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Young poet

Jackie Wills looks ahead to her term as The TES's guest poetry critic

Poetry is a licence to shape new worlds, to transform reality. Over years of working in schools I have come to realise that, for children and teenagers, the opportunity to create an alternative to everyday experience is rarely passed over.

It strikes me that many young people are tied too heavily to the demands and concerns of daily life. This was brought home to me when I was running a series of writing workshops in a local authority secure unit. I could have engaged with the young people there by encouraging them to write about their experiences, but when people are always behind at least two locked doors, their lives have probably been picked over enough - what they needed was the ability to take control and create something new. It was by no means easy to engage all of them, but what I did learn from the experience was that young people appreciate a creative challenge and they will use whatever subject or theme you give them as a vehicle for their own interests or concerns.

Creative distance is safer - it allows us to hide the autobiographical element of writing, which can be so revealing and threatening, and is enhanced further by the quest to find a solution that works.

I have found that young people love exercises such as those which allow them to speak in another voice or metamorphose in some way. They want to have fun with writing and stretch their maginations. Reality inevitably sneaks in, but as a stranger. This is what I would like to see this term.

I am not looking for formulaic poems. The best writing catches us unawares, it makes us go back to it, it surprises us. Good poems are often simple but contain unexpected details, such as these lines from a poem written by West Sussex school student Catherine Tunbridge. It is about a metamorphosis and is titled, "The Creature of the deep": "...The slits on his neck became visible he whispered they were cuts but soon could not speak at allI" Exciting poetry shows the writer rejects passively received notions of how we should see - it experiments with different angles and tries out voices. Most of all, it is a licence to daydream and play with language, imagery and narratives outside the familiar route map.

Jackie Wills is poet-in-residence at Lever Brothers in Kingston upon Thames. Her second collection, Party, is published in October (Leviathan). Her first, Powder Tower, was shortlisted for the 1995 T S Eliot Prize. Please send poems, no longer than 20 lines, to Friday magazine, The TES , Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, and include the poet's name and address, the name of the submitting teacher and the school address. Or e-mail: TES Book of Young Poets (pound;9.99), a selection of poems from this column, can be ordered by phoning 01454 617370. A set of posters is available for pound;3.99

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