Young poet

9th March 2001 at 00:00
Big, black boulders,

Stone wall steady,

Barbed wire spiking along the wall.

Sheep lying on the hillside,

Mole holes brown and muddy,

Larches standing in the distance.

Sheep print the mud

With delicate hooves.

My cold cheeks like ice.

A slippy sliding mud puddle

Ripples reflections of the sky.

Crows are waiting, black and patient,

People sniffling, have caught a cold,

I can't feel my toes.

Laura Chislett, 8, Irthington primary school, Carlisle, Cumbria

Writing about nature is difficult. Many urban children are unfamiliar with the countryside and there is a tendency to set up a crude battle between nature (good) and humans (bad). Laura Chislett lives in rural Cumbria and her poem rings with authentic and unsentimental observation.

The poem is spare in its language. Its verbs are strong without being muscle-bound and its imagery is pin-sharp. We are led through a highly visualised landscape where barbed wire, stone walls and sheep introduce, but do not comment on, human settlement.

The title has already alerted us to a peculiarly human sensibility at work and when we look closely at the imagery we sense its underlying tension. Black boulders and crows ominate. Barbed wire protects the wall as if stone were not enough. The puddle is treacherously slippy, the narrator's cheeks already frozen.

We imagine the narrator as one of a group of people moving through the landscape, but are aware of them only through their sniffling. The patience of the crows is the patience of surety - something or someone will die soon. The final line reiterates the title, bringing the sense of death close. Yet the poem bristles with life and energy.

Graham Mort

Laura Chislett receives The Puffin Book of 20th Century Children's Verse, edited by Brian Patten. Her poem was submitted by Christine Anderson. Graham Mort, a freelance writer and tutor, 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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