Young poet

23rd June 2000 at 01:00
I Know

I know how to swim on my back

I know how to spell apparatus

I know how to write

I know my times tables

I know how to draw a sunset

I know how to rip a piece of paper

I know how to sit on a chair

I know how to ride a bike

I know how to read 400 pages

Alice Neale, 8,Holton St Peter county primary school, Holton, Halesworth, Suffolk

Michael Laskey, Friday magazine's guest poetry critic, writes: List poems always work well with children. Their simple structure removes anxieties about how to begin and what to say. The repetition provides a rhythmical pulse too, so once they've started often the only problem is when to stop them.

A favourite of mine is by the American poet Kenneth Koch in which each line begins "I used to" and continues "but now". Introduced with a few varied examples, it's an exercise that never fails to produce lively writing that the children are keen to read out. Kenneth Koch tried using it with adults too, but soon gave up - the results were too depressing! But children are pleasurably surprised to look back and see how much they've grown and achieved.

Alice Neale's list poem works in the same way, by honouring the children's own experience. It counteracts that sense of ignorance and powerlessness described by Seamus Heaney in his beautiful poem "The Railway Chilren":

"we were small and thought we knew nothingworth knowing". Unlike Alice. She certainly knows a thing or two. Not only can she swim, she can swim on her back. She's not just a good speller, she's cracked "apparatus". The poem settles into paired lines - the writing suggests the maths; the drawing is followed by the lovely surprise ripping of the paper; then one moment she's sitting on a chair and the next it's turned into a bike. The language is a pleasure too, lightly tied together by a series of assonances and half-rhymes: backapparatus; writesunsetripsit; paperchair; and rideread. Another talent she didn't know she had.

Alice Neale receives The Puffin Book of 20th Century Children's Verse . Her poem was submitted by Rosemary Adcock. 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 on:01454 617370. A set of posters is available for pound;3.99

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