Our Young Writers Project Manager Penny Newell shares her journey as a poet in celebration of National Writing Day. Penny currently holds a Northern Writers Award. Her poems have featured in The Poetry Review, Magma and Lambda Literary, amongst others.
I often wonder why I write poetry, or why anyone is drawn to writing poetry. The findings of our recent research on Children and young people’s writing during the COVID-19 lockdown suggest that more children and young people are writing poems (21%) in lockdown than they did before. When I heard this result, I wasn’t at all surprised.
Poetry has been there for me through some of the most challenging experiences in my life. And so it doesn’t surprise me that children have been writing their way through the huge social and personal upheaval of the last few months.
In my case, I’ve been doing creative writing since I learnt to write. My parents read to me beyond the age of 10, and my English teacher thought this made me attuned to creative writing. I used to write and illustrate my own short stories, then I went on to writing song lyrics with my best friend. Writing was a part of me, it anchored me to the world.
I was doing my GCSEs when I properly discovered poetry.
I remember that I was cramming for my GCSE English Literature exam. I hated revision. What if I revised and still got all of the answers wrong? Didn’t that just mean I was bad at it?! We were studying a cluster of ‘Poems from Other Cultures’, including Imtiaz Dharker, Sujata Bhatt and Grace Nichols. It was late at night and I was reading Imtiaz Dharker’s poem “This Room”. I got to the part where she writes:
In all this excitement
I’m wondering where
I’ve left my feet, and why
my hands are outside, clapping.
I was transfixed by this at-once profound and, to be honest, quite silly image. I felt like this poet was reaching through the room, through the poem, out of the page, and meeting me somewhere where we shared an inexplicable experience.
From then on, something about poems just clicked. I loved how a poem seemed to change and blossom the longer you looked at it. I started writing poems because I found an outlet in this ambivalence of meaning. It was so great to have a way to express myself that wasn’t going to get graded. I started buying journals and filling them with poems. Most of these journals are lost now—I didn’t need to keep them because it was writing that mattered, not the finished poem.
I guess this comes down to another significant finding in our research survey: children who agree that writing makes them feel better are five times more likely to write poems (66.5% vs 13.4%) than children who don’t agree. Developing as a poet is a huge journey. There is so much to learn, so many different poets to meet and poems to embrace. The more I write and read, the more I feel I am just at the beginning of my journey as a poet. But it is fair to say that writing has always made me feel better. Sometimes writing has made me feel better because it has allowed me to feel a little bit sad. Sometimes writing has given me the words to speak. Sometimes writing has shown me that I can achieve something on a difficult day, even if that’s just a small thing.
I am now 30 years old (yikes!). And I still hate revising for exams. I have been writing poems for most of my life, but as a writer, I am still very much learning how to express myself in poetry, I am still learning how to be a poet.
I am enjoying that journey, even if it is just for me.
Why not explore these poetry resources you can have a go at, while you’re at home:
- On our Family Zone page you can find a video of me teaching you how to write a limerick using a cup (for 9-12-year-olds), and activities that help children to write a thank you poem for key workers (for 5-8-year-olds)
- If you visit our Zone In page for ages 13+ you’ll find an activity on writing poetry about your lockdown experience with poet Laila Sumpton and poet Dean Atta has put together tips on how to edit your own poetry
- On our Words for Life site, we have a book list of brilliant poetry books for children aged 0 to 11