The Blog

What Poetry Did for Me

Five and a half years ago, I received a phone call in my grandmother's kitchen informing me that I was one of 15 winners of the 2006 Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award. She was unclear about what was happening, and to some extent still is.

Five and a half years ago, I received a phone call in my grandmother's kitchen informing me that I was one of 15 winners of the 2006 Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award. She was unclear about what was happening, and to some extent still is. I was better informed, but only marginally, and the more I think about it, the more I realise how much that single phone call brought me to where I am today.

Where I am today is The South Bank Centre, where I'm working as a Buddy at the Poetry Parnassus festival, a gathering of poets from all 204 Olympic countries who have exchanged being undervalued and largely ignored at home for being undervalued and largely ignored on holiday. This is, of course, needlessly negative: as unlikely as it is to ever make a single one of us any real money, this event and others like it have a value beyond the monetary and make a contribution beyond the obvious. I'm flattered to be asked to be a part of it, and were it not for the chain of events that the Foyle's Award set in motion, I might never have known it existed.

Foyle's took me from depressed, depressing rural Lincolnshire to a writing course at a big house in the Shropshire woods full of similarly awkward people who thought they had ideas about T S Eliot. Out of that course came friendships, and out of those friendships came an online magazine - Pomegranate - where we sought out poems and articles by writers under 30. The magazine is now on hiatus, but the friendships still publish on a regular basis, and through my involvement with the Foyle's programme I've been asked to read in multiple locations, some of which have even asked me back. I've read above artsy pubs and in strange, secluded private schools, and once for a class of French teenagers who I presume obtained a hugely inflated idea of my market value. And I'm about to spend the evening of my twenty-second birthday watching a poem I wrote in my room at university be thrown out of a helicopter, printed on a bookmark in two languages by a Chilean arts collective. This is not the kind of thing that happens in Lincolnshire. Barring a disastrous mix-up with the much-discussed Olympic anti-aircraft guns, however, it seems like it's going to happen here.

And if you told me five and a half years ago that I was going to spend this evening scrabbling around beneath the London Eye, fending off the grasping hands of the literary elite of Latvia, Algeria and Congo-Brazzaville, I probably wouldn't have believed you either. It may not have made me any money, but against all odds, poetry has taken me places - places from which I can make a decision about where to go next which, if not informed, will at least be fuelled by the dodgy, delirious confidence of being told you're not bad too early. So now I'm off to Jubilee Gardens - here's hoping I can catch something, if only to confirm my grandmother in her bemused but ultimately well-meaning pride.