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 ‘My Two Week Cat’ by 14-year-old Nimrah Zeb of West Yorkshire. The poet, Jean Sprackland, adds a commentary.
more articles in this series: January 2005
My Two Week Cat
As I sat there, fixated on the top of the five steps at Bridge-wood House.
I could see the small white fluffy fantasy-like creature
sitting, purring, meowing.
Wondering how the stillness in his fur stayed positioned during all seasons.
In the winter not hairless, in the summer not tanned,
in autumn not crisp and in spring not frank.
His tiny claws don’t colour nor change in size.
not a mark on the pillow or even a surrounding of flies.
Even though there’s no movement,
there’s still no stillness in my heart.
Always moving, jumping, happily playing, feeling free, liberated.
But I’m sure it’s been more than two weeks
yet he sits there still playing with delight,
not a worry in his life, not a stone in his soul.
Poems about cats: it’s almost a genre in itself. There are whole anthologies of them, and they appear on tea-towels, birthday cards and posters too. They can often be predictable and full of cliché. People really love their cats, and it is a challenge to write about things you really love without getting sentimental.
There’s nothing trite about Nimrah Zeb’s poem, though; it’s full of surprises. It seems unusually open and deeply felt, but it holds back too. It leaves me with questions. And what I like best is that it expands each time I read it.
At first I took it to be about a kitten – a two-week-old cat. There’s a puzzle here though, because there’s a suggestion that the poet has observed the cat in all four seasons of the year. Looking back at that stanza, I thought Ah, perhaps this isn’t a real live cat after all. He doesn’t leave a mark on the pillow. Maybe he’s a ghost cat?
This animal is closely linked with the ‘I’ in the poem. He’s a kind of alter ego, representing a hidden aspect or dimension of that person: the ‘heart’, which moves, jumps, plays, feels free like a kitten does. As the poet wisely reminds us, a person’s heart can be lively like this even when she appears outwardly calm or unmoved. Absence of movement is not the same as stillness. At the same time, there is a genuine stillness about the cat. It’s not the fur itself which ‘stayed positioned’ but the stillness in the fur: some elusive quality, difficult to pin down, but constant in spite of change all around.
This creature must be outside time, somehow. Cats are often said to possess special abilities, extra lives. And this one has ‘not a stone in his soul’ – nothing heavy, inert or inanimate. He remains innocent, carefree, unaltered by the process of living and growing up: something we ordinary flesh-and-blood human beings cannot achieve, however much we might long to.
Jean Sprackland is one of the Next Generation Poets. Her book Hard Water (Cape, 2003) was shortlisted for both the T S Eliot Prize and the Whitbread Book Awards. She was a judge of the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Awards in 2002.
How to enter the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award 2005
Any writer between the ages of 11 and 18 can enter the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award 2005 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.