Young poet

11th February 2000 at 00:00
Jaimie Cooke, five, Forest and Sandridge C of E primary, Melksham, Wiltshire.

My Family. I like to play outside in my garden. I like my Mum painting my face. I love my family. I miss my Dad when he goes to work. I miss my Gran. "My Family" is from a series, all with the same title, by Class 1 amp; 2 in a school anthology. Each year, from Reception to Year 5 amp; 6, has a section in the book, which includes a class photo. The poems are in their way class photos, and I like all of them.

I was tempted by several, not least Thomas Hartley's two-liner, so much bigger than its size, "I help Grampy build his summer house And sometimes they take me to Longleat." So why choose Jaimie's? T S Eliot said there was no competition among poets (though this was after he'd won the Nobel prize), and I agree with him, if he meant we don't grade people. But we can say why we happen to prefer one poem over another.

We can grade poems, even a five-year-old's, for the very reason that we aren't grading the person; even with adult poems, devices and turns of phrase arrive, as Keats said, "half at random", co-written by what he called elsewhere "the magic hand of change".

We might guess Jaimie's age from the fist line, "in my garden", where the "my" isn't so much to distinguish it from next door's, but is an expression of ownership. The poem is nicely balanced. The verb "love" gains emphasis for being stated only once. "Family" is literally at the centre of Jaimie's poem, in a shorter line balanced with the only other short line, the last. I very much hope the poet means she wishes she saw her gran more often; but the poem, as an artefact, by having that last line stop dead, leaves the reader with something else.

It's true, even so, that I noticed Jaimie's poem (having a three-year-old myself) because of the fourth line.

Jaimie Cooke receives This Poem Doesn't Rhyme, edited by Gerard Benson (Penguin). Her poem was submitted by Mrs J Young. 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 1BXThe TES Book of Young Poets (pound;9.99), a selection of poems from this column, can be ordered by phoning 01454 617370. A set of posters is available for pound;3.99.

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