Young Poet;Testament by Sarah Kay;Poem

11th June 1999 at 01:00
* She could make it easy on me, she just makes it hard -

I'll live like a leper in the back end of her yard.

She could be a saint but I would rather see her dead

if I could think of anything that she could do instead.

* Angry and belligerent and oh she makes me weak

I have stalled and faltered here; I reach my peak.

The memory is like her rage, it buckles and scars,

petrified forever like an insect in a jar.

* Like a yellow-bellied thief I fell into disgrace,

her effigy my enemy that no one can deface.

Underneath the river, her knife is in my back,

but she's the living testament to everything I lack.

Sarah Kay

The tone of this poem is both exciting and disturbing. It is clear the writer is torn, guilty and disturbed by her own antipathy towards her subject, and it is this ambivalence which makes for a striking tension in every line. The structure is handled with great aplomb and ease, and the colloquial tone balances perfectly a more formal construction, with its underlying pentameter. In particular the image "petrified forever like an insect in a jar" is startling. In the last two lines of the first stanza, many writers would have wanted "dead" to finish the stanza, thinking that this would add to the impact of the sentiment. In this case, the writer's good instinct was to underplay. There's a very powerful voice here, and a natural aptitude with form and rhyme.

Eva Salzman

Sarah Kay, 16, receives 'Sounds Good: 101 Poems to be Heard', edited by Christopher Reid (Faber). Submitted by Claire Trethewey of Bury Grammar School (Girls), Bury, Lancashire, who receives a set of Poetry Society posters with teacher's notes. Please send students' poems, preferably no longer than 20 lines, to 'TES' Young Poet, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Eva Salzman is writer-in-residence at the Bromley-by-Bow Centre in east London. She has published two volumes of poetry: "Bargain with the Watchman" (Oxford University Press) and "The English Earthquake" (Bloodaxe)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 01454617370. A set of posters is available for pound;3.99

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