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Foyle Young Poets award: read the winning poems


On National Poetry Day, the 15 winners of this year's Foyle Young Poets award, open to 11-17-year-olds from around the world, were announced. Chosen from a record 7,351 entries to the competition, these are the winning poems

Baking by Phoebe Boswall

Smells of baking remind me of you.
Your red apron, my small striped one with the torn pocket.
Your soft stretched skin, fingers kneading dough
into a ball. My fat floury hands
grasped for your amber necklace,
Quick, Phoebe, the oven!

You played with flavours,
made little blobs of buttery dough on the tray
Your warm kitchen, my safe haven.

You taught me your language:
bicarbonate of soda, self-raising flour, vanilla extract,
millilitres of milk, grams of sugar:
caster, muscovado, granulated.

Now your apron hangs empty on the peg.
I wear it from time to time; mine with the torn pocket
doesn't fit anymore.

Minutiae by Emily Burns

The National Geographic
cover of the woman with green
eyes, or the storybook
wallpaper in the first floor bathroom,
the waxy crayons in the boiler room
and the rusted key collection
on the green-matted desk,
the telephone which still had
a twirling, winding cord
latched solidly into the wall,
and you, sitting in your chair,
cradling your Lapsang,
bones quiet as dust, you
who were once announced by fireworks
on the day of your birth.

The Apple Tree by David Carey

You told me once that growing
up was like walking up a downwards
escalator. I think I was too young
to understand back then: I thought of time
as a steadily growing tree
that I hadn't yet started climbing.

I remember playing hide-and-seek; climbing
up thin branches, or crouching in the undergrowth.
Once, you saw my head peeking out from the apple tree.
You said that soon, I'd always be looking down
at you like that; that time
passed too quickly. I think I grew younger

as you spoke, worried that my youth
might fall from me as I climbed
back down to you; or that time
would wrest it from my shoulders as I grew.
You took a long time to convince me to come down:
I wanted to live there in the tree

forever. I've never stopped climbing trees.
I know now that youth
doesn't leave: you told me that we grow down
while we grow up, always climbing
that little bit further from ourselves; you said growth
isn't as linear as it looks. And nor is time.

I remember a time,
much later on, when we were at home, the trees
exchanging pleasantries in the wind, the air growing
steadily colder. The night was young,
and so we continued to climb
through conversations. We were standing down

by the pond, and the world was upside down
when we looked at it in there. It was some time
before we went inside: we talked of how I would climb
up the trunk of the apple tree
when I was young;
it was as though you thought I was now fully grown.

You were quiet down there, for a time,
While I told you that I was still young; that however much I grew
I'd always come back and climb the apple tree.

The Everyday Hymn by Clare Carlile

Small Pleasures
Like opening a can, putting pressure down
And pulling back the rounded metal tag,
Forefinger slipped under, braced against the hiss
Of hydrogen, the give of metal against the thumb
And the kick as the seal passes out.
Even like the low crunch as the speckled,
Porcelain egg shell collides with the thick rimmed
Bakers bowl and splits, just round the side,
Into one thousand geometric shapes.
Or, smaller still, the just audible shake
In a person's voice when a laugh
Is yearning to escape.

Five things about the lake by Flora de Falbe

1. The lake is no slave to fashion, but she is proud of her frothy skirt of trees. Her dark, svelte figure.
2. She doesn't want to talk. The air rushes over her, whistling how have you been? – and she responds with a glassy stare.
3. The lake raises an eyebrow when she is speckled with rain. She doesn't do anything else but the rain takes the hint.
4. When the lake picks out her foliage she does so with impeccable taste. Even the fallen leaves have agreed on a colour scheme.
5. The lake enjoys being looked at (though she wouldn't admit it). She likes that I'm writing this.

Brighton by Sarah Fletcher

You forget you have a cold
for five minutes and
your long earrings seem to
spin in orbits around you.
The only magazine headline you can read
says the "hot mess" look is in again,
so you feel accomplished
because your hair is unwashed,
black heels dangling over your shoulder,
red blisters hitting the sidewalk.
You breathe heavily, in and out,
from night exhaustion and vodka zing.
You don't stumble. You don't dare. You fly:
dancing into the obscurity of swaying street lamps.
Because for once the mirror, the ever-present eye,
is a friend that you hug too hard,
leaving bruise marks you find both
hilarious and mystifying the morning after.

