Jonathan Mcaloon

The Foyle prize for poetry will restore your faith in arts awards

Those of us who were never destined to be great young poets can probably remember the attempts. I kept my verses from when I was 14 in a pillowcase, which was mercifully put in the wash. Writing poetry is like learning an instrument. You need a disproportionate amount of know-how simply not to sound terrible. But when I spent National Poetry Day at the South Bank Centre for the Foyle Young Poets Awards, there were no bum notes. You could hear a universal page-turning from the audience at certain points, as they all followed the readers on stage in booklet form.

Here were a group of young poets who’d discovered the value of art and, what’s more, art for its own exploratory sake. Comedian Phill Jupitus, who was in attendance, said how great it was to see artists that were ‘young and style-free’, before they’d picked up the bad mannerisms or had time to start impersonating what they thought was the done thing.

The Poetry Society, who organise the prize, recently commissioned young Scottish poets to write about the independence referendum and perform their work at Gretna Green. One of these – an outstanding 13-year-old called Magnus Dixon, now a Foyle winner for the second year running – wrote about not knowing who he’d vote for. It’s great to see negative capability in motion. People easily forget poetry can be about doubt, or is in fact supposed to be about doubt.

This year Dixon’s Foyle entry, one of the finest, was about a storm. Jasmine Burgess, a thirteen year-old from Oxford, wrote a poem called ‘The Sea’ that was stunning and fresh, giving the ocean a ‘panting grin’ and a ‘taste of black olives’.

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