Young poet

15th September 2000 at 01:00
Leila Benarous, 15, Ainsdale high school, Southport

Sorry Sorry.....

for stamping and squashing your flowers but your great, big dog was barking at me in the early hours.

I had nowhere else to turn but be faced with Ogun.

I like the directness and simplicity here. We are brought straight into a powerful visual image: "stampingand squashingyour flowers..."

In five words we have a picture of a temper outburst, human irrationality and all the associated questions, including why? We are not left dangling, though. The isolation of "great,big dog" on their own lines communicates force and restraint, the words are spat out. My only quibble is the comma after "great" - it is inconsistent and shows the importance of punctuation in poetry.

That apart, we have an entire narrative outlined in 20 words: the night before, the resulting anger and frustration, the protagonists.

It is in the final four lines that the poem's alchemy works. There is desperation in: "I had nowhere else to turn..." but then we're faced with the image of Ogun, the Yoruban god of metal and warfare in Nigeria mythology. Using this name suggests the speaker could summon this supernatural force.

So you go back to the beginning to find a reversal of sympathies. This narrator was restrained: instead of summoning the god of war, she inflicted her fury on a flowerbed. I like poems that can bring in the mythical so skilfully. This one makes the reader do some work, but it is not obscure. What a good example of how sorry can mean the exact opposite. This is not an apology, it is a warning.

Jackie Wills

Leila Benarous receives Emergency Kit, edited by Jo Shapcott and Matthew Sweeney (Faber). Her poem was submitted by Annette Grilli. Jackie Wills is poet-in-residence at Lever Brothers in Kingston upon Thames. Her second collection, Party, is published in October (Leviathan). Her first, Powder Tower, was shortlisted for the 1995 T S Eliot Prize. Please send poems, no longer than 20 lines, to Friday magazine, The TES , Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX. Include the poet's name, age and address, the name of the submitting teacher and the school address. Or email:

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