Books for Keeps is delighted to be collaborating with The Poetry Society’s Young Poets of the Year Award in what is to be a series featuring some of the poems submitted by young poets for this award. A unique feature of this important award is not just its focus on finding new talent but also on fostering it by offering the winners the opportunity to attend a week-long residential writing course at the Arvon Centre, Lumb Bank.
Here we reproduce 18-year-old Felicity Alma’s ‘Search for My Voice’, one of the winning poems of the 2004 award. The poet, David Hart, adds a commentary. In future issues of BfK newly submitted poems will be featured.
Search for My Voice
I had been searching for my voice,
checking each inch of my body
for its hidden noise. I pulled out
each of my eyes in turn and checked
their dull colours for a sight of it,
but it was not there. I turned my heart
inside out like a purse, but there was
no trace, no single note playing
as a clue. I searched each crystal breath
as it emerged, my eyes spinning
like sugar in my head. I could not find
my lost voice and I despaired.
It was as I sat, desolate, by your side
and listened to your sexist jokes
That I found it, foetal and quavering,
hiding on the edge of my tongue.
I swallowed it whole in shock and felt it
grow within my throat, hammering
on the cage my teeth made, and
when I opened my mouth it roared.
Commentary The vital thing is, the poem on first reading made me tingle, gave me a shiver. This is a good sign; it could be a false sign (I’m in that sort of mood anyway), so it needs testing. It can’t wholly be tested, the shiver of the poem has to be taken on trust. But, look, it has a satisfying shape. Any shape can be satisfying in its own way, for its own purpose, so what is this shape doing? It has a relentlessness: it is saying something, then something more, then something more. I noted on my first reading that the language is fresh, I am not encountering clichés that deaden it and me, there is an urgency and there is not an assumption (as with so many poems) that any old sentimental language will do. If I go back to the beginning I find again – it hasn’t lost its power – the opening is striking, unexpected and, in the strange way this can happen, something rather obvious is being said not-obviously. When we reach ‘I pulled out / each of my eyes in turn’ the poem has taken a surreal, even shocking turn. You see, I am responding now to the rich images – ‘I turned my heart / inside out like a purse’, ‘my eyes spinning / like sugar’ – and only now thinking I’d better say, too, something concerning the subject matter – not separable from the language matter – a little feminist story, one might say: I found my voice because I really needed it, provocation gave it to me . So it is a poem I shall remember not because it said this, but because of the way it said it, because the matter came so strikingly all of a piece, fine-tuned, contrived-crafted, in as many and as few words as it needed.
David Hart is a past 1st and 2nd prize winner of the National Poetry Competition. He is an Honorary Teaching Fellow on the writing programme at Warwick University and for two years ran the writing course for the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth summer school. His latest book is Crag Inspector, a poem of Bardsey Island (Five Seasons Press), and his sequence, ‘All Saints Elegies’, was in The Republic of Letters ( Boston , USA ) in December 2003.
How to enter the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award 2005 Any writer between the ages of 11 and 18 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 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.