In a collaboration with the Poetry Society’s Young Poets of the Year Award Books for Keeps has been publishing some of the poems submitted by young poets for this award. In this final article in the series, we publish a poem by 11-year-old Haf Davies, of Cardiff. Andrew Bailey, Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award administrator, adds a commentary.
The dinner queue’s the same again,
The ladies ladling food on to your plate,
using endearments to address you,
because they do not know your name.
The grinding vowels of the Cardiff accent,
like a food mixer,
its spinning blades supplying sweetness.
I think of what is to come,
in a few months’ time,
warm words or cold comments?
Change of school,
change of body,
change of world.
I said a thank you – and meant it,
to the old aproned angels,
serving spoonfuls of soft-hearted words
‘Beans, babes?’ ‘Swede, sweet’art?’ ‘Lettuce, love?’
I don’t pick the winners in the Foyle Young Poets of the Year competition, but I do see them all come in. So I remember, when Haf’s poem fell out of its envelope, how its title grabbed me; and how she made me read on with the clever way she shows us these ‘ladies ladling food’ as caring, with their endearments, but stops the poem from going sentimental by that moment of remembering that ‘they do not know your name.’ Their ‘soft-hearted words’, with the familiarity of the routine in the dinner queue, lets the speaker look at the big upcoming changes in her life in a balanced way – the question is there, ‘warm words or cold comments?’, but no sense of fear. I think that’s why she means that ‘thank you’.
The expression of these ideas is great too. The way each stanza starts with a different food gives a sense of the jerky movement you find in a queue, and Haf has given her ‘old aproned angels’ the habit of matching the sounds of their endearments to the foods they serve up. Even their accents are described in a foody image.
So I wasn’t surprised when Haf was on the list of winners that the judges gave me this autumn – but I was surprised to discover that she is only 11, making her one of the youngest winners this year, and that English is her second language (after Welsh). And I will be surprised if we don’t hear from her again.
Although Haf’s the first winner from 2005’s winners, this is the last Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award column in BfK. I’d like to thank BfK for the chance to introduce some of our young poets to – for want of a better word – some ‘old’ poets, and especially for the chance to share both kinds of poets with you. Please visit us at www.poetrysociety.org.uk/foyle – you can read more poems by the Foyle Young Poets of the Year 2005 there, or maybe have a go at becoming a Foyle Young Poet for 2006!
The Poetry Society is at 22 Betterton Street, London WC2H 9BX.
is the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award administrator at the Poetry Society.