Young poet

26th May 2000 at 01:00
Sarah Geffen, 13, Bishop Luffa school, Chichester, West Sussex.

Presents Some tops and nail varnish, Clogs and scrunches, Some socks and stationery.

All for Tracey, Nothing for you or anyone else, Just for Tracey.

A torn green skirt, A pair of darned socks, An old toothbrush, A holey woollen jumper.

All for Teraya, Nothing for you or anyone else, Just for Teraya.

Michael Laskey, Friday magazine's guest poetry critic, writes: Poems that address those horrors on TV that we come home to most evenings are almost impossible to write successfully. The situation is so appalling and the feeling so strong that the would-be poem degenerates into a rant.

But not Sarah's, which is remarkable for its restraint. She leaves us to decide for ourselves who Teraya is: a refugee, a victim of war or natural disaster, or a representative of a third world country. She has found the perfect form for her subject - two verses contrasting two girls.

Often refrains can be mere repetition, but not Sarah's. In the first verse there's a light-hearted "all-mine" feel to those last three lines. One can imagine Tracey saying them with mock childish-ness, but there's an undercurrent of greed. In Teraya's case though, the same word are acutely distressing. Her pitiful presents are precious, although they are "nothing for you or anyone else".

The poem works because Sarah doesn't preach. She trusts the objects to speak to us. She trusts us to make sense of them; to notice how Tracey's casually dismissive "some socks" contrast with Teraya's socks that are "a pair". She leaves us to formulate our own questions about a world in which two such similar girls (their names are practically anagrams) can live such different lives.

Sarah Geffen receives Strictly Private, edited by Roger McGough (Puffin). Her poem was submitted by Joan Secombe and Barry Smith. 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 shortlisted for the T S Eliot prize. Please send poems, no longer than 20 lines, to TES Friday, 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: 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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