor at the Poetry School in London, and has taught creative writing in hospitals and prisons. Selima Hill won first prize in the 1988 Arvon Foundation/Observer International Poetry Competition for her long poem 'The Accumulation of Small Acts of Kindness', and her 1997 collection, Violet, was shortlisted for the Forward Poetry Prize (Best Poetry Collection of the Year), the T. S. Eliot Prize and the Whitbread Poetry Award. Her book of poetry, Bunny (2001), a series of poems about a young girl growing up in the 1950s, won the Whitbread Poetry Award. Selima Hill lives in Dorset. Her most recent book of poetry is The Hat (2008). A selected poems, Gloria, was also published in 2008.





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