In a collaboration with The Poetry Society’s Young Poets of the Year Award Books for Keeps is publishing some of the poems submitted by young poets for this award. Here we publish ‘Fresh’ by 16-year-old Colette Sensier of Keymer, West Sussex. The poet, Colette Bryce, adds a commentary.
In broad-windowed classrooms,
we trawl to find
weary threads of history,
warped and rising.
Tear through the mass
of old Europe
in its red and blue and gold and khaki.
Outside, an icing-sugar snow
begins to fall.
Sheets of rectangular light protect us
and plastic desks, initials carved by a metal compass
and the wall-clock with its straight black hands: impassive, chimeless.
The girl in front of me
plays with her hair, flicks me
a sly glance. I tilt my chair back
and casually bite through
the cold, fresh
This is a poem that persuades you to read it again, and it does this through sound initially. It persuaded me to read it aloud, to savour its rhythm and sound pattern. Here is a young poet with a good ear, alert to the subtleties of half-rhyme and near rhyme.
We come upon the weary threads of history in the first stanza, but less weary threads of sound are woven skilfully through this poem, two main groups in contrast to one another: the sibilants of classrooms, history, rising, icing-sugar, sheets, mass, us, compass, impassive, chimeless, glance, forming the warp of the pattern, and the harder k sounds of khaki, rectangular, protect, plastic, clock, black, flicks, forming the weft.
This is fitting, as the poem is concerned with oppositions: the first sets the ‘In’ world of the classroom, against the ‘Outside’ that is noticed in the third stanza, when attention wanders away from the lesson in a nice narrative widening of the scene. Then and Now are also contrasted, history being studied wearily in a slow-moving present tense, the verb ‘trawl’ managing to convey inertia and even to suggest the echo of a yawn. The Group versus the Individual is conveyed in the movement from the class, we and us, to the close-up focus on the girl in front, who makes a sly movement to ‘me’, and finally a committal ‘I tilt’, decisive individual action culminating in the surreal act that ends the poem, breaking the barrier between in and out.
The penultimate stanza is especially effective in that the ‘flicks’ seems to work in two directions, with the hair as well as the sly glance. It is a welcome intimate descriptive detail at this point in the poem, and there is a sense of a zooming in, or close-up shot, leading finally to the speaker and the action.
Colette Bryce won first prize in the National Poetry Competition 2003 with the title poem of her new collection The Full Indian Rope Trick (Picador). She is Fellow in Creative Writing at the University of Dundee and is a judge of the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award 2005.
How to enter the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award 2005
Any writer between the ages of 11 and 17 can enter by sending their poem or poems on A4 paper with their name, address, school and date of birth written clearly on the reverse of every sheet to Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award 2005, The Poetry Society, 22 Betterton Street, London WC2H 9BX. Poems can also be sent by email to email@example.com. Poets can enter as many poems as they choose, of any length and on any theme. However, poems which may find publication in Books for Keeps should not exceed 22 lines. The 15 overall winners will be invited to attend the prize-winners’ writing course at the Arvon Centre, Lumb Bank in February 2006.