Guest poet

8th January 1999 at 00:00
The first guest poet of 1999, our 14th, is Anthony Wilson. Poetry Society poet-in-residence for primary education, he is also a teacher and freelance writer. He is the author of How Far From Here Is Home? (Stride, 1997) and co-edited The Poetry Book for Primary Schools (Poetry Society), which appeared last autumn. He regularly visits schools, and lectures for the Tate Gallery's Speaking Pictures and Visual Paths to Literacy programmes, most recently working in schools in Tower Hamlets, east London, on the paintings of John Singer Sargent. He is studying for a PhD on poetry and literacy at Exeter University.

* Norman MacCaig's "Aunt Julia" was the first poem I remember reading which made me think "I could have a go at doing that". I was about 14 at the time. I'd been excited by Ted Hughes's early animal poems, Roger McGough's "40 Love", and John Logan's marvellous "The Picnic" (in Michael and Peter Benton's "Touchstones 5" - now out of print). The difference with "Aunt Julia" was that I came upon it in the first book of poetry I had bought with my own money, Geoffrey Summerfield's "Worlds". It spoke to me immediately. I also had relations I could not converse with - my mother's family, French-speaking Swiss. We did French at school, but it only made things worse: at last a poem that validated my own sense of frustration and anger.

When I read it now it is the simplicity of the language which continues to delight. I loved his use of adverbs: "marvellously" and "wetly" are strange but exact. I loved "the absolute darknessof a box bed, listening tocrickets being friendly". They didn't have crickets in Swiss Jura, but the darkest room I ever slept in was at my grandparents' house in La Chaux-de-Fonds: I dreamt that my fear and incomprehension could be similarly soothed by such insistent primitive music. And I loved her "threepenny bitsin a teapot", which seemed to conjure my grandmother's secret frugality precisely.

It is the poem that got me writing because it appeared when I needed it (which wasn't till after I had read it); it told a story, while leaving most of the "questions unanswered"; and because it taught me that plain language can be heartbreaking, too. These are still qualities I look for now, and hope to re-encounter them this term.

Anthony Wilson

* 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 Anthony Wilson, 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 writers' unaided work.

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