In January of this year (seems so long ago now!), we appointed our latest Warwickshire Young Poet Laureate – Ruby Murphy. Ruby wrote us an introductory blog earlier this year and you can read all about the Selection Day process for the Young Poet Laureate and Ruby’s initial thoughts here.

Under normal circumstances, our Young Poet Laureate (or YPL for short) would attend events such as Open Mic nights, festivals throughout Warwickshire and work with us to bring poetry to our library users in creative ways. As we know, however, these aren’t normal circumstances and Ruby’s role has transformed into being a “YPL in Lockdown”.

In today’s blog, Ruby reflects on the first six months of her Young Poet Laureateship and provides an overview of what she has been up to despite events being postponed. Ruby is  currently studying for her A-Levels so we are very proud that she has balanced her YPL role with what must have been some unusual circumstances adjusting to learning at home and living in Lockdown.

Before March things like the busy common room, endless lunch queue and loud bus were a curse on my daily routine, but pretty quickly the word ‘routine’ meant nothing anymore, and even these daily annoyances were greatly missed. A-Level English Literature, Art and Drama lessons all became video calls. In the hours when I used to bounce ideas off my friends, sketch till my arms ached and lose my breath in physical warm-ups, I was suddenly cooped up in my bedroom, disconnected, confused and alone except for flickering, pixelated conversations.

Some creatives can thrive in this isolation, fuelling their work with introspection and self-reflection, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t struggle. I felt cut off from the world I knew and wrote about – and like everyone else was doing fine and carrying on as usual (when of course, this wasn’t the case). It was as if the train I was trying to catch had everyone on board except me. And then, with what felt no direction, no destination and no clue what to do, the blank page hit.

Every time I get writer’s block, I feel like such a fraud. Everyone is calling me this ‘poet’ and here I am, struggling to write poetry – isn’t that sort of the bare minimum of being a poet?

Lockdown has proved an overdue reminder not to compare myself to other people. My creativity will not be the same as others right now, nor will it be the same as it was just before everything turned upside down. The experience I’m having right now might not be this serene, romanticised, ‘poetic’ one, but it’s mine, and when I want to write with authenticity and bold, confident truth, it’s still my experience I have to channel into my work.

I put these feelings into my poem “(through the window)” which I wrote for ‘The Scriptstuff Lockdown Anthology’. I wanted to capture the idea of distance, and that there’s this longing for someone on the other side of the glass. It’s up to the reader to decide if that someone is a stranger, a sorely missed friend or whether it’s me. There’s a flexibility in many poems that allow them to mean something different to each person, or something different each time you reread it yourself. I’d never been published before so it was lovely that this first experience was part of an anthology with so many great poets and plenty of familiar faces from the Open Mic nights in Leamington that I attended, now so long ago.

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I also had the amazing first experience of doing a commission. ‘Poetry On Loan‘ set me the challenge of writing a poem to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the opening of the joint building that houses Rugby Library and Rugby Art Gallery and Museum. I’ve grown up here in Rugby, so while there was a lot of familiarity with the subject, there was a lot of pressure as I desperately wanted to capture the sense of this place that I loved.

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Wanting to bring reference to books, art and history, as well as how I felt about the place, I opted for a more imaginative, expressionistic style in my final poem: “This is the place”. In it, I imagine my surroundings with the same wonder as my younger self and I had so much fun writing it and finally seeing it all come together – it was hard work but so so rewarding. [You can see Ruby’s poem on our Twitter and Facebook pages – we will be premiering it tomorrow morning]

I’ve had the amazing privilege of weekly sessions with my mentor Jasmine Gardosi, who’s honestly incredible. She’s an amazing contemporary poet who’s a brilliant performer and she’s really helped me experiment, step out of my comfort zone and develop my performance. Together, we’ve tried different exercises to find the right delivery of the lines, and while the one I’ve opted for is relatively subtle, we had such a great time trying all sorts of bold and crazy things.

Already, I’ve learnt so much in this process that I don’t think I would have without Lockdown. It’s meant that Open Mic nights and festivals I had planned in my diary have all been cancelled and that it hasn’t been the typical experience of a Young Poet Laureate, but it’s really forced me to reflect and experiment and think about what’s next. I’m still not too sure what comes next, but I know now that whatever it is, I can go into it with confidence. The train I was chasing never left without me, it was only delayed, and we are all standing here on the platform together.

As Ruby says, things have changed somewhat this year. To enable her to get the full Young Poet Laureate experience, we have decided to extend Ruby’s YPL year into 2021. We will be looking for our next YPL candidate next Spring/Summer rather than than this Autumn/Winter. We hope that this will mean that Ruby can take part in some of the events that have been postponed and work with us to bring poetry to Warwickshire Library members and beyond.

Keep an eye out for future updates from Ruby who will be sharing some of her favourite poetry with us later in the year.

As mentioned above, you can see Ruby’s commissioned poem ‘This is the place’ on our Twitter and Facebook pages from Wednesday 19 August 2020.

Future updates about the Young Poet Laureate scheme will be posted on here.