On the day you were born by Tasneem Uddin

2nd January 1998 at 00:00
This week Moniza Alvi chooses her first Young Poet of the term, and, below, she describes her own discoveries as a poet and teacher.

As a schoolgirl I enjoyed writing poetry very much, but I didn't consider that my life, my personal thoughts and feelings, my family, my town were suitable material. It was only as an adult that I felt freer and more aware, often writing about childhood retrospectively.

As a child with a mixed race background, growing up in Hertfordshire in the Sixties, I found that different cultures were often ignored and invisible. Now I know from my work as a secondary school teacher that children are able to celebrate their backgrounds and portray their feelings about aspects of their own lives. Teachers play an important part in helping young writers gain the confidence to explore their worlds.

I look forward to receiving very diverse poems as TES guest poet for the term and I'm keen to see work from all age groups. Simple language, vivid images and fresh observations make for powerful poetry; a poem by a seven-year-old can make as much impact as one by an older child or an adult. It is gratifying to read poems by older students and to know that pressure of course work and emphasis on literary analysis have not entirely pushed out poetry.

For everyone, the writing of poetry can fulfil many functions. It can be a way of salvaging something very positive from a difficult experience. It is play at its most rewarding, experiment with language, invention, drama, a chance to reflect back and transform that which we are constantly taking in.

Although the title of my first collection, The Country At My Shoulder, refers to my birthplace, Pakistan, it also has wider implications - the hidden, fruitful worlds or "countries" that can be entered through poetry, whatever its subject or mood. The significance and necessity of poetry for the writer is expressed by Pablo Neruda (Poetry, trans. Alastair Reid) "... Poetry arrivedin search of me. I don't know, I don't know whereit came from, from winter or a river ... there I was without a faceand it touched me."


On the day you were born, Many people came and gathered around to see you You have come from God's special heaven.

They all sang and prayed for the one which was born.

Before you were born, Zillions of shining beautiful stars came shining in the sky.

On the day you were born, People washed your tiny knees and hands and picked you up.

Before you were born, Lovely mint trees were moving, Trees to trees.


It is fitting to start the new year with Tasneem Uddin's poem about birth. I was immediately struck by this luminous, graceful poem and its atmosphere of celebration. I do think imagining one's own or another's entry into the world is a great subject. I liked the enthusiastic "Zillions of stars" and the original description "mint" for the trees which makes them sound so fresh, as if seen for the first time. The last two lines show the trees in a kind of dance of appreciation. The layout is accomplished, contributing to a very pleasing form and allowing space for the thoughts in the poem to settle.

Tasneem Uddin, aged 8, receives Why is the Sky? edited by John Agard (Faber). Submitted by Sara Haynes and Andrew Read, of Bigland Green Primary School, London, who receive a set of Poetry Society posters with teacher's notes. For Poetry Society events, ring 0171 240 2133

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