Peace Poppies

felt poppies in jars

As part of our Poetry Unit and theme of Globalisation we looked at a picture book called “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda”.  The book brings to life in images the song of the same name written by Eric Bogle in the 1970s.  We listened to the song whilst watching a video of the book.  I also had a copy of the book for the girls to read in their own time in class.

I introduced the idea of “Micro Poetry” to the students.  The idea is to create powerful visual images through words in short poems such as Haiku or Twitter Poems. These were the starting point of our exploration of similes, metaphor, personification, alliteration and onomatopoeia. The girls took to micro poetry easily – they found them non-threatening, they weren’t faced with having to write a long poem, make lines rhyme and they didn’t need to write sentences.  We scaffolded the process by looking at what nouns, adjectives and verbs were and brainstorming words that they could use that summoned up the images they saw in the book. Then they set to creating their poems.  I was amazed at the ideas they come up with and the way that they naturally used poetic techniques without really thinking about them.  We then used their own poems to identify examples of the poetic techniques they had used which was far more effective than trying to identify them in poems that they had never seen before.  The girls realised that they could write poetry which was empowering for them.

knitted poppy

I also wanted to connect the ideas from the book and song with something that they had experience of. I originally had the idea of knitting poppies and sending them away as part of the “5000 Poppies” project for the 100th anniversary of Gallipoli.  However, time was running out and I felt a bit daunted about teaching 28 girls how to knit!  One of my colleagues suggested I could help her and a local group out as they were making poppies as part of the “Peace Poppies” project.  These were cut out of felt, sewn together and then a button added.  The idea is that they will be “planted” all the way from the Court House in Hamilton along the river to Memorial Gardens for ANZAC Day. The girls loved having “practical” lessons. I was astounded at how many of them had never sewn before, threaded a needle or sewn on a button.  Even those who were reticent at first because they said they didn’t know how to sew were confidently sewing by the end of the three lessons we spent making poppies. I never would have thought I would have girls coming up to me excitedly saying “Mrs Robertson, look, I threaded the needle!” or “Mrs Robertson, I made one – I sewed the button on!”

Girls making poppies out of felt in a classroom

Although this whole unit took much longer than I planned, I think it was extremely worthwhile.  The girls gained so much from it in terms of confidence, I think that they had plenty of opportunity to produce their own poetry and I am convinced that it also helped them to identify poetic techniques in other poems too.  Having said that, I believe that having the confidence to express themselves far outweighs being able to identify similes etc in poems. When in their lives (apart from English exams) will they need to do that?  And how often will they need to express themselves? They also learned about the context for ANZAC Day and understand more deeply the impact of war and the implications for survivors. We had some very interesting discussions after listening to the song, watching the video and reading the book. The girls also came back to class after sharing what they had been doing with their parents and told us of family members and friends who had been in Gallipoli as part of the ANZAC forces.

Here are some of the poems. (I have edited the spelling and punctuation where it hindered communication!) Not all of them fall into the category of a Twitter poem or a Haiku but they are short and powerful. It was interesting that they struggled with the concept of 140 characters and not writing sentences. With more time, I would have liked to explore strategies for identifying words that are essential for conveying images and how they can use poetic licence to leave out unnecessary words.

Blood, bodies, bullets in every direction like bees gathering. Bodies scattered the ground like shells on the sand.

Poppies on the hills
Sons and fathers lay fallen
We remember them.

Flags, marching, last post
And poppies to remember,
Our fallen soldiers.

Blazing Red Fire
Bullets flying everywhere
Ash, sweat, tears, blood, pain

Thousands of men marching. Brothers, fathers, cousins, neighbours. In their not yet blood, ash, sweat, tear stained khaki coloured uniform.

As the Poppy’s blow in the wind
I think about all who died for me.
The sick, the blind, the deaf, the scared.
Bullets screaming through the air
The deafening gunfire
That hit the poor hard working men.
The blood flows painfully through the army uniform,
The thousands that cried
For our heroes

soldiers hide in their fox holes
rats nibble on their toes
bullets shot through the sky with a bang
death and destruction everywhere
christmas day all fighting stops as they sing their christmas song.
letters from home touch their hearts
we thank you anzac boys.

Blistering hot sun
Bullets flying everywhere
Blood stained fields

Marching into battle
The sound of wild guns
Will we ever see another day?
Laying in the poppies
Family in the front of my mind
I see blood.

In the light of dawn, the break of day  
Remembering the soldiers that fought all the way
Wearing the poppies red as the blood they shed before
Recognizing the heroes they fought with in the war
A symbol of respect
To the men  they will never forget
As sun shines down on the scene of strife
But fear they will be forgotten with each new generation of life.

2 thoughts on “Peace Poppies

  1. Thanks a lot for sharing that poetic experience Anne , they will remember it forever ! Stéphanie from Chateau-Thierry , inspired by this experiment for Space and Forms of Exchanges ( a notion for Upper Sixth formers )

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