Lessons from a 4-year-old poet

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Recently, a 4-year old named Nadim Shamma-Sourgen managed to secure a book deal for his poetry after his mother, a Reading University Lecturer, showed his work to poet and writer Kate Clanchy. Clanchy proceeded to share his poems on her Twitter page, where they caught the attention of Walker Books (an independent children’s publisher). 

The story came to my attention when I was researching ‘happy’ news articles to mitigate the not-so-happy avalanche of COVID updates and speculations. At first, I saw it as an isolated pocket of positivity; I thought it served as a nice antidote to the current climate of the world but didn’t see it as a product of that. It was only on reflection, and after having read Nadim’s poems in more depth, when it struck me that it may be precisely because of the pandemic that Nadim’s work has attracted so much attention. 

It may be precisely because of the pandemic that Nadim’s work has attracted so much attention 

When the world went into lockdown, our overly busy lives were suddenly slowed down; our future plans were cancelled and we were forced to adapt to living day by day. We were also forced to reactivate a childlike emphasis on the present. Nadim writes about a bench in the garden, what he does when he comes in the door, and about love and his mum. His poems are characterised by the distinct immediacy of childhood.

Indeed, Clanchy notes: “I wasn’t tweeting the poems because they were so much like adult work – it was because they were so purely childlike.” His words encapsulate the essence of childhood, and they have found their way to us at a time when we all needed to re-experience the joy that we found as children in the smaller things.

The charm of his poetry is that it is merely a vocalisation of being young, taking in the world around you – no matter how mundane

Yet, they do also have a profundity that will resonate with other children. In ‘Coming Home’ he writes, “Take our gloves off / Take our shoes off / Put them where they’re supposed to go. / You take off your brave feeling / Because there’s nothing / to be scared of in the house.” A pandemic is a scary time for us all and children are no exception. Nadim’s reflections on living alongside the virus as a child offer comfort to his peers – he articulates what might feel inarticulable – but they are illuminating to the rest of us too. We all have to “put on our brave feeling” to go outside at the moment, and reading about the comfort of a home rather than the claustrophobia of being confined to one is strangely refreshing.  

Certainly, Nadim’s poems are well-written (or well-dictated, since he is still learning how to write), but I don’t think they necessarily render him prodigious. The charm of his poetry is that it is merely a vocalisation of being young, taking in the world around you – no matter how mundane – and being grateful for what you have, when you have it. 

Perhaps Nadim will go on to become an award-winning poet one day, or perhaps he’ll do something else entirely. In many ways, it is irrelevant what becomes of his moment in the spotlight. Walker Books’ decision to publish his work will propel it into quasi-permanence; it will go on to serve as a testament to a time when we all had to rediscover the children within us, find beauty in the bench in the garden and be grateful for those we love. As Nadim puts it: “Everyone has love/ Even baddies”. 

Image: Aaron Burden via Unsplash

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