Young poet

28th April 2000 at 01:00
Michael Laskey looks ahead to his term as The TES's guest poet.

When I'm running a poetry workshop, I tend to begin by discussing words and make the distinction between meaning and sound. Sometimes they coincide - if you're my age, you'll probably groan "onomatopoeia" and remember that classic example, Tennyson's "murmur of innumerable bees". But often they don't.

Place names can be magical: Shepton Mallet, Fressingfield, Manitoba. Who isn't stirred by the litany of the shipping forecast? Or by Hamlet's line as he drags off the corpse of Polonius: "I'll lug the guts into the neighbour room"? Here are a few other favourites of mine, words that fill the mouth and taste good to me: antennae, joist, hobble, itch, hippopotamus, stiletto, cough. Now I'd like your contributions. It's not a vocabulary test, just a reminder of how much we all naturally relish language. Being alive to that pleasure is a prerequisite for writing poems, I'm sure.

Invariably, I'm delighted and astonished by what people come up with. And that's always affirming, like Holub's poem, "A Boy's Head", with its wonderful contents list including "a projectfor doing away with piano lessons... an entirely new bird...a riverthat flows upwards" and its simple conclusion: "There is much promisein the circumstancethat so many people have heads."

It's that individuality I'll be looking for in thepoems you send in. I want poems that speak with the voice of a real person who savours language. As a reader, I love Hopkins and Herbert, Edward as well as Dylan Thomas, so I'll welcome work that's linguistically flamboyant or experimental, as well as the more straightforward and colloquial. Send me any work that surprises and excites you, and the odds are that I'll like it too.

For the past 11years I've been judging the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival's children's poetry competition. The more children's poems I've read, the plainer it's become to me that where there's a teacher with a passion for poetry and a real interest in what his or her pupils write, their pupils will produce poems of real quality and authenticity. Of course there are particularly talented young writers, but with inspirational teaching most children can experience the satisfaction of writing a real poem.

Michael Laskey founded the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival in 1989 and was its director for 10 years. His most recent collection, The Tightrope Wedding (SmithDoorstop), was a Poetry BookSociety recommendation and shortlisted for the T S Eliot prize. Please send poems, preferably no longer than 20 lines, to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, and include the poet's name and address, the name of the submitting teacher and the school address. Or e-mail: friday@tes.co.uk


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