Guest poet

16th April 1999 at 01:00
Eva Salzman is our guest poet for the summer term. Born in New York City, she has lived in the UK for 15 years and has published two volumes of poetry, Bargain with the Watchman (Oxford University Press) and The English Earthquake (Bloodaxe). Eva leads workshops in schools with students of all ages and is writer-in-residence at the Bromley-by-Bow Centre in east London, where she encourages young people to experiment with their writing.

She won second prize in the National Poetry Competition in 1993 and was the main runner-up in the 1998 Arvon Competition.

Here she describes how her own enthusiasm for poetry began.

John Daniel Webb, my first boyfriend (we were seven), gave me "The Bat-Poet" by Randall Jarrell, for my birthday. It has exquisite illustrations, but I suspect his parents had a hand in the choice of gift.

After the bat recites his poem, the mockingbird replies: "Why, I like it ITechnically it's quite accomplished I and it was clever of you to have that last line two feet short." The mystified bat replies: "I just made it like holding your breath."

It's typical of me to have forgotten this funny - and serious - exchange, and yet to have absorbed its wise description of the instinctive elements so vital to the creative process. For me, formal concerns come to the fore during editing, which follows the initial inspirational stage. When I read, I react first, and only afterwards analyse the poem's arrival. The theory of evolution decrees that form, not an end in itself, adapts to environment, or accident.

The first time I handed writing to an English teacher, it was returned with a neat A minus at the top: no comment, no reaction. How disappointed I felt, and humiliated. I then spent three years at a very academic science school, where my main pleasure was my English class with an Irishman called Frank McCourt.

Once, he used my poem as an example of the effectiveness of concentrating on detail: a woman drawing her watch up to her worn face (it had to be worn, because I was adolescent and miserable!). Young writers are often unconscious of how they successfully use an object as the adequate symbol, to paraphrase Ezra Pound.

I don't like formal verse that reads like connecting the dots. Poems are not crosswords but succeed from an authenticity of voice and a use of language both interesting and organic. The poem should actively discover what it is about. But a percentage of a work's success must always be unaccounted for. One hallmark of the writer is an inability to leave a mystery alone, and an ability to translate it into literature.

I look forward to receiving poems with a strong and authentic voice, ruled by curiosity and a natural love of language and rhythm.

Eva Salzman

Please send students' poems, preferably no longer than 20 lines, to 'TES' Young Poet, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Chosen poets will receive a book nominated by Eva Salzman, and their teachers a set of Poetry Society posters with teacher's notes. Please give your name and the poet's name, age and school. Poems must be the writer's unaided work

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