Young poet

20th April 2001 at 01:00
Jackie Kay, 'TES' guest poetry critic for the summer term, explains what she'll be looking for

My son once asked me when he was three: "Mum, why are you always going to Poetry?" He thought I got on a train and got off at this place called Poetry. He was right in a way: poetry is a wonderful place, with amazing sights, smells, tastes and sounds. The brilliant thing is that you can visit this place called poetry through reading and writing. Reading and writing are like opposite sides of the same coin.

Poetry does take you on all sorts of journeys - physical, emotional, intellectual. Poetry can take you right back to your past. A good poem is always memorable. I like poetry that visits the strange border country between reality and imagination; poems that transform real experience into something else. Use the diving board to jump into the pool, but don't just write about the diving board.

Good poetry gets the language to work miracles on the land. A poem attracts language to it. A good poem makes you hunt for the right words. I love poems that surprise, poems that take off at the end.

As a child I loved Tae A Haggis at Burns suppers. The haggis would get piped in and then somebody would perform the address to it and stab the haggis at the same time. Fancy reading a poem to a haggis - then knifing it. It was high drama. I loved the idea that poety could be dramatic, that it could tell a story.

Here's an idea I developed from my poem The Hole Story. Pick something that starts life as one thing and ends up as another. A football starts life as a cow, a piano as a tree, a glass as a grain of sand. Then write a poem that takes us on the journey of x, from its birth to its death. Use all five senses. Answer your own questions. Where was it born? How? When? What did it hear? What could it see at first? Be a camera lens, zoom into particular details. Make up images for the sounds. Don't rhyme for the sake of it or you will wag the tail of the dog. Let the dog wag its own tail.

Jackie Kay is the TES guest poetry critic for the coming term. Her most recent collection of poetry for children, The Frog who Dreamed she was an Opera Singer, won the Signal Award. Off Colour was on the shortlist for the T S Eliot Award. A new collection of short stories, Trout Friday, will be published next year by Picador. Please send poems, no longer than 20 lines, to Friday magazine, 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 The TESBook of Young Poets (pound;9.99), a selection of poems from this column, can be ordered by calling 01454 617370. Aset of posters is available for pound;3.99

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