A breath of fresh verse-laden air, Friend edited by Kate Clanchy is a collection of poetry by schoolchildren from a multicultural secondary school in Oxford. At once everyday and exceptional, the poems run the gamut of childhood experience, and as Clanchy notes, gives our families ‘a long cool stare’. Incredibly, the youngest poet is only 11 years old, tentatively dipping a toe into secondary school life, the eldest is of university age. Already so wise, their accumulated stories and love of language will bring a lump to your throat.
An early poem by 12-year-old Jamie Allport, contains the lovely line, ‘my life is a seed, waiting for water.’ As this collection spans several years, we’re privileged to witness the germination of some particularly poetic seeds, privy to their thoughts on relationships, school, love and loss.
Two stand-out poems are written by Aisha Borja, four years apart. Resolution, written when she was 12, imagines how she could overcome dyslexia in order to write verse.
‘I will take off my dyslexic coat / and run away in my poetry dress. / I will run a full seven furlongs / with my four magic tigers.’
Aisha forges a sword from her ‘unsettled words’, and four years later, her eloquence is moving in a poem on the subject of grief.
‘Grief is also / in the hospice next to your cousin, knitting / a hat for her moon head, and when / she dies grief sleeps / under your aunt’s bed.’
Melancholy gives way to defiance later in the collection, with To Live by Annie Davison, who rails against box-ticking, Zoom-meeting life and just wants to hang out in an abandoned car-park, eating crisps and telling stories in the moonlight.
There is poignancy too in the inevitable poems about young love. Titles such as For My Future Lover and Long Distance Relationship pierce the heart with their undisguised vulnerability. In this wonderful collection, souls are laid bare.
An inspiration for the budding poets in your own life.
Friend edited by Kate Clanchy is published by Swift Press, 128 pages.