Dehydrated in the English Room

2nd October 1998 at 01:00
Parched with thirst
We loll on our desks
Trying to drink
bottles of Quink.
We cannot pay attention to the English teacher;
Too busy licking lips,
Feeling sick,
Stomachs contracting.
Something in the back row has got nasty, someone has
Punctured a skinny kid's artery with his compass and is
Drinking the blood out of his unconscious victim's
Limp white arm.
The girls are licking the condensation off the windows
But there isn't much left; the first years have already been at it.
Someone has a chemical from the lab
And it looks like water...
Children wasted on the floor; sucking rubbers cross-eyed,
Cheeks sucked in, goldfish.
Ink bottles empty, children wither in their seats
And the English teacher still hasn't noticed.

Luke Yates

I believe every word of Luke Yates's poem (except the first, which is a missed opportunity). It might have been a surreal piece, but instead it's hyper-realistic, as anyone who has endured one of those endless double periods will understand. It's the deadpan reportage, despite the hijinks ("Trying to drinkbottles of Quink", brilliantly concise and unexpected), that makes the scene so convincing. Similarly, the poet has fun but not just for the sake of it. By the end, the reader feels for the class, but even more for the teacher, plugging away at a class he's long-since lost, though he hasn't the imagination to notice.

Luke has evidently read many poems that have given him confidence. He has learned to leave space for the reader, that he doesn't need to spell everything out ("And it looks like water") or pad out his insights ("Cheeks sucked in, goldfish"), that a poem can benefit from formal pressure - quatrains - without having to rhyme or use the same length of line.

Luke Yates, aged 14, receives 'The New Poetry', edited by Michael Hulse, David Kennedy and David Morley (Bloodaxe). Submitted by Cliff Yates of the Maharishi School, Ormskirk, Lancashire, who receives a set of Poetry Society posters with teacher's notes. Please send 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. Her collections include 'Romance' (Bloodaxe)

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