Cooks are kept in a large cardboard box in the kitchen.
They are taken out and dusted when they are needed.
They are unfeeling, cold and do not need
your praise, appreciation or compliments.
It does not matter to them if you like their food,
if you think it too salty, bland, runny or quite dull.
They are paid (by cheque or direct transfer) whether you eat it
or whether you wrap it in a large handkerchief
and put it in your handbag to dispose of, discreetly, later
in a yellow bin.
They don't have opinions or friends and onions do not make them cry.
They simply chop and dice and grate and slice
meat and fish, potatoes, rice
all made into something fantastic, something special.
They wash the dishes, put them back and
then they climb back into their box and slowly close the lid.
I like the energy and ingenuity of Laura Smith's imagination. "Cooks" is a strong, fluent piece, with surprising turns, especially the line in which opinions and onions are put together to make splendid uncom-monsense. The poem is evidently an early draft: the lineation is awkward in places (that winningly specific "yellow bin", for instance, would be more effective if underplayed in a longer line); the repetition of "back" in the last two lines is an oversight; the point of the poem is maybe too pointed in the bitter tautologies of "praise, appreciation or compliments". But I wouldn't like to see too much rewriting; part of its charm is its confident, no-nonsense tone that enjoys making a meal, as it were, of its quirkiness. The poem's strength is not so much that quirkness, though, but its relaxed patterns of sound and colloquial verve. Best of all, it's not overambitious: serious writing needn't be full of abstraction or obvious heart-searching, and a sharp lemon meringue is worth any number of half-baked worthy pies.
Laura Smith, aged 16, of Lawside Academy, Dundee, receives the 'The New Poetry', edited by Michael Hulse, David Kennedy and David Morley (Bloodaxe). Submitted by Richard Grant of St Columba's High School, Perth, who receives a set of Poetry Society posters with teacher's notes. Please send students' poems to 'The TES', Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Ann Sansom is writing tutor at Doncaster Women's Centre and is a part-time lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University.