Cecilia Knapp, Young People’s Laureate for London 2021 has brought together poems by fifteen young poets across the UK in a special anthology, #WriteThroughThis, that marks and celebrates her fantastic tenure as Young People’s Laureate for London in the most difficult and strange of years. Taken from the anthology introduction, Cecilia says:
I came up with the #WriteThroughThis campaign because, truthfully, I was feeling stuck. I’d just been appointed Young People’s Laureate for London and my job was to try and increase the visibility of poetry for young people and create opportunities for them to have a go at writing. How could I do this in the throes of a global pandemic when it wasn’t safe to physically come together?
I decided to launch a campaign; free online workshops for anyone 16–25 as well as a series of ‘writing tips’ videos.
I wanted to reach people and spread the positive impact of reading and writing poems. To provide them with some dedicated time to themselves in a safe and low-pressure space, whether they were a seasoned poet or someone wanting to try new things with all this pandemic-induced boundless time at home.
The online model proved really useful for this. We reached big numbers of participants. It meant we could come together without having to travel, without even having to get out of our pyjamas. It made it more accessible and, for some, less scary. I think this meant that some young people who may have before seen poetry as something intimidating and impenetrable were able to show up and write, which is one of my main ambitions as Laureate: to help more people access poetry even if they are coming to it with a degree of doubt.
Of course I wanted participants to learn new skills and create work they were proud of, but this was secondary. I mostly wanted the sessions to be about joy and play; the sense of wonder and discovery achieved when you let go of intention or logic and just write. What can you find out about yourself and how can you find the language to say it? This impetus felt all the more important during the stresses of the pandemic.
Lockdowns came with pressures to be productive: learn new languages, finish that novel lurking in your drafts, bake a thousand banana breads and sweat through another home workout video. #WriteThroughThis wasn’t about that. It was designed for whoever needed it to help them reflect, process, write and meet new people. And we definitely created a community through the campaign, vital to myself and a lot of people who were, and still are in some cases, isolated.
It was such a fantastic joy to run #WriteThroughThis and to meet so many wonderful young writers from all over, a multitude of unique voices. I wanted to celebrate those voices we met, the diversity of thought and style and show that there is so much to contemporary poetry from young people. That’s where this digital anthology comes in. What you’ll read here is a selection of poems created entirely remotely during the course of the campaign. Despite it all, we managed to come together. Those who’d never written before tried something new and hopefully see poetry as something they are entitled to, something they are good at. More experienced writers found new writing pals and a protected space and time for them to write and grow. We’re incredibly proud of each and every one of these young writers, and the moments we all shared together.
Cecilia Knapp, Young People’s Laureate for London