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Collected poems are songs of innocence

Teachers see their youthful scribblings in print in collection of the best verse written by Camden children over 25 years. Eleanor Levenson reports

BUDDING poets beware. Your past works may come back to haunt you, particularly if you went to school in the London borough of Camden between 1975 and 2000.

For a selection of poems written by pupils over the past 25 years has just been published in a book called Concrete Candles.

Nicolette Sorba, head of English at Haverstock secondary, and Jim Mulligan, a governor at the school, trawled through hundreds of poems in filing cabinets and teachers' houses. From these they selected nearly 90 for the anthology and set about tracing the writers. Every poem won a prize in its day and was written for school poetry magazines.

To begin with all were written by Haverstock pupils but 10 years ago the competition was expanded to include all local primary schools and became the North Camden Poetry Competition.

"It is amazing how many people still live in the Camden area. Eventually we managed to contact about half the poets," said Mr Mulligan.

For some of the poets this was the first time they had been reminded of the existence of their work: "t's kind of embarrassing. It says more about how horrible and misogynistic a teenager I was rather than what I am like now," said Andrew Dobbie, who wrote his poem "Everybody Loves You" in 1986.

Mr Dobbie is now a governor of Haverstock School. He is not the only one of the poets to return to work in local schools. Lisa Smith wrote the poem "Boy" in 1979. She left Havestock in 1985 only to return five years later as a teacher. She is now head of social sciences: "I remember writing this poem very clearly. 'Boy' is not bad for an 11-year-old. It's rather sad."

Susan Yaffe, who wrote "A secret place" in 1986, also teaches in Camden, at Eleanor Palmer primary. She said: "I remember writing this poem well. It was after my sister and I had stayed with a friend in a remote house in Norfolk. We spent many days roaming the woods and this poem was written when we got back."

Among other contributors are human rights barrister Quincy Whitaker who wrote "Wealth, power and death" in 1989 and journalist Zo Heller whose poem "Louis XIV was born in... Paul's got lovely teeth" was written in 1979.

Concrete Candles is available to buy from Haverstock School. Ring 020 7267 0975. Price: pound;6.99.

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