Poet Clare Pollard judged the 2021 Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award.
Here, Clare tells us how poetry has the power to transform your life…
I was 16 when I discovered Sylvia Plath. Before that I thought poetry was something showy-offy and pointlessly difficult. I loved writing but wrote fiction, because who would want to read about my life anyway? (I was a swot and had never had a boyfriend). And then a teacher brought Sylvia Plath’s ‘Cut’ into class. All that happens in the poem is she cuts her finger whilst chopping an onion, and yet it’s the most beautiful, strange, huge poem. The whole of America floods out in her American blood: pilgrims, the frontier, the ku klux klan. And there’s that sense that like America in its civil wars, she’s fighting with herself – a violence within. All from a minor accident whilst chopping veg. To me, that metamorphosis was a sort of magic. And Plath had poems about making a Sunday roast, seeing sheep from a train – these ordinary things that took off into these extraordinary poems about life itself. She was making something amazing out of the everyday, and I realised I could too.
Everyone needs to be creative; some way of expressing themselves. For me when I was sixteen, poetry was the best way. Perhaps because poetry is intensely emotional – it can take a novel 400 pages to make you cry, but a poem can do it in three lines, and so was the ideal form for exploring all the emotions I felt: the depression and anxiety and heartsickness. Perhaps because poetry is also often short – known for its brevity; how every word has to count – and so was something I could fit around homework and nights out. Or because my other major love was music (I was obsessed with the indie bands of the time, Blur and Pulp and the Verve) and poetry allowed me to play with rhythm and the human voice; to do readings all dressed up and feel like a rock star. Most of all because of what I saw in Plath’s ‘Cut’: that poetry is transformative. That it can take a tiny room and make it into the universe. And I wanted to escape my tiny room, my school, my town, my life.
Poetry is also great, I think, because in the poetry world everyone starts from an equal position. There’s little money or fame, it’s all about the poems. It’s almost impossible when you’re at school to write a great novel – to have the life experience to construct a whole world; to find the time and space to create one; to tick the marketing boxes for a big publisher to risk money on your book. But I truly believe that a twelve-year old’s poem can compete with an established fifty-year old’s. What matters is the poem. And poems can find their way to a reader more easily than ever now – through small magazines and open-mics, but also YouTube or Instagram; through competitions like the Foyles Young Poets of the Year Award. I had my first poems published in a magazine when I was 16 and it made me believe I could be a writer. Poetry changed my life in so many ways. Why not have a go at transforming your own?