Young poet

3rd November 2000 at 00:00
I have a bath lion.

He growls, he roars, he splutters, He is very fierce but he never hurts me; all he ever does is suck onto my hand.

Mum says it's the water going out of the bath, but it's my lion.

Do you believe me?

Ben Collins, aged 9, West Chiltington community school, West Chiltington, Sussex

The simplicity of this poem is deceptive. Ben's bath lion comes alive for us in sounds and touch, and for that reason it is convincing.

I like poems which explore senses other than the visual. If this was based on what water leaving the bath looked like, Ben would not have arrived at his image. His lion came principally out of sounds which he explores with three active and effective verbs.

Even more effective is the sense of touch which Ben brings in: the feel of water leaving the bath. It is a beautifully developed metaphor which may have arisen from the desire to engage other senses, or from his willingness to push the image even further. Regardless of how he arrived at it, Ben has added another dimension to the poem: the lion becomes a personal pet, affectionate and loving, not the object of fear which it might have been.

What Ben's poem does also is add another dimension to the standard animal poem which children are so inclined to write. Taking animals out of thei environments and putting them somewhere else unexpected can lead to interesting work. It harnesses the interest children have in the natural world, but with the brief to help us see those animals in a new way.

This poem could easily end with"hand". The image is strong and convincing enough to stand alone. But perhaps the adult rationality which is brought in at the end does reinforce the child's imaginative world. Of course we believe him but, at nine, Ben has already realised the power of the rhetorical question.

Jackie Wills Ben Collins receives The Puffin Book of 20th Century Children's Verse, edited by Brian Patten.His poem was submitted by teacher Mr J Arthur. Jackie Wills is poet-in-residence at Lever Brothers in Kingston upon Thames. Her second collection, Party, is published this month (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 e-mail: friday@tes.co.uk The 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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