What do you do when your phone dies? Poet Matt Abbott has a suggestion, at least for your young teen. And it’s radically countercultural.
Abbott is a poet and educator who lives in Yorkshire in the U.K. He loves poetry; he began writing it when he was 17. He wants everyone, of all ages, to love poetry, “especially those who consider it a dull and irrelevant artform.” Abbott has published a collection for adults, Two Little Ducks (And Selected Poems 2015-2018), based on a highly successful one-man show. Now he’s published a poetry collection for children.
A Hurricane in My Head: Poems for When Your Phone Dies is aimed at children in the middle grades, but the fact is that it’s great fun for children of all ages, including grandfathers. He captures the humor, terror, and pain of being a young teen, and he makes those feelings understandable through the medium of poetry. It might be the terrors of a “first date,” which he describes in two poems, “Outside the Cinema” (#1 and #2). It might be the churning stomach that comes from your first day at the “Big School,” or the fear of participating in a sports event (“Sports Day Chills”).
But what do you do when you face that most angst-ridden experience of contemporary life (and not just for teens)?
The Spine-Tingling Horror of 0%
and no more vibrations,
No more emojis,
I’ve tried it and tried it,
but the battery is flat.
It might work for ten seconds,
but it’s gone after that.
If I could just share that photo
or finish that text,
I’m certain my mind
wouldn’t be quite as vexed.
I charged it for hours:
all green in its glory.
But I just can’t resist
all those video stories.
So, I try to forget it,
and I go meet my friends.
No need to show off
and no need to pretend.
I don’t know how I’ll manage,
but I’ll give it a shot.
is the only thing I’ve got.
He writes about pulling a sickie (aka faking an illness to avoid school), what do you do when you discover your teacher is a real person, falling in love in math class, the dread of the birthday invitation, the horror of realizing you will become an official teenager, and more. The poems are funny, they’re recognizable, and they make us older children squirm and smile in memory. (“I have to change clothes in gym class? Are you kidding me?”)
Abbott has done poetry and performance tours, appeared at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, created a spoken word record label Nymphs & Thugs, and serves as an ambassador for Trinity Homeless Projects and Eureka! The National Children’s Museum. And he has a band, Skint & Demoralised.
A Hurricane in My Head knows its audience, those 11- to 13-year-olds who are staring the terrors and drama of the teen years in the face. It also knows its other audience, the rest of us who’ve been there and survived, although we didn’t think we would. We can read it and smile. Now, if not then.
How to Read a Poem uses images like the mouse, the hive, the switch (from the Billy Collins poem)—to guide readers into new ways of understanding poems. Anthology included.
“I require all our incoming poetry students—in the MFA I direct—to buy and read this book.”
—Jeanetta Calhoun Mish