Young poet

2nd February 2001 at 00:00
Tom Hawley, 14, Cardinal Heenan high school, Liverpool

Pythagoras Theorem

The area of the square drawn on the hypotenuse

Is equal to the area of the squares drawn

on the other two sides.

C squared equals A squared plus

B squared.

The constant clash of numbers,

Confusing, wild and unimportant.

Seven - Five - Six - Three - Four - Five.

But you drift away, away, away,

On a cloud of dreams,

Hitch a ride on a "C squared"

Trudge along with a plus sign

On your back.

Run through a maze of signs and symbols,

Searching for the answer in the centre.

Tom Hawley's poem is arresting from the first line. He discovers the rhythm of poetry in a mathematical formula and reminds us of mantras used to remember things.

Stanza one is all proposition, but stanza two repudiates its certainties. Numbers refuse to harmonise, become feral, and, because incoherent, remain "unimportant". The descendingascending numbers remind us of counting, but the numbers are otherwise unlocated.

Numbers fail to restore the poet to the present; their incantation is soporific. Each repetition of "away" in stanza three inceases the sense of distance. Then mathematical symbols become poetic ones of liberty or oppression . "C squared" seems to offer a kind of surreal freedom, while the "plus sign" reminds us of Christ's cross at Calvary. Knowledge is both burden and enlightenment.

Poetry and mathematics are united through their "maze of signs and symbols" and Tom brings about a sense of their common quest for truth. It's audacious and difficult to bring off.

Graham Mort

Tom Hawley receives Emergency Kit, edited by Jo Shapcott and Matthew Sweeney (Faber). His poem was submitted by Mike Quayle. Freelance writer and tutor Graham Mort is TES guest poet for this term. His latest collection, Circular Breathing (Dangaroo Press), is a Poetry Book Society recommendation. 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: 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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