Young poet

1st June 2001 at 01:00
Richard Hogg, 17, Queen Elizabeth sixth form college, Darlington


Even when I said my head was shrinking

And thoughts were squeezing from my ears

He kept on hitting me with the stick;

Again and again in the murky street

Near the wheely bins and broken lampposts.

Out of sight

As the evening fog rolled in from the bay,

Smothering and confounding my darkness.

He kept on striking until I could feel no pain.

He said I should go back to where I belonged.

Sometimes poems move us because of their subjects; sometimes they move us by surprising us with their language. "Football" scores on both counts. It is a poem about a racist attack, but it is a devastating poem. Richard Hogg chooses his words carefully. The poem creates a character whose first language is not English. Thoughts were "squeezing from my ears". The "I" in this poem - we mustn't assume that an "I" in poetry is necessarily the poet - is beaten up in the "murky street". All the imagery creates the atmosphere of violence and threat: the wheely bins, the broken lampposts and the fog. The images work by association: wheely bins with dumping rubbish, broken lampposts with lack of light, fog with secrecy.

In two short stanzas Richad has painted such a startling picture of the attack that we can actually see it. The strength is in the understatement, in what he has not said. No one line is overdone. He lets the images accrue and gather strength. The first line is from a poem by Matthew Sweeney, a technique Sweeney uses in "A Smell of Fish", using first lines by Kafka or Shelley. "Football" does what good poetry should do; it makes us think by the way it plays the ball. It is a question of skill.


Richard Hogg receives Emergency Kit, edited by Jo Shapcott and Matthew Sweeney. His poem was submitted by Gary Hope. Jackie Kay is TES guest poetry critic for the summer term. Her most recent collection of poetry for children, The Frog who Dreamed She was an Opera Singer, won the Signal 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 email: The TES Book of Young Poets (pound;9.99) , a selection of poems from this column, can be ordered on 01454 617370. A set of posters costs pound;3.99

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