TES Young Poet of the Week

10th January 1997 at 00:00
This term's guest poet, John Mole, is head of English at St Albans School and a regular TES reviewer. Here he describes what poetry means to him and introduces his first choice.

Writing poems, for me, has always been a matter of surprise and recognition, not knowing what it is I wanted to say until I have said it. Teaching, too, has allowed me the privilege of witnessing the confidence this gives to others, particularly to children, as they discover the patterns to be made out of their own language and their own speech rhythms,as a teacher's directive becomes their absorbed exploration and they take control.

If I had to sum up what I have learnt over the years at my two desks, at home and in the classroom, I couldn't better the words of Edward Thomas: "Anything, however small, may make a poem; nothing, however great, is certain to." And, taking my cue from that, my advice would be always to begin with particulars and not with the great abstracts.

The finest poetry of Love and Death, of Fear or the Environment, could well be about an old coat, a pair of shoes, a patch of damp on your bedroom wall, the sound of a beer can being kicked along a station platform. By focusing attention, the imagination begins to work, memories attach themselves, one image calls up another and - with luck - the poem's scope widens. This is the reward of concentration. Someone once asked the painter Matisse if he believed in God, and his answer was, "Yes, when I'm working." That is, when he was totally absorbed in the world of shape and colour. It can be just the same with language and the making of poems.

Perhaps that all sounds a bit too solemn, so I'd better say that in my book laughter, nonsense, subversion, the inventive mischief of word play are also among the great delights of poetry, and I'm looking forward to receiving plenty of these during my time as guest poet. Surprise me.

Matthew Jones certainly did with his poem "The Sky Lobsters". This is a good example of the closely observed opening up into meditation. Those big notions - eternity and history - really mean something to him and to his readers because they have grown up within the poem and ride out of it on the back of an image.

* Send poems to John Mole at The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Entries, which cannot be returned, should be original and up to 20 lines long.

THE SKY LOBSTERS

The white and the grey, Their rumblings come nearer, A melancholy silence takes the world.

They start to merge, They now pass by Going their separate ways.

They turn pink, yellow and orange, Disappearing fast.

Night has fallen, The sky lobsters are gone.

They were only clouds after all But they will return Day after day for eternity.

They witnessed history itself begin, But for the night The sky lobsters travel on.

Matthew Jones

Matthew Jones, aged 9, receives Back To Midnight by John Mole (Puffin). Submitted by Sue Harris of Heamoor primary school, Heamoor, Penzance, who receives the Poetry Society's teachers' newsletter. For Poetry Society events, ring 0171 240 4810

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