The Young Poets Society: Meet Britain's rising stars of verse

As the nation celebrates Poetry Day this week, Andrew Johnson and Kate Youde report on the art form's astonishing rise in popularity

"Poetry", said Philip Larkin, "is nobody's business but the poet's". He added, in typically terse Anglo-Saxon, that that everybody else could get lost. These days, however, he would have to accept that poetry is everybody's business.

In clubs, theatres, outside school gates, on radio and television poetry is riding a crest of popularity unseen for a generation. While modern verse has moved on considerably from the elaborate language of Shakespeare or Keats, the nation is once again in love with the spoken word that has rhythm and reason, if not always rhyme.

On Thursday the Poetry Society – celebrating its centenary year – will mark National Poetry Day by revealing the next generation of wordsmiths.

Here we publish exclusive extracts from the winning entries to the society's annual Foyle Young Poets competition, for which it received a record number of poems. The number has more than doubled since 2003 and is up by 25 per cent on last year, to more than 6,000 people. And on Wednesday the winner of the £10,000 Forward Prize, Britain's biggest poetry competition, will also be announced.

Britain's leading poets canvassed by the Independent on Sunday said last week that the spoken word is enjoying a renaissance. The reasons, they argue, vary from the influence of rap, the greater accessibility of poetry via the internet, and the growth of creative writing courses.

They added, however, that the boom was built not on the page, but on live performance in clubs and theatres. "I am told that poetry is not doing so well in bookshops and things like this," the poet Benjamin Zephaniah said. "I am told in school children are not memorising poetry like they used to. But outside of school, sometimes literally outside the gate, in the performance scene poetry is absolutely thriving. If you look at most cities on most nights of the week there are these poetry nights, slams. It might be true that children are not reading as much poetry as they used to, but they are writing it."

The poet Fleur Adcock added: "It's moved from the page to the stage. When I started, it was all about books, but these days readings are always full."

Ruth Padel, a former chair of the Poetry Society, said that poetry festivals, readings and groups are all on the increase. "It is in a very good state. I think people are rediscovering it. If you go to literary festivals there are so many people who really care about writing and reading."

Geraldine Collinge, director of the performance poetry organisation Apples and Snakes, which puts on readings across the country, said there had been an "incredible growth" in recent years. Attendance this year at the organisation's events has more than doubled since 2007 to 7,567, while participation in its education workshops has leapt to 31,248 this year from 5,100 in 2001. The charity's turnover has risen from about £80,000 a year to just under £1m in a decade.

"Performance poetry used to be seen in pubs and clubs and now it's in theatres, in the main part of arts centre programmes, it's on the radio and there's more and more online," she said. "It used to be seen as an urban art form but now it's happening rurally. You can see it in a village hall. It's something people have really seized upon."

BBC Radio 4 is currently broadcasting a poetry slam competition, and earlier this year the corporation ran an acclaimed series looking at the nation's greatest poets as part of its poetry season.

The Manchester poet Lemn Sissay, who helped to judge the Foyle competition and who is poet in residence at London's Southbank Centre, added that people turn to poetry at emotional moments in their lives, such as funerals, weddings and births.

"It's something we turn to when we're emotionally naked and in need of urgent expression," he said. "There's something muscular about it. That's why it's in the Koran and the Bible. I was very impressed by the standard of poetry in the competition. And I hope all those who didn't win will continue writing because of the urge to do it."

He added: "Rap artists like the Streets, Dizzee Rascal, Tupac Shakur are poetry, absolutely. I believe poetry threatens the status quo. Whether it's Seamus Heaney or a teenager in their room, poetry is an expression of truth. It is there to express and explain."

Andrew Motion, the former poet laureate, whose internet Poetry Archive has 175,000 readers a month downloading one and a half million poems, said: "I can't remember a time when poetry was so popular. But we have to defend the right of poems to be difficult. Everything in life worthwhile is difficult – get over it. That means writing difficult stuff, but also writing for readers who may feel over-challenged."

The Young Poets Society

Adham Smart, 17 London

good morning palestine

this is your captain speaking

fivehundred meters

from your window



look at us

the red and gray

we fly at you



ugly birds

all talon and tusk...

Phil Coales, 17 London

Computer Love

You,

DELL Dimension V400,

with intel on the inside

and Matissean matte of terra-creme

cream sheen

plastered over the plastic that forms a

shantily considered,

hastily rendered, terribly restored shell

on the outside, ...

Phoebe Power, 16 Cumbria

HyperTextTransferProtocol



BlogEarlyBlogOftenLaughOutLoud!

ShortMessageService is so 2two0 thousand0and7seven.

I prefer MicroSoftNetwork, OKay

but only when you've got Wireless

Fidelity ...

Leon Yuchin Lau, 17 Singapore

unmaking rooms



somewhere in december

I awake to find us with the sun

in our mouths

coagulating like yolks, our

bodies

folded into jilted corners, eyes

still papered with a dream

grown hazy by morning.



you angle yourself for some light,

propping your head up against the mottled wallpaper swirls ...

Hattie Grunewald, 17 Barnsley

Kiss



tarmac and dark grey cement flowed over her skin

and her hair was the colour of street lights

and when he looked at her,

the cars rushing past seemed only to be going

at 60 miles a decade ...

Jonathan Wilcox, 18 Lichfield

My First



It was not profound, exotic,

did not play

like saffron or zereshk

across my lips.

It didn't stay with me,

haunt me forever after,

show the scope of my life

in relief, like some storm

shot with static.

Justification was

not necessary;

conscience didn't burn.

I didn't reflect afterwards

that he was about my age

and probably liked football too...

Hannah Locke, 15 Hampshire

Breaking the Ice



Me and my almost new/Five year old sister

were standing near a pond/on the first day of February,

amongst the first of the frozen flakes that year...

Bryoner Harrower, 16 Aberdeenshire

Tombé



Woke and thrust pearls

through her ears,

bled her lips red and

scored tomorrow off

her calendar. Closed

herself up like an

oyster and found

herself by the

Thames, water hissing

if. The hesitation was

enough to send her

over

the edge.

Nat Liu, 17 USA

Awaiting Epiphany



Left-brain society and I do not

click like high heels

on marbled floors or pearls on broken string

diving to their deaths – not at all

like the victorious sound

of golden keys unlocking golden doors...

Bradley Cutts, 14 Suffolk

The Shoot



Us beaters, armed with stout

sticks,

whack tree trunks and bash

bushes.

Three pheasants flap up,

and beaks pointing straight ahead,

tug away.

The shooters are waiting.

Bang-bang. Bang-bang.

Ten double-barrelled guns ring out.

Pheasants spin and fall to the

ground.

The dogs race, eager

to be the first to get to the prize...

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little