Young poet

17th November 2000 at 00:00
Mark Bates, 16, Newbold community school, Chesterfield


The land was still

Water was stone

Trees were frozen monsters

Trying to break free

From the snow and ice

Abandoned spider webs were

A universe frozen up

From strand to strand

Leaves solid cold

Can be broken up in

Your hand and scattered

Over mysterious cold iced ground

No green to be seen

Anywhere until spring

Shows her face over

The horizon

The land was still...

At this time of year, no doubt there will be plenty of weather and landscape poems going around. All of us are affected by the seasons, especially the extremes, so there is good material to draw on.

But it is important to try to unlock a new perspective. Mark could easily have focused on the apparent visual beauty of snow and ice. But his poem has an emotional distance that makes it compelling.

The opening gives us a vision of a landscape and all movement in suspension, where the natural order has been overturned. The tone is set by the unnerving transformation of water intostone, shattering our preconceptions of what is possible.

He shows us frozen universes reminiscent of deep space photos and the brittle delicacy of frozen leaves. So the poem moves us around through what we see and touch, all the time maintaining that critical distance.

The poem would be better without the third and fourth lines of the final verse. Personification does not fit and, although I guess Mark has used it to emphasise absence, it makes the poem seem slightly archaic and the rest is anything but.

Jackie Wills Mark Bates receives Emergency Kit, edited by Jo Shapcott and Matthew Sweeney (Faber). His poem was submitted by Barbara Sansome, a full-time youth worker at the Peter Webster Centre, Chesterfield, who is a mentor to Mark. Jackie Wills is poet in residence at Lever Brothers in Kingston upon Thames, Surrey. 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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