Young poet;Poem

10th September 1999 at 01:00

Cliff Yates, this term's guest poet, may already be known to readers as an inspiring teacher. His pupils regularly win competitions and several have had their poems published in this column. He begins his tenure with some typically practical advice.

One of my favourite poems to read with a class is 'This is Just to Say' by William Carlos Williams, in which he apologises to his wife for eating the plums that she was "probablysavingfor breakfast". I ask pupils to write a similar poem, apologising for something for which they aren't really sorry. This gives young people confidence because the poem is in the voice of someone speaking, and all of them can use this voice. It's also fun, and when pupils enjoy writing, they write as well as they can. I read them plenty of other poems too: daft poems, quiet and moving poems, poems where they can join in and make a lot of noise, poems that don't sound like poems. I know that if I can get them excited about poetry, they will become excited about writing it. Writing poems is exciting; poems can break the rules and flout expectations, they can abandon punctuation and defy conventional grammar. We can take risks when writing poems more readily than with prose.

What kind of poems am I looking for? I like poems that don't try to sound "poetic", where the writer has trusted his or her own voice, attended to detail, avoided the temptation to explain, and even (this often happens in the classroom) ended up writing something that they didn't set out to write. One good test is that as soon as I've read it, I'll want to read it again.

Having said all this, I honestly don't have a fixed idea about what I'm looking for. But I'll know it when I see it. Send me lots of poems, poems from all your pupils. Bucketfuls.

Cliff Yates is deputy head of Maharishi School and Poetry Society poet-in-residence for Secondary Education. He has published 'Jumpstart: Poetry in the Secondary School' (Poetry Society) and a collection of his own poems, 'Henry's Clock' (SmithDoorstop). Please send poems, preferably not more that 20 lines long, to The Times Educational Supplement, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY, including the poet's name and age, the name of the submitting teacher and the school address. Published poets will receive a book of poems chosen by Cliff Yates.

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