By Enshia Li Foyle Young Poet of the Year 2017
I still remember what I was reading as the plane landed in Heathrow: Kayo Chingonyi’s Guide to proper mixtape assembly from Kumukanda. It was like this, with the words from that poem still ringing in my head, that I made my way through purple lights of Heathrow.
After I met Alice and Margot, we made our way to The Poetry Society headquarters in London, where we met up with everyone else, had a nice chat over tea, and flipped through the various poems other Londoners left behind in their blank notebooks in the Poetry Cafe. Through London, we were then led by Helen before heading to Shropshire by train.
The rest of the day was peaceful, a blur. The train rolled gently through the English landscape and I saw great plumes of green and brown and yellow swirl past, tinted amber in the gradually fading light. I was fighting jetlag, and so was Margot, but she pressed on chatting and I listened to their voices drift through the train.
Dinner was good; afterwards, in the evening, we gathered in the prose library and introduced ourselves, read poetry, and started experimenting with new poetic forms straight away. 10pm rolled around and we were outside, then, looking at the expanse of stars stretch across the sky in the dark, clearer than I’d ever seen them.
Woke up late. Margot tried to wake me up at nine, and I said something stupid like “yes” and fell back asleep. The second time she walked in she said, “Enshia, there’s 10 minutes to workshop.”
We started the day off with Kayo’s workshop, which was unexpected in that it was so auditory. He really tried to make us consider the sounds and textures of words and the rhythms and rhymes and patterns in the constructions of our poetry, asking us to speak aloud and present readings in groups. Kayo is very skilled, but he was always so humble about it, allowing us to take the stage, so to speak, and pushing us in new directions.
In the afternoon, I had a workshop with Kayo. I have to admit, I was nervous. Because I admired him so much as a poet and here it was, my silly work on the table. But he was encouraging, and offered some great suggestions and made comments on poetry and endings and ambiguity that I found incredibly insightful.
In the evening, Caroline Bird stopped by to give a reading. What a woman! She was so chill and playful when talking with us, but even more so as she read, and in her manner there was a great and genuine enthusiasm about the craft, her poem and about writing poems, which made me want to do nothing else.
Stayed up late again. Met Mukahang and Marina in the printing room at 2 a.m.
The week is ending and it doesn’t feel real.
I’m writing this in the evening after our last gathering in the library, where we all made a big show of signing each other’s anthologies, received copies of our own personal anthology, drawn from poems written over the week—SEX AND DEATH AND HOW TO COMBINE THEM, hereon referred colloquially to as S&D. The inspiration came from Fran, who said, “I love teaching literature. It’s all just sex and death and how to combine them.”
I don’t know what this week really entails just yet, only that so far; it’s done much to put a face to poetry, a community.
Everyone has been so kind—Kayo and Pascale, my fellow “young poets”, Caroline Bird, Alice and Helen, the folks at The Poetry Society, and the live in “parents” who by the end of the week felt more like older friends.
It’s very difficult to find a community of such open, vibrant, daring, and incredibly talented young people. That, coupled with the guidance of the tutors and the environment—Shropshire, the English countryside, the buzz of The Hurst, the walking over to the libraries to pull down a book whenever you wanted, the space and time and quiet to write, how you could pull up a chair and start a conversation with anyone in the building… I would be hard pressed to experience anything like this anytime soon.
Now it’s late. I’m flipping through S&D and smiling. Maybe I’ll just collapse with a book and pack my things in the morning.
The Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award 2018 will be launching in March 2018. The top 15 winning poets will attend an Arvon residential course, and are published in a winners’ anthology. 85 commended poets are also published in an online anthology. All 100 winners receive Poetry Society membership, a goody bag and an invite to the awards ceremony at the Southbank Centre.