One of the strengths of this poem is the way it doesn't judge and yet doesn't condone the violence. I like the way in which the poem unfolds out of itself, so that a word, or the sound of a word, sets it off in a new direction, such as in "Scoldperhaps scald, if they grab.The kettle's all too close." The internal rhymes are effective, and so is the use of layout to reinforce meaning and changes in pace, such as in "Squeal of brakes,The final flash..." My suggestion (one that applies to many of the poems that I read) is to try it without the last couple of lines, and end with the understated and suggestive "that patch of growingGrey, the 'music these days'." This is an impressive and ambitious poem; I'll look out for James Watson's work in future.
He doesn't dream; won't stay up past twelve.
"Pass the salt," he'll tell his kids to say.
Scold, perhaps scald, if they grab.
The kettle's all too close.
At night he'll sleep, His bed a field, driven white with snow, Cold, printed, pocked, With the crater of her.
A dim memory of loss, Yet he'll remember the gloss, the colour of her Lipstick.
smudged across his face, that first date.
The slap, the punch, the blood of her nose That last night, and the Squeal of brakes, The final flash, of hair, strawberry blonde, then away down the road.
But then there's his license, The bills, his job, that patch of growing Grey, the "music these days".
Cursed for life for "getting by".
James Watson, aged 16, receives 'Emergency Kit: Poems for Strange Times', edited by Jo Shapcott and Matthew Sweeney. Sent by Caroline Harrison of Marling school, Stroud, gloucestershire. Cliff Yates is deputy head of Maharishi school, Ormskirk, Lancashire, 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), winner of the Aldeburgh Festival poetry prize for the best first collection of 1999. Please send poems, not more than 20 lines, to 'The TES', Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, including the poet's name and age, the name of the submitting teacher and the school address .The 'TES Book of Young Poets' (pound;9.99), a selection of poems from this column with an introduction by Sian Hughes, can be ordered by phoning 01454 617 370. A set of posters is available for pound;3.99