Children's literature

Philip Gross

I CAN MOVE THE SEA: 100 POEMS BY CHILDREN Chosen by Gillian Clarke Illustrated by Jenny Fell Pont Pounds 5.95. WONDERCRUMP POETRY!: THE BEST CHILDREN'S POEMS FROM THE THIRD ROALD DAHL FOUNDATION POETRY COMPETITION Edited by Jennifer Curry Red Fox Pounds 3.50.

I Can Move the Sea has the flavour of Gillian Clarke, a poet and one of our best poets-in-schools. "I've worked with thousands of children," says her foreword, "and have kept every one of your poems."

From this selection you see how she works; the riddle games, the similes,I - am - as - old -as - a - what? You see what she loves - Wales and its legends. And that's as it should be; each of us should bring our own enthusiasms, even eccentricities, rather than a textbook writing-in-one-easy-lesson.

The proof of the pudding is that children who might produce cliches if told "express yourself", use this gently structured leading to leap off, again and again, into unexpected thoughts that no one could make happen. A horse is "a moving machine snapping its coat like a shadow".

Most of these poems are by children of nine or under; a few are 15 or 16 but the simple direct style she encourages makes it hard to guess ages.

"My name is Hallelujah I come from the sky I stand still in the air My house is a cloud I am old, old as God The earth is my brother My sister is the sea" is by a five-year-old (plus a parallel text in Welsh).

I do wonder how much creative dialogue went into some of these very crafted poems by very young children, but I don't mean they are fakes. This book offers evidence that these things are inside children of all ages, and that Gillian Clarke has a rare gift for easing them out.

The Wondercrump! poems come from everywhere - chosen from 15,000 entries,ages seven to 17 - in an attractive affordable paperback, with lots of exclamation marks. Competition seems to work - benignly here as at a school fete where there are lots of prizes. The reader can compete, too, with the judges, looking for signs of the quirky real thing they haven't specially commended. Rose Beauchamp's "Spoon" has that, for me: "i am, despite my difference, as the bruise i leave in the milk of your cereal clears graceful, slender, in my own way musical."

And Catherine McAleese's "HIV Positive" is a real poem in every sense. I'm picking and choosing, having favourites. And this made me read the book from end to end. It works.

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