The Wilderness by Naomi Hamilton

On the verge of the lake, he stands alone
without speaking or moving,
his emaciated frame lost amid gorse bushes,
their needles tipped with yellow buds,
spines hooking onto his baggy brown coat.
The landscape recedes, each mountain
like the stony back of a sea monster
in hibernation. Ashen clouds slide over
the weakening sun, their shadows
dancing across the rock face.
A Westerly wind sweeps the skin of water
and licks his ruddy face, forcing him to shut both eyes.
As sudden raindrops ping off his coat
he slowly backtracks home, following dirt tracks
flanked with overgrown heather
to the cabin, log fire, beer, bong, banjo,
faded olive couch with deer hide blankets,
and a loaded shotgun propped up beside the door.

The Accident by Talullah Hutson

I remember sitting on my father's shoulders
watching the millennium fireworks
from one unknown bridge or another.

I remember being wrapped up in a pram
with my brother, a plastic cover
keeping away the rain
and the deep rumbles of summer fireworks
as they unleashed their burning colours
and showered down their embers on those below.

I remember the three of us, like musketeers,
crawling inside a duvet cover
and playing ant colonies.

I remember climbing across
the banisters when there was a knock
at the door, so the unsuspecting
guest would think I was an acrobat.

I remember when the knock
at the door was a policeman, bearing
bad news,

I don't remember what happened next.

I remember staring at a ceiling
that wasn't my own.

I remember playing with the hand sanitizers,

I remember the picnics in Queen Square
and running along the little flower bed walls.

I remember creeping up the stairs to smell your
dressing gown, the smell of you.

I remember Aileen, who cut me an apron
of my own and took me on her ward rounds.

I remember that you can't light seven
candles in a hospital room.

Brighton by Jessica Kelham-Hohler

The wheels got caught on the broken slabs of the drive, as they always did.
And the shed we told you to pull down still remained, broken and proud.
A dark place of mystery where, as toddlers, we often hid.
And you, with stamping feet and a gentle chuckle, would call for us aloud.

That green chair, torn and frayed, which belonged in the tip,
But which you insisted was the perfect one for your lazy days,
Never did leave that spot, next to the brandy for the occasional sip
And the chess board for our monthly plays.

The crossword lay unfinished with no answer for five down,
And you, frustrated at those ignorant writers, would stand,
Gazing at your garden over the sink, as you watched the man drown
Your favourite petunias, head in hand.

We found a plastic bag filled with pictures, curled and jaggedly cut,
Tossed by the rubbish, and when Mum protested you said,
'No use for them now,' as if the need equalled the desire, but
They were saved, and though you claimed to know them in your head

You looked at them often, and smiled at the times when
There were fields and sheep behind the house, and folk
Would gossip over fences, and like a 'clucking hen'
Mrs Herbert would tell you of her new plumbing bloke.

And when the sun hit that point where you could rest
On the greying plastic seat and think on those times
When you were marching through Burma, at your best,
You were content. Pleased to be out of the mines

And outside, with family. With time to spare,
With the odd pint, with the sense that times were good,
And that there remained that old, green, fading chair
To keep you happy, as it should.

Birthday Present by Dillon Leet

It was a gift for an international girl;
a book of hard-hitting photographs
on glossy paper. Something to leave about
to complement her framed intellect.
She presses pansies between the pages,
for the thank-you card.

One night she examines it by phone-light,
nestled under the duvet her grandmother made
when she was ten. A distraction
from the rainstorm
that howls behind the curtains,
rattling her Victorian window panes.

She traces the face of a Ukrainian man,
pressed up against floral wallpaper
by masked boys in khaki.
Dim light dissolves pages' edges
until eyes drip onto cotton sheets,
splattering shadows across her fingers.

Red veins scar streets
by mud-brick sick houses
cracked glass reflecting
pixelated screams
in high definition magazines
She turns the page.

The book hides under her jewellery box
as she wraps herself in blankets,
an international girl hyperextended.
She chooses another book; a well-worn
fairytale, and dreams herself to sleep.
Outside, the rain falls.

