National Poetry Month with Katie O’Pray

While we are spending lots of time at home, it’s the perfect time to try out something new! So why not try your hand at some Poetry?

Poetry is said to help you express yourself, let out your emotions in a healthy way and help you to relax. This month it’s National Poetry Month and to celebrate we have asked English Language and Communication student, and winner of a commendation in the Magma Poetry Competition, Katie O’Pray about her experience of writing poetry.

Getting to know Katie

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a 21-year-old poet from Bedfordshire. I’ve been studying English Language and Communication with Creative Writing at the University of Hertfordshire since 2017. Aside from poetry, I really enjoy baking, running, embroidery and playing the ukulele!

How did you come to start writing poetry?

Looking back, I’ve written creatively throughout childhood without really realising it; writing poems, songs, stories and plays with my friends and family. I developed an interest in poetry particularly around the age of 16, when I discovered spoken word poetry online.

What appealed to me at the time was the way it addressed social issues that I felt passionately about. Topics like sexuality, misogyny, racism, gender identity and their intersections were being discussed in a way that was not only artistic, but articulated experiences more authentically than plain language could allow. I began writing my own poems shortly after but didn’t start working more intensely until I studied a poetry module with Wayne Holloway-Smith during the second year of my degree.

Would you encourage other students to start writing poetry?

I would encourage anyone to start writing poetry! And reading it too! Poetry is such a versatile form and there are so many interesting poems being published to enjoy and take inspiration from. I think it’s important to remember that your poems don’t have to be perfect and you don’t need years of study behind you to put pen to paper. Your poems don’t have to be tragic or ground-breaking either.

"Any moment can be a poem if you hold it in the right light."

During this time would you say writing poetry has helped you in any way?

Personally, I’ve found writing poetry to be a therapeutic practice. I often write poems that I don’t intend to submit anywhere, just for myself. The autobiographical nature of my work allows me to process events and emotions – even traumas – through language. It allows me to have some agency over the narrative of my life and a space to vent. It’s a bonus if other people can take something from my work too. I think some of the best poems are ones that taught the poet something about themself during the writing.

How does it feel having received a commendation in the Magma Poetry Competition?

I am amazed and so proud – and a little overwhelmed! I’m very grateful to receive this commendation, especially from a poet like Caroline Bird whose work I have admired for a long time, and on a poem that feels very close to me.

(Find out more about the Magma Poetry Competition here)

Have you got any plans for the future with regards to your poetry? Any more competitions on the horizon? 

I have recently been shortlisted for the Out-Spoken Prize for Poetry 2020. It’s incredibly exciting, and slightly intimidating, to be shortlisted alongside poets whose work I really enjoy and have even studied during my degree. And I am, of course, still writing.

How Poetry can help

As Katie has mentioned, poetry has helped her to process events, let out her emotions and relax. It is a very difficult time and you might be feeling stressed, anxious or worried. If you are feeling a bit low, try writing some poetry. You could write something for friends or family, or you could just write something for yourself, but it might really help you to write down how you are feeling.

If you want some tips on how to get started with poetry, read this helpful article from our Alumni Theresa Lola, who is also the Young People’s Laureate for London 2020.

You can also find out how poetry has helped other students at Herts, like Alice Okunowo who published her own poetry book earlier this year,

We want to congratulate Katie for her amazing achievements in the Poetry world and wish her the best of luck with her writing in the future! The poem that landed her with a commendation in the Magma Poetry Competition, Four Kisses, is shown below. Well done Katie!

Four Kisses


She is unlooping
my hair from itself, thighs
bowing under my head,
there’s a man who fathered an alien she says,
she says they called him starseed,
we are wearing down the evening, steady burn on a wick
and paddling in the halflight, I can’t stop
talking because she does not know me, no image
to disrupt, the high
falls and I am putting on my coat, she says
turns her mouth up into mine


The girls in the garden with us are singing
and telling their boyfriends they want
to fuck, the night time
cooling my sunburn through my sleeves, the fruit
punch is all rum, the picnic blanket dappled with cherry burns, I don’t remember
the lips, just that they happened
just the glowsticks, the singing –
the places where all the veins meet


French sunlight
slapping the back of the bus, teachers dozing
in the front row, I am sucking
on a peppermint,
sticky suede seat, he is
lean lipped and freckled, sloppy tongued
but enthusiastic and if we don’t do it now,
what will we hang on the fridge!


There is damp sand pushed under my fingernails,
I am squatting, soft legged over wooden blocks, white knee
socks on the hopscotch, corner of the playground
only watched by a ceramic frog, sickly
belly and I don’t even think
he says anything, I’ve never tasted
someone else’s spit but girls
are silent in the swallow
and his dad calls me sweetheart over the gate
and my hatching teeth,
I already know


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