Once, when I was still working in a primary school, I told an art college lecturer about a ten-year-old pupil who was "brilliant" at art.
"You can't tell when they're ten," she replied firmly. "You don't know if someone has real talent until they're at least 16."
It's often said that music, maths and chess are the areas where talent reveals itself early. I'm inclined to believe that poetry is more like the visual arts in this respect. A child who never wins any prizes may be the one who grows up to be a published poet.
Reading the poems sent in by schools, I am not surprised to find that most of the best ones arrive in batches. Where there's a talented teacher, a number of children come up with good work. Teachers with a feeling for poetry have something very valuable to pass on to their pupils. Even if those pupils don't grow up to be writers, there's a chance that poetry will continue to be part of their lives.
How have I chosen the poems for this space? By asking myself, "Did I enjoy reading that? Does it sing? Is there life in it?" Where the answer was yes, the poem usually seemed to have arisen from the writer's first-hand experience.
The poems I enjoyed least consisted of pious platitudes about war, poverty or caring for the environment. It isn't impossible, of course, to write good poems that touch on these subjects. Any subject is acceptable, if the poem works.
Christmas is a busy time in schools, and that probably explains why I've had to choose from a smaller number of submissions than might have been expected. There are vacant slots later in the term. Please send more poems.
Wendy cope THE LEAF
I saw a leaf f a l l i n g from a tree.
As I went by it f e l * on me.
I picked it off me and put it d o w n.
Now it's safely on the ground.
By Vicky Marsh, aged 8, who receives The Orchard Book of Funny Poems compiled by Wendy Cope. Submitted by Mrs G Brook of Ripponden Primary School, Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire, who receives the Poetry Society's teachers' newsletter, a quarterly bulletin which includes features on innovative approaches to poetry in the classroom. For Poetry Society events ring 0171 240 4810.
This is one of several likeable poems by Mrs Brook's pupils. I enjoy its simplicity, its music, and the picture it evokes of Vicky carefully removing the leaf from her person. I'm impressed by her technique. The rhymes are unforced, the rhythm is well-handled, and those words falling down the page work well too.