James O'Connell, 17, St Thomas Aquinas school, Birmingham Burnt Since the beginning of time You have given birth to me in your homes; You boil and cook with me You wash and clean with me You warm your bones with me You believe I'm practical I'm the soft flicker on your log fire
You use me You control me But you can't control me I destroy without purpose I spread without direction I kill without reason I purify without religion You can't control me I can engulf you I am fire.
Peter Sansom, TESFriday's guest poetry critic, writes: Every line except the first has either "I" in it or "me". That's fire for you, consuming everything just to be more full of itself, and quite indiscriminately, as we're told in that authoritative but rather swaggery fourth stanza. Splendid lines, aren't they, "I spread without direction I kill without reason", and very apt for fire, I think, finding that same solipsistic voice we get in Hughes's "Hawk Roosting" (or for that matter Gloria Gaynor's "I Wll Survive"), and stirring in the same way. The first half of the poem properly details the benefits of fire, and how we like to think of it. Up to line nine, it's one sort of animal: "You use me You control me". But at this point there's the (brilliant) contradiction, "You control me But you can't control me", which turns the poem on its head. I think this poet could do anything.
James O'Connell receives Emergency Kit, edited by Jo Shapcott and Matthew Sweeney (Faber). His poem was submitted by CatherineFoley. 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, TES Friday, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX The 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