London Looks For Its Next Young Poet Laureate

Kyra Hanson
By Kyra Hanson Last edited 33 months ago
London Looks For Its Next Young Poet Laureate
Young Poet Laureate for London Aisling Fahey

If you're aged between 21 and 30 and have not only a talent for poetry, but an infectious enthusiasm for it too, you could be on your way to becoming the next Young Poet Laureate for London.

But if you think the role involves sitting around in London's cafés scribbling your soul away, think again (OK there is some of that). The winner will work with communities across London acting as a voice for young people and promoting the craft.

We caught up with current laureate, Aisling Fahey, to find out how her year's been.

So what's a typical week like for a London laureate?

In quieter periods I settle down for a day of writing, reading and procrastinating. Normally I find interesting articles and poems to compile a reading list for the day.

Then, I may do a series of freewrites (short bursts of uninterrupted writing where you don’t edit as you go along) — it’s about getting as much raw material down on the page as possible for you to later shape.

Otherwise, I’ll edit material that I’ve been working on. I find articles and poems slowly settle into your brain, and when you go to write, sometimes they find their way to the surface, like dust from an interrupted seabed. All of the themes and questions they brought up in you find a way of making it to the page.

Evenings are filled with my own performances, or events in which my friends are performing, or hosting.

However, when I’m undertaking a residency, that is vastly different. My last residency, at my former primary school in east London, involved attending their sports day, introducing myself to 14 different classes and being put on the spot to create a poem from inquisitive year fours.

The following days, I was in school for 8.30am, working predominately with the year two classes to produce collaborative poems around the theme of summer. I also sat in on their literacy lessons running different writing exercises with them.

Which bits of London does the role take you to?

I’ve spent time with pensioners in Camden, school children from Waltham Forest and business men in the City of London as they discussed the direction of the arts, and how to broaden access to cultural institutions across London. It requires the ability to handle the various needs and expectations of these groups, while staying true to yourself as an artist, remembering why you’re carrying out this work, what you want to achieve and who you want to help.

Who did you get to work with? Any famous names?

I performed at Knocknarea Arena alongside Carol Ann Duffy, Liz Lochhead and Sinead Morrissey in front of Joanna Lumley and Michael D Higgins, the President of Ireland. All in the job description really — someone’s got to do it.

It's a given that you should be a talented wordsmith but what other skills are required? What have you had to learn on the job?

I have learnt a lot on this job: event organisation, management, publicity, marketing, facilitation skills. Perhaps mostly, I’ve learnt how to function as a professional artist. The staple requirements of keeping on top of your invoices, managing your accounts, answering emails promptly, carrying yourself professionally so that people take you and your work seriously.

Perks of the job, Aisling with the Queen

What did you find challenging? Rewarding?

The most challenging part has been juggling all of the different expectations and roles. It has involved continuously switching between writer, facilitator, teacher, researcher, performer, event organiser, project manager. Sometimes, this leaves little space in your head for much else, and I found it very difficult to carve out time for myself as a writer.

However, all of that made it more rewarding. Looking back, knowing just how much I’ve achieved, delivered and grown, I feel very proud, not only of myself, but also all the people, organisations, and groups that I have interacted with.

The response and support from my local community, family, other poets and friends has been so lovely. A particular heart-warming moment was when I passed a child on the way in to the primary school, and, in the way only children can, they exuberantly exclaimed to their dad ‘That’s the poem lady!’ — yeah, that might have been the most rewarding thing.

Has anything surprised you about the role or people’s responses to you or to poetry?

A few times, I’ve performed and somebody has approached me afterwards and said something along the lines of ‘I didn’t expect your poetry to be like that’ — I never quite know whether this is meant as a compliment.

Sometimes, it's been from children, and I hope this is because I’ve caused them to re-examine their perceptions of poetry and look at it through different eyes — realising that it can be accessible; that it can be made-up of understandable language, rather than archaic English that may sound clever, but doesn’t really make a lot of sense; that it can incorporate your voice, how you actually speak, and that often it is this that provides the most authenticity.

Do you have any advice for the future laureate?

Really focus on what you want to do in your time as Young Poet Laureate. Write down a plan. Where do you want to be with your writing when it comes to an end? What outcomes do you want? What groups of people, and areas of London do you want to work with? Also, before you start, write down why you write; if things get a little tricky, return to this, remember why you’re doing it. Be prepared to accept whatever opportunities may come your way. Make time for yourself as an artist whilst you’re doing all those other things and enjoy it!

Finally, now your residency is up what’s next for you?

I still have just under two months left, and they’ll be busy ones. I have my final residency at the start of September, do follow me on Twitter @_AislingF to keep updated — I’ll need your challenges! And I’m wrapping up my Olympic Park residency too. I’ll be starting a project with the National Literacy Trust from October. I would also like to burrow away for a while and consolidate the writing I’ve been doing recently. If anyone has any projects, opportunities, job offers, free holiday houses that they don’t mind me taking up residence in for a while, do feel free to get in touch.

How to apply

The Young Poet Laureate for London programme is open to poets aged between 21-30, living in a London borough. An initial shortlist of 15 applicants will be invited to a workshop selection day. From this group of 15, six finalists will then be invited to take part in a week-long residential workshop. The selection panel will choose the next Young Poet Laureate for London from this final six.

Deadline for applications is 17 August

If you think you've got what it takes apply through the London Laureate website.  

Last Updated 13 August 2015