This November in recognition of the 100 year anniversary of the end of World War One, Word Academy English Key Stage 4 classes are on the subject of war. My year 11 class is going to be reading speeches in times of war, including Churchill's "On the beaches" speech and they will be reading and writing articles giving their opinions on war.
My year 9 and 10 class are studying fiction this half term and so we will be reading and studying language and structure based on texts set in wars including "The Book Thief," by Marcus Zusak, "All Quiet on the Western Front" by Erich Maria Remarque and "Atonement" by Ian McEwan. These are amongst my all-time favourite books - perhaps I will inspire these students to read one of these challenging texts? Or perhaps they will be inspired to model their own creative writing on these amazing novels. They will also be learning to have an opinion of the characters and the writers' intentions.
Key Stage 2 classes will be reading and writing war poetry and dipping into classic war books such as "Carrie's War" and "Private Peaceful" all the time concentrating on how to improve vocabulary, understanding and spelling, punctuation and grammar.
This week I'm sharing and writing a few of my thoughts about Jane Weir's poem, "Poppies." It's in the GCSE AQA anthology for the Power and Conflict cluster, but even apart from this it is just a really moving poem. Every time I teach it I have to fight back tears. Have a look at the poem at https://genius.com/Jane-weir-poppies-annotated.
What gets me (bawling) with this poem is the quotation, "I wanted to graze my nose/ across the tip of your nose, play at/ being Eskimos like we did when/ you were little." This is a poem about a mother grieving and remembering her son who has died in a war. As a mother myself, I have played Eskimos many a time with my young children; this poem reminds me of the brevity of childhood and how soon they will become teenagers and young men with "gelled blackthorns" in their hair. The poet uses the contrast here to show the awful separation that a mother already has to accept as their children become adults. The "blackthorns" show that this son is now spiky and unreachable. To say goodbye to her son as he went off to war, unable to show the full love that she felt for him, must have been heartbreaking at the time but even more so as she remembers him after he is gone; she never really got to say goodbye to her baby; her baby has grown up.
A few things to notice in this poem:
1) We normally associate courage with soldiers. When the mother states that "I was brave" we are reminded of the courage of those left behind: the mothers, fathers, sons, daughters.
2) Notice all of the words in the semantic field of war: blockade, bandaged, rounded, flattened, rolled, reinforcements. Then notice how these words are seemingly describing much more innocent things.
3) Notice all of the words and imagery linked to clothes and fabric (references to the "lapel," to the "scarves and gloves," "the ornamental stitch.") Some of the imagery builds up the image of a child's quilt, perhaps linking to her memories of her child as a baby. On the other hand, the repetition of words to do with clothes reminds us of the job of a mother in a child's early years; to clothe their children, to keep them warm, to make sure that the child is smart. Perhaps the mother uses these phrases as her role as a mother has now been taken away.
Any questions on the poem or about Word Academy's Remembrance Month: please ask! firstname.lastname@example.org