Ciah White on winning a Northern Writers’ Award

Writing is something I’ve always done. However, poetry was something I saw as almost pretentious; perhaps because back then I didn’t get it. It seemed to be all old men writing sonnets to stuffy women, and my poetry has never been like that. The way that education is designed today makes writing into something that is measured and exact, curbing most of the joy behind it. I properly started writing again when I joined Hive’s Doncaster Young Writers’ group just over a year ago. For the first time I was able to write without constraints or exam measurements, allowing my writing to grow.

I began pushing myself into writing pieces that I never would have been able to do on my own, and getting feedback that wasn’t available to me back when I was sitting in my bedroom thinking that rhyme was gospel. I began to find my voice in my poetry, which to no-ones surprise was staunchly feminist and an outlet for the brash, mouthy part of my brain that wanted to stand-up and say the things that can’t be said in a normal conversation.

Winning the award was a massive surprise and I am so grateful for it. This was the first time I had sent my work out into the world. Although I’d started to read my poetry within my writing group – that was as far as my work ever went. Sending it out for the first time was terrifying and it was so scary letting my work be read without the ability to explain it. The fact that it was not only understood, but also appreciated, was amazing.

Attending the Northern Writers’ Awards was slightly surreal. Being surrounded by people who were all gathered together because of writing was something I’d never really experienced before. It was a place where writing was celebrated, instead of dismissed, as it usually is within the wider world. As a young writer my own goals are often dismissed, but seeing other people who were going far with words showed me that it can work. Throughout the evening people talked a lot about the idea of faith in writing and that was one of the biggest take-aways for me. More than anything else, you need faith to create and the awards solidified this for me.

The most surreal part of this was actually reading my poetry. The poem I read (‘Fire’) is about being a strong woman, and how the strength of women has endured throughout history. Being able to perform that poem in particular was amazing, as the idea of strength and determination linked so well with the sense of achievement present in the room. ‘Fire’ is rooted in the mining heritage of the North, something that I felt was connected to many of the people there and which made the poem even more special to me. I also felt that the appreciation of northern talent was so important to the evening and something I think is underrepresented in our London-centric writing industry. There was a buzz in the room that I’d never felt before and seeing my words appreciated by people who had no real obligation to do so was overwhelming.