Young poet

6th October 2000 at 01:00
TRACES. Look here at the collar of my grey winter coat caught in the lazy lengthways light of late afternoon: the finest calligraphic flick of hair, there to remind me you once were too, to remind me how you left your mark.

Mark Grimmer, 17, Ipswich school Suffolk

Moments like the one Mark describes jolt us into another time. Usually we have no control over the emotions these moments arouse in us. Mark handles that state of mind beautifully, with lightness and delicacy.

It is, of course, always the details which grab us when a relationship finishes. We can be overwhelmed by them, but in this poem the details are carefully isolated into a simple trilogy - the collar, time of day, the hair.

By carefully selecting these important images, Mark is then able to concentrate on the quality of the language, how it can be used to communicate the emotion. The discovery is given impact by the description of the light, which suggests a quiet, relaxed moment suddenly disturbed.

There is tenderness in how he describes the hair, the suggestion of letters written and received and, of course, the power of the final pun.

The choice of his word, calligraphic, is important, too. As a description of the hair, it reinforces the word, finest, but goes even further, implying real devotion to the person addressed as well as celebrating their physica beauty.

In fact Mark's descriptions are as controlled and skilful as the calligraphy he pulls into the poem in order to create this imagery. He has realised the power of a visual scene. In many ways this poem is like a shot from a film because of the precision with which we are directed, as readers. Crucially, too, Mark has resisted the pull towards sentimentality which is the enemy of good writing.

So much poetry relies on sifting the past, and this is a good example of how it can be retold movingly but without the clutter of "emotion-speak" which we do not engage with. No one could fail to nod a head at Mark's poem and recall incidents from their own lives. But, importantly, we have been taken to that moment during a late winter afternoon as well.

Mark Grimmer receives Emergency Kit, edited by Jo Shapcott and Matthew Sweeney (Faber). He submitted the poem himself. 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: fridaytes.co.uk


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