The Shrill Whistle of Diesel by Emmanuel Doit;TES Young Poet of the week

12th June 1998 at 01:00
The Shrill Whistle of Diesel

The umbilical cord is broken

I am separated from the petrol station

for a few pounds,

I rush down the steep black oily stairs

Instinct tells me about my duty

My turn near the friction-heated brakes comes,

Then down and up in a long slide

The roar of the double-impact turbo engines silences all,

Through the cars highway

Into the rotating fins

Past the volcano

I vibrate in a long tube

bouncing back and forth

Hesitating whether to go out or to stay in,

Taking a spoonful of bravery

I leap out of the exhaust pipe

Drinking oxygen in gulps

Free from materialism.


* Emmanuel Doit's voice of diesel reminds me of those tiny cameras following a path through the inside of the human body. I love the image of the petrol pump hose as a huge oily umbilical cord. One advantage of adopting the voice of a voiceless thing is that the emotional content is driven into the detail and left to fend for itself. This makes it possible to deal in abstractions - lines like "Instinct tells me about my duty" lodge in the mind with such vivid images to back them up.

One problem, though, is that objects don't do very much, so the poems end up being about doing nothing, or being helpless, or stuck. In Paul Farley's collection "The Boy from the Chemists is here to see you" there's an excellent poem in the voice of a light bulb, but as a model it suffers from being a story of hanging about. The diesel poem escapes this by also being the story of a journey. Other journeys that might produce similar results are those of food or drink, smoke from a cigarette and blood and other bodily fluids.


Emmanuel Doit, aged 13, receives the Poetry Society Young Poetry Pack. Submitted by Cliff Yates of Maharishi School, Ormskirk, Lancashire, who receives a set of Poetry Society posters with teacher's notes. Please send students' poems to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY.

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", was published by SmithDoorstop Books last month.

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