Bedford poet receives award at MK Literary Festival

Casey Stewart with the 'Tales of the City' anthology featuring her poem. Image: Casey Stewart
Casey Stewart with the 'Tales of the City' anthology featuring her poem. Image: Casey Stewart

An emerging poet from Bedford has had her work published in a new anthology and been awarded ‘highly commended’ at MK Literary Festival.

Casey Stewart, 18, entered ‘flashbacks to libertas’ in the festival after being encouraged by the writing group she attends in Bedford.

Better Days’ Poetry Workshops are run collaboratively between CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service) and the poet Katie O’Pray as a way for young people to express themselves through poetry and creative writing, particularly those struggling with mental health.

“Katie has been such a huge inspiration for me since I started attending Better Days’ Poetry Workshops,” said Casey.

“I was looking to enter some competitions at the time and they had recommended that I enter this one, and when I looked into it, I was so drawn to the theme.

“I had also figured that more local competitions would be a great place for me to start before working my way up to national competitions.”

Casey, who began writing poetry when she was around 13 and a student at Goldington Academy, said she likes the longevity of the written word.

“I love to write about nature, I love writing narrative poems, I also have written pieces for school and for loved ones’ funerals, but what mainly inspires me to write is my mental health,” Casey told the Bedford Independent.

“I’ve found that it’s such a healthy coping mechanism for all sorts of lows in life, it’s liberating, and I would love to be able to share this joy with other people.

“I have changed a lot as I’ve grown up and have had a lot to lose and to gain, it’s been so emotional, so it’s a comfort knowing that my work will always be something I can keep.”

Casey’s highly commended poem is inspired by the Statue of Liberty in New York.

“The narrative is that the speaker is recounting how they climbed to the top of it to escape the floods below, but ended up getting into trouble for it,” said Casey.

“I used this narrative to convey the feeling of recklessly running away from emotions, trying to escape. Sometimes I wonder if Lady Liberty’s arms get tired of that tablet and torch, and the weight of the symbolism of freedom – I think the speaker just wanted a piece of that freedom.”

She describes the award as being a milestone in her journey and hopes one day to publish a book of her own.

“I’ve had tons of support from all my loved ones and I’m so grateful for that. I aspire to keep entering more competitions like this one [but] for now, little victories like these will help me improve as a poet.”

Describing the writing workshops, Katie O’Pray said: “I work collaboratively with the Better Days team at CAMHS to facilitate our Writing Nights – a free opportunity for young people to read, discuss and write poetry in a friendly, accessible environment.

“These workshops run on the second Thursday of the month at the Green Earth Cafe. With a focus on self-expression, they feature contemporary poems, guided writing time, coffee, cake and connection. 

“Casey has been a valuable part of this group for some time; it has been a pleasure to watch her flourish.

“I was so proud to read her skilful commended poem and to see her name in print. I am sure it will be the first time of many.” 

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