Hemingway's Thirst by Conor McKee

The black of its coat was oozing now like pitch
and spilling along the hoof racked rills of sand.
The writer sat, doped by the bloody ditch,
enjoying the raw art so "very fine, yet very sad".

He knew from the moment it started
this was tragedy more profound than the stage.
Blood, another drink that numbed, as ribs parted
for a drinking horn that removes life and age.

He watched the beast strike,
the man crumpling in a tragic arc
till he and his spear stopped alike:
a typewriter bar hitting its dock.

Thirty years later it was
he who would feel the buck of the bull,
as the shot rampaged forth
to that last flash of the matador's cloak.

The Frame by Sonja Moore

A photograph, still upon a white window
Gathers the curls and the smile of a girl,
Strong and awakening in a plated frame.

She watches, at dawn, the shining east
And the sleeping form of her sister;
In summer, in winter, she stays all the same.

Through the starlit glass, I hear her laugh,
Gentle and calm, like mine;
She rides on the wind, calling my name.

I keep this shrine, still on a white window,
Still with a timeless expression,
With her back to the west, a dying flame.

Fire Knows by Jesse Rodrigues

Fire knows the wood's secrets
as they hold their heated deliberations

Fire knows how to warm
chilled hands, chilled feet, chilled faces

Fire knows how to dance and sway
to the sounds of the night

Fire knows how to belch and cackle
exactly when you don't want it to

Last, but not least, fire knows how to die with a flourish

A flame, a spark, a winking coal
then cold, hard, black, silence

Reduced by Abigail Setchfield

In remembrance of all those who lived, died, and worked in Auschwitz and Birkenau

They come off the train as humans.
Bloodied, muddied, sweat and tear-caked humans.
I look at them, and think -
I have to kill them.

Animals, we're taught, they're just animals! Disgusting, stealing animals,
But they stink of pure humanity.
Hope, love, but most clearly fear.
Perhaps if we break them down we'll find the animal we can kill.

Perhaps if we take their suitcases.
If we leave them without a possession in the world,
Without the objects that hold the memories that make them who they are.
The children cry as I prise their toys from them, add them to the pile.

Perhaps if we take their shoes.
Brogues and boots and slippers, feet left to blister,
Each of them left to walk barefoot like beasts.
A mother picks up her daughter, cradles her, so her feet don't touch the mud.

Perhaps if we take their clothes.
Strip them, leave them bare, open to the world, our roaming eyes, our mockery,
Replace the uniqueness of clothing with the rags of prisoners that mark them as the same.
Some of them cry, some stare with fury and determination, a gaze we cannot hold.

Perhaps if we shave their hair.
Unsex them, leave them bald, unsightly,
Cold and so uniform that from a distance each head is one and the same.
A woman presses her lips to an exposed head, whispering words of beauty into the weeping girl's ear.

Perhaps if we take their names.
Make it so they have no identity, no self,
Leave them as nothing but digits on a clerk's sheet.
The numbers, branded onto their skin, become a symbol of their resilience, their strength.

Perhaps if we take their food.
Force them to scrabble, scavenge, dig through rot and mud,
Eat mould and worms for fear of fading to nothing more than bone.
An older man takes his share, and gives it to the young, choosing their life over his own.

Perhaps if we turn them to ash.

Reach/Throw/Wade/Row by Phoebe Stuckes

She is the class of crazy that inspires adoration.
She stacks vices like bracelets, works herself into hysterics,

Don't give her matches she will pinch them till her fingers scorch.

I know she is gorgeous like a thunderstorm, but stop trying to hold her hand.
Her heart is too heavy for you to lift.

Her pain is impossible, you can keep wrapping your arms around her but she'll never stay upright.

Her stares are hospital corridors, passageways hiding chaos and anguish.

'No, you can't have a cigarette.'

She lost the ring that I gave her; on ardent impulse I wanted to throw her a lifebelt.
A reminder that she and I are washed up on the same shore.

Being with her is like seeing Alice drink the vial, watching herself become vast and destructive.

I cannot keep her safe; I cannot bear to watch her fold.

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