Guest poet

4th September 1998 at 01:00
Since September 1994, teachers all over the United Kingdom have sent in poems by young people between the ages of five and 18. We have published about 160 of them, chosen by distinguished poets, from Wendy Cope to Michael Rosen.

The new academic year's guest poet, our 13th, is Ann Sansom, who is writing tutor at Doncaster Women's Centre and is a part-time lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University. She has published widely in magazines, and her collections include Romance (Bloodaxe). Ann has held several placements in schools, most recently in Suffolk as writer-in-residence for the Aldeburgh Poetry Trust, and most unusually on trains with schools along the Penistone line between Huddersfield and Sheffield.

Here she describes working as a guest poet in schools and the kind of poetry she enjoys.

John, l0, stops patrolling the corridor and, intrigued by his mates with their heads down, comes in at last: "I know I'm late. But I've had a lot on my mind." And now he's here, he has a go himself - writing, finding it was something for him. Or, with a class of six-year-olds, making up a poem about knitting Manchester and all of us stuck for an appropriate rhyme, and one girl offering "register". In the staffroom it transpires she is - the first time I hear this ugly expression - an elective mute. Well, it's easy coming in as "the poet" to make the session special, and it's a commonplace that poetry benefits the academically disaffected.

These are my starting points when I think about writing in the classroom. Those occasions and the other less spectacular examples, where children simply write poems which surprise themselves and their classmates by finding what they didn't know they wanted to say. It's something to do with the poem starting to develop its own patterns - or falling happily into a given pattern - so that it is more than prose, more than a good idea. It's also the poem being full enough of the writer's own voice and interests to steer clear of poetical language and predictable turns of thought.

None of this will be new to teachers. And it won't be a surprise that I like poems that "show, not tell", that use vivid but not show-off language, that describe more than explain. And which, like dreams, say something through their imagery, spon-taneously and incidentally - because all the writer has done is trust their own imagination. That's what I'll be looking forward to reading in the coming weeks.

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