Young poet

2nd June 2000 at 01:00
Jess Hindes, Year 9, Newstead school for girls, Orpington, Kent

The Heat Clings The heat clings prickly to her pink-flushed face, Vibrating lights white-shimmer in her head.

Enveloped in the afternoon's embrace, Her mind lethargic, soft and almost-dead, She yawns, her mouth agape with want of air That's cool enough to soothe her pickling cells.

But sucking hard as sleep, it is not there.

The strain of trying grows and rises, swells To fill her hands with soft spaghetti flop.

Her work undone, she smiles and lets her eyes' Flesh-hooded lids, as though her pencil, drop.

She does not want to care or wonder why The world of nature works, for it does not Stop suffering in classrooms this damn hot!

Michael Laskey, Friday magazine's guest poetry critic, writes: Jess Hindes is obviously a talented girl. She was doing Sats practice in a science lesson, and not only did she do well in the test but she dashed off this sure-footed sonnet as well. You can tell at once how much she loves the physicality of the language. Those thickly clustered consonants and the repetition of all those sharp i's in the first two lines vividly render the suffocating discomfort, the sweat-prickling afternoon. She proceeds by focusing alternately on the external and the internal: her face is "pink-flushed" and the light's so dazzling that she can't think; we see her huge, gaping yawn and then feel her brain cells boiling. Once she's established the pattern, she reverses it. And in prt that's why "the soft spaghetti flop" line works so well. This time she goes first inside her protagonist's head to show her trying hard, making a real effort to do her work, but then switches to a view of her hands that won't respond, that have gone powerless and limp.

In keeping with the temperature, the language of the poem generally is a bit over the top. In fact, sounding a bit "poetic" is part of the joke. That's why she's chosen that most literary of forms, the sonnet. In the same way that the smiling girl is eventually overcome by sleep, so the slightly inflated formality of the language is undercut by the vivid reality of "soft spaghetti flop" and by her down-to-earth complaint about "classrooms this damn hot". Who wouldn't sympathise with that?

Jess Hindes receives Strictly Private, edited by Roger McGough (Puffin). Her poem was submitted by Dr Sharon Butler. 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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