Young poet

14th January 2000 at 00:00
Ali Paget, 12, James Allen's girls' school, south London

Memories Memories are the smells of family recipes, Passed down and kept the same from age to age.

They are locked away in large, green photo albums, With a different smiling child on every page.

They are the creases in the silk of Gran's old ball gown; They are the teddy bears I cannot give away; they are the tiny shoes we still keep in the basement And all the other toys with which I used to play.

They are the pebbles from the beach "that day in Brighton" When it rained for hours and no-one could get dry, They are the stories Gran tells about your father.

They have the power to make us laugh or make us cry.

This is an extremely impressive poem, the more so because it doesn't try to impress; it's assured, immediately attractive and yet will repay re-reading. It's traditional, rather than conventional. Those speech marks in line 9 are a particular instance of what happens overall, that the poem manages to convey a lot of information concisely but as it were in its own time. Similarly, the form is firm enough and yet relaxed, always in service of the material (not, s is often the case, the other way round).

The idea, like the form, is simple but used in a sophisticated way. The listed "memories" are actually things which trigger memories. This is why the poem starts with the sense of smell, which bypasses the intellect and returns us to a scene quite involuntarily. And it's why the poem ends as it does: we can't choose what moves us, any more than we can control it, or the sudden access of memory which prompts our laughter or our tears. The examples open as we consider them like paper flowers in a tumbler of water, and are glimpses into a life, or lives, like our own memories are. "Memories" seems to me an outstanding and utterly achieved poem.

Peter Sansom

Ali Paget receives Strictly Private an anthology chosen by Roger McGough (Penguin). Her poem was submitted by teacher Anne Evans. Peter Sansom has published the handbook, Writing Poems with Bloodaxe. His third Carcanet collection, partly about his Poetry Society Marks and Spencer residency, is published this year. Please send poems, not more than 20 lines, to Young Poet, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX


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