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...

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