Young poet

14th July 2000 at 01:00
'Look what you've done'

Death, just look what you've done,

You've made the white sand brown,

You've turned the white wind grey,

You've made the coloured shells blue,

You've made the blue sky black,

Death, you've turned the hands of time too fast.

Pandora Anne Haydon, Year 6, the Cavendish school, London borough of Camden

Michael Laskey, Friday magazine's guest poetry critic, writes:I'm uneasy with poems by children about death. It's a truism that writing can often be a help for anyone trying to cope with grief or other kinds of turmoil, but generally this sort of writing is private - and best kept so. If we ask children to write poems on big, serious subjects, such as war or death, we're almost certain to be disappointed. What we'll usually get is stuff that's worthy but obvious, heart-felt but over-written, in the end just dull. The subject overwhelms them.

But not Pandora. She's full of vitality. The title wrong-footed me into thinking this was going to be a poem about an accident, probably some child's clumsiness. What I heard was the voice of a worn-out parent, a tired teacher. It had the ring of truth. The first line, with the extra exasperation conveyed by adding "just", had me hooked. She's discovered for herself the power of colloquial language to make a personification come alive.

She's angry with him. So she tells him off. The list o his misdeeds has its own logic and intensity: the colours change from white through to black; "made" is repeated insistently and so too is "turned", though with a shift of meaning in the final line. By then Pandora's reproachful tone has modulated into a sense of her powerlessness, a real discovery of death's inevitability.

The imagery builds into an emblematic picture of life as a perfect day at the seaside ruined by Death - "You've turned the white wind grey". And all those coloured shells having gone blue is intriguing too - with the cold maybe, or with sadness? Though the meaning may be dark, the vitality of the language makes the poem finally heartening.

Pandora Anne Haydon receives Strictly Private, edited by Roger McGough (Faber). Her poem was submitted by Lucy Begbie. 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 Friday, 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: 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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