New guest poet;TES Competition;Young National Poetry Competition

24th April 1998 at 01:00
Since Gillian Clarke first chose a TES Young Poet of the Week in September 1994, teachers all over the country have sent in thousands of poems by young people between the ages of five and 18. We have published about 150 of them, chosen by distinguished poets, from Wendy Cope to Michael Rosen, Matthew Sweeney to Kate Clanchy.

This term's guest poet, the twelfth, is Sian Hughes. Originally an infant teacher specialising in English as a second language, she worked in family literacy and community publishing in Manchester before moving to The Poetry Society as education development officer.

Sian Hughes was a winner in the TLSPoems on the Underground competition in 1996, since when her poems have appeared in "The North", "Writing Women", and "London Magazine". A short collection "Saltpetre" will be published by SmithDoorstop books in May, available from The Poetry Business on 01484 434840.

Here she introduces herself and describes the kind of poetry she enjoys.

My very first favourite poem was "Peter Peter Pumpkin eater". I could have been no more than three, had no idea what a pumpkin was, and I can't remember imagining any such character as Peter the pumpkin eater. I can only guess that what I liked about it was the feeling of the words on my tongue, and the fact that I could remember it long before I knew how to read the words.

As soon as I could read I wanted to read the same things over and over again. Even now I prefer to read a poem or a book six times rather than try a new one. Maybe that's how I end up learning things by heart - Bob Dylan lyrics, dialogue from films, paragraphs of novels or stories, and of course poetry - which isn't always as easy to commit to memory as these other things.

My early attempts at writing poetry were encouraged by an enthusiastic teacher. When one of my poems was spotted by his daughter on a train on the London Underground, he displayed a copy of it in his office along with something I wrote when I was seven.

When I was teaching infants, I found they shared my enthusiasm for hearing the same poems many times, and would often remember a detail of a poem that had passed me by in years of reading. The children seemed equally happy to hear long poems as short ones, and were amazingly open to difficult vocabulary, archaic phrases and unfamiliar subject matter. Poetry seemed to be a leveller, and an activity where it was impossible to predict what a child could remember or take from the experience.

I began to see poetry in the same category as observational drawing, singing and joke-telling - an activity that could remake the hierarchy of a class in one move - and one which seemed to call on similar skills: an attention to detail, a memory for musical pattern, and a sense of timing. These, then, I suppose are what I look for in anyone's writing, whatever the age of the writer.

* Any poems received from secondary age students before the end of July can also be entered for the Young National Poetry Competition run by The Poetry Society. The judges will be the poets Jo Shapcott and Don Paterson, and the 12 winners will be invited on a week's poetry course at the Arvon Foundation in October. No fees or entry forms are needed. Simply write the poet's name, address and date of birth on the reverse of the poem.

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

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