By Nadia Lines, Foyle Young Poet of the Year 2019
(15 Foyle Young Poet winners from 2019, joined by Arvon tutors Mimi Khalvati and Raymond Antrobus in loco parentis Colin Watts and Fran Pridham)
We had chosen a very windy week to go to The Hurst! Luckily, we managed to arrive in Shropshire despite the storms, and the train journey was a great opportunity to get to know the other young poets before we arrived. When we got to The Hurst, we were shown our rooms. Mine had the most incredible views of the hills and the countryside. That night, we were introduced to the two tutors for the week, Raymond Antrobus and Mimi Khalvati. And later we had a secret meeting in Cia’s room where we read each other poems from the huge library.
The next morning, I was woken up early by a friendly grouse which was hanging around my room. I spent some time reading and writing before our first workshop. I was very nervous about it because I didn’t think that what I’d write would be any good. But one of our tutors Raymond Antrobus gave us lots of time to think and write. We were working on adapting poems from Hannah Lowe which really gave me an insight into the many ways you can write a poem. The workshop was super productive – I didn’t know young poets could be so focussed and quiet! Afterwards, some of the other poets and I did the washing up and chatted about the differences between life here and life in America. I spent the rest of the afternoon writing and preparing poems for my one-to-one tutorial with Raymond for the next day. I finally had the time to write all of the poems that had been running around in my head for months. My new friends gave me lots of prompts and ideas, which created some wild new poems! That evening, we made dinner, which was tofu, chicken and chickpeas. Luckily, everything went to plan! Later, Mimi and Raymond gave a reading of some of their work. It was incredible to hear some of the poems I loved from the people who wrote them, especially Raymond’s poem, ‘The Perseverance’, which is one of my favourites.
On Wednesday, we had a workshop with Mimi Khalvati all about structure, form and lineation. We were encouraged to think about how lineation can change the meaning of a poem: something I hadn’t really considered before. We wrote poems made from one long sentence which we then had to edit over the week. Later that day, Lydia, Dana and I went for a walk in the woods. It was so magical, we saw an enchanted lake and crossed little streams and just enjoyed the scenery. Lydia thought that all of England must look like Shropshire! When I came back, I was finally able to write a line that I had been stuck on for weeks. I then had my tutorial with Raymond. We talked a lot about goats and he dared me to take on the persona of Jesus through a dramatic monologue. It was great to have such detailed feedback, something which is very hard to come by. In the evening, poet Anthony Anaxagorou came to visit. He read from his book After the Formalities and then we all sat talking with him about poetry late into the night.
I spent most of Thursday writing. Our workshop with Raymond was about using other people’s poems to create our own. We also thought a lot about titles – really long ones – and we wrote poems set in the future and about things that we hate. Jean wrote a poem about sticky labels on birthday presents which was especially memorable. It was too windy to go out for a walk that afternoon, as trees were falling down in the forest, so we stayed in doors and wrote. I had my tutorial with Mimi, and she asked me how I learned to write. I realised that nobody had ever actually told me how to structure and lineate a poem! Mimi really helped me work out where to stop a poem and how to break its lines properly. I learned so much that I think about it all the time now when I write. I spent the rest of the evening editing my poems and at night we all got together to read a poem that we had found in the library in order to feel more confident about reading aloud. I really loved hearing everyone’s voices.
On Friday, Mimi taught us how to write sonnets. I discovered that it was a far more freeing form than I had expected. Em wrote a love sonnet to her own feet which I will never ever forget. We shared our long sentence poems; I had written about ghosts and I am really pleased with the finished article! A couple of people volunteered to edit an anthology of what we had written and we all made little illustrations to go with them. That afternoon was wonderful. We all went into the woods and read out some of our favourite poems at the top of our voices. I read the storm soliloquy from King Lear and one of my poems that I had written in a workshop with Mimi called ‘Trousers’. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life – the kind of ridiculous, pretentious, exhilarating thing that you only dream about being able to do. That sums up most of the week, actually! Later, Tom helped me edit a poem inspired by one of John Donne’s Holy Sonnets. We spent three hours on it. Having a group of writers who are always willing to help you out was one of the best things about the trip. Finally, we all gathered together to read some of the things we had written during the week. It was quite surreal, but I really enjoyed sharing my poems (including the Jesus dramatic monologue!) with all of the people who had helped me with them.
On Saturday, it was time to say goodbye. At each stop on the train someone else left the group as they headed home. When we got back to London, it was finally time to leave everyone. I will miss them a lot. In the end it was just me and Raymond left on the tube. We talked a lot about why poets write. It is out of love for poetry. I will always be thinking about that, now that I love poetry more than ever.