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Poets of the year

Congratulations to Elise Withey (Year 11) and English teacher, Catherine Bruton, who have both won deserved praise in this year’s Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award organised by the Poetry Society.

For the third year running Elise has been commended as one of the top 100 poets in the country, after over 14,000 poems were submitted by over 6,000 poets aged 11-17 from across the UK and around the world.  Writers from 109 different countries entered the competition from as far afield as South Africa, China, Ethiopia and Georgia, as well as the four corners of the UK. You can read Elise’s commended poem below.

Judges Clare Pollard and Yomi Ṣode said: “Judging this year’s Foyle Young Poets of the Year was an absolute honour. After a period in which the burdens of the pandemic have often fallen so heavily on young people, we were moved by the beauty, fire and resilience of these poems. These poets write out of diverse backgrounds, landscapes and experiences, and this has translated into a rich variety of form and language. Here are poems about youth, gender, poverty, love, struggle, politics, culture, family. Poems brimming with rightful anger and hard-won hope. But it is the vivid images that have stuck most forcefully out in our minds: ‘a fat chalk of canned coconut milk’; the ‘tender sloppiness’ of daisy-chains; ‘limescale curling around a plug hole as a dragon’s tail’; dust’s ‘gleam’ in the spotlight; the smell of ‘Chick King’; ‘cracked plastic cups at children’s parties’. These are poems that fully inhabit this present moment.”

All 100 winners of the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award receive a year’s youth membership of The Poetry Society and a goody bag full of books donated by generous sponsors. The Poetry Society continues to support winners throughout their careers providing publication, performance and development opportunities, and access to a paid internship programme.

In addition to Elise’s success, KES English teacher and author, Catherine Bruton was one of two Teacher Trailblazers recognised in the awards by the Poetry Society’s education team. Trailblazers are nominated by pupils for their efforts in helping to inspire poetry writing.  Mrs Bruton has run the School’s weekly Creative Writing Society for over ten years and it never ‘locked down’ due to Covid, going online to give voice to young people’s experiences in the pandemic. Mrs Bruton runs three annual writing competitions and produces an annual anthology of student poetry and fiction to celebrate and nurture the powerful and inspiring voices of the next generation of writers.

Student testimonial: “Over lockdown it was a struggle to find the energy to write creatively. My English teacher, Mrs Catherine Bruton, worked tirelessly to keep our school’s Creative Writing Society alive, running fun mini-competitions and collaborative writing challenges on Teams, while giving us weekly prompts to help us keep on writing. She knew there were lots of us who enjoyed writing poetry, and made us an extensive list of poetry competitions we could enter, which was updated unflaggingly throughout the lockdown. It was through her encouragement and support that I and a good few of my friends entered the Foyle competition. Without her, I would have been stuck with writer’s block all year and then some. I hope you’ll take this submission into consideration!”

Tell Me You Are Not Persephone (c. 1783)  – By Elise Withey
Dear Caterina,
the orange trees in the courtyard are blooming again. I pray that
you are well. I hope that you will come back soon.

Dear Caterina,
the priest came by again today and the room still smells of incense
through the heady orange blossom.
I am ill, he says, he says.

Dear Caterina,
picking season is here but you are not and
your basket stands empty by the door, slanted in sunlight,
oranges like bruises across the bright lawn. There will be no happy ending. You promised me this. History
has never been kind to girls like us. History
will make witches and wives of us,
but you did not say we would end like this, a quiet house, an empty bed, an orchard heavy with fruit and not enough hands to harvest.
Let history end us. Let me have you now,
peeling an orange in the kitchen with steady hands
four o’clock sunshine and dust
hanging breathless in the air.