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 an untitled poem by 13-year-old Thanbir Ahmed of Morpeth School, London. The poet, Mandy Coe, adds a commentary.
Those people are real menaces chopping my dad’s head off
It’s not his fault he fell asleep trying to sell vacuum cleaners
To the old witch and she jumped into his mouth.
Humans always back up humans don’t they? Especially against a wolf
If I was there they’d be sucking breakfast through straws now
And what if I chopped off the woodcutter’s head?
It’d be a manhunt, all the police looking for me
I’d be put before Bin Laden in the most wanted list
Only people on my side, the RSPCA.
What a fine first line this is. Chekhov says if there’s to be a murder let them see the gun in the first act. This first line not only makes us want to read on, but it establishes the voice of the narrator: dry, streetwise; someone who lives on the wrong side of the tracks; a philosopher whose questions are rhetorical because he or she knows no one will answer them.
In the first of these three stanzas, Thanbir establishes plot and the relationship of the narrator to the subject (the father). And by drawing on a familiar folk tale Thanbir neatly avoids having to provide back-story. I like this: when a poet knows how much (or little) needs to be on the page. After all, it’s the reader’s knowledge that makes it possible for a poem to have so much white space.
Who needs girls in red cloaks anyway? This is about wolf. About being wolf. The poem reminds us of injustices within myths, ancient and modern: sharks, rats, tigers, step-mothers. Humans always back up humans don’t they? Then Thanbir throws Bin Laden and the RSPCA into the same stanza (I bet few people have ever done that before) – and how they rattle and roll.
Here is a young poet with a good ear for voice and narrative, using a simple series of statements and questions to build a poem with a very strong voice. Do we believe the grandmother jumped into the wolf’s mouth? Maybe not. But the young wolf needs to believe it and this poem shows us how much.
Mandy Coe is an award-winning poet for adults and children. Her work has been widely published and broadcast on radio and television. Her latest collection is The Weight of Cows by Shoestring Press and with fellow writer, Jean Sprackland she recently co-authored Our Thoughts are Bees: Writers Working with Schools which can be ordered from http://www.wordplaypress.com
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 clearly written 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.