My People: Poetry from The British School, Warsaw

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In the summer of 2017 I was a guest poet at an Arvon course at Lumb Bank.  I met a poet called David Cox there, who emailed me in January to tell me that he would be using some of my poetry with his Year 7 pupils at The British School in Warsaw to get them writing their own poems.  I asked David to send me some of the responses from his pupils, and he sent them through in January of this year.

I loved them straight away, but PhD madness and everything else going on at the moment has meant I’m a bit late in posting these poems up, but I wanted to share them with you all and say thanks to David and his talented pupils, who if the school term in Warsaw runs the same as ours here, will be about to go into Year 8 after the summer holidays.

These poems are in conversation with my poem ‘My People’ which I’ll post at the end of this blog post.

David sent through this introduction to the poems:

My Year 7 students at The British School Warsaw have been working on producing a series of poems inspired by  Kim Moore.  The original poem with its humour and edginess has spurned their imaginations into looking for an answer to the following question: who are ‘my people’? One students said it allowed me to “express my family and country the way I saw it…it was really fun thinking about all the things that come to mind when I think of ‘My People'” We have seen the dangers of ‘casual racism’ around us and its worrying effects. To this end, we discussed how we can unwittingly become part of groups with less than altruistic pursuits. Their pastiche responses to ‘My People’, at times reflect the pride of a nation or an ethnic group. Watching clips from the miner’s strike, students heard the brazen words ‘scab’ bellowed out towards buses of employees passing the picket line to understand how one community was torn apart by a declining industry. Such experiences continue to elicit a range of emotionally charged responses. They considered democracy versus mob rule. They considered how instrumental such union organisations as Solidarność were in Poland at loosening the shackles of the communist regime. I hope you enjoy these poems.

 

Here’s the first poem David sent – my favourite part of this poems is that surprising simile at the end where the poet turns our expectations on their heads.  Usually, to be compared to a snake would be negative, but this poet chooses to focus on the positive aspects of snakes: they are ‘clever and fast’.

 

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This next poem has some lovely phrases and images – I love the sentence ‘people who would kiss the bread if it fell’ and wondered if this was a story or saying that is well known in Poland?

 

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This poem is a tough look at how people can become obsessed with money, and become selfish – and again, a great last line – ‘Now they have become selfish like little toddlers’.

 

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A completely opposite opinion with this next poem! I like the line ‘people who care for others, even strangers’ in this poem.  Would definitely like to meet these people!

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I really like this one – again with a killer last line ‘My people are like small bees serving the queen bee’.  I also like the line in the middle ‘In the time of the Romans my people would probably be writing on scrolls or feeding grapes to the king’.

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I like that this poem explores positive and negative aspects.  These are people that don’t tolerate racism, but people that also what it is to be poor. I also like the two short snappy sentences that finish it off: ‘My people are like wolves.  They stick together’.

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I think this poem works really well at painting a portrait of a group of people.  I’m not sure if the last line in the first sentence is ‘up’ or ‘you’ – both would work really well, but I think I’d like it to be ‘I come from the people who don’t want to meet you’.  There are some wonderfully strange details in here as well, like the line about the people being ‘underweight and too strict’ immediately following the detail about the fights at the football match.  And another great ending – witches and fire breathing dragons!

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What a great first line this poem has, and the second line is just as good – people who ‘come from every corner of the world’.  I also love the last two sentences of this poem – the rhyme of ‘everywhere’ and ‘air’ makes it feel like the poem is a box, and the poet has just closed the lid, nice and tight.

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So that was the last poem!  Thanks to David Cox and his pupils once again – I’m very flattered that they’ve been using my poem for inspiration, or to start a poetic conversation about what it means to have a people.  I got the feeling that some of the poems might have been talking about people in terms of a close knit family, and some were talking about people in terms of a community or even a country, on a larger scale.

Here are my people below.

My People – Kim Moore

I come from people who swear without realising they’re swearing.
I come from scaffolders and plasterers and shoemakers and carers,
the type of carers paid pence per minute to visit an old lady’s house.
Some of my people have been inside a prison.  Sometimes I tilt
towards them and see myself reflected back.  If they were from
Yorkshire, which they’re not, but if they were, they would have been
the ones on the pickets shouting scab and throwing bricks at policemen.
I come from a line of women who get married twice.  I come from
a line of women who bring up children and men who go to work.
If I knew who my people were, in the time before women
were allowed to work, they were probably the women who were
working anyway.  If I knew who my people were before women
got the vote, they would not have cared about the vote.  There are
many arguments among my people.  Nobody likes everybody.
In the time of slavery my people would have had them if they
were the type of people who could afford them, which they
probably weren’t.  In the time of casual racism, some of my people
would and will join in.  Some of my people know everybody
who lives on their street.  They are the type of people who will argue
with the teacher if their child has detention.  The women
of my people are wolves and we talk to the moon in our sleep.

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8 responses »

  1. Wonderful stuff inspired by Kim’s poem. David has done sterling work with these pupils from The British School in Warsaw, using “My People” to get them to reflect creatively on family, place and community. In England, with the constraints imposed by the current focus on grammar and testing, I worry that such creativity is in danger of being sidelined as students and teachers are pressured into concentrating on targets set by those who would not recognise the worth of such poetic responses. My own experience of OfStEd observations, when teaching creative writing using poetry as a creative stimulus, bear out this point; an inspector’s feedback centred on the “danger” of not knowing what the children’s responses would be … “they could write anything” was his worry. The work produced by David’s pupils goes beyond the mechanics of grammar and has a deeper worth which cannot be measured via targets and testing; he and the kids from the British School in Warsaw should be commended. I thoroughly enjoyed reading each poem. 🙂

  2. Wonderful responses, and what a great project for the pupils to express views of their country and people, to make them think about it. Fascinating how they note the changes and remember the hardships of WW2. I love the snakes and wolves images. Most impressive of all is that they produced these pieces in English. Unless from Polish origin, I can’
    t imagine any British school pupils writing such interesting poetry in Polish.

  3. All praise to these students and their writing, and to David Cox, their teacher, in inspiring them. I would hope this would be a start for them to continue with their creative writing either in school or elsewhere. And praise of course to you Kim for the poem, and how it has got others thinking about who they are and their place in the world (including me). I really enjoyed reading these poems 🙂

  4. Thanks for sharing, Kim (& David 🙂 ). Yeah I think Kim’s original poem is a great springboard, somehow giving us permission to excavate and examine our origins in fresh ways.
    I enjoyed the young writers’ responses and think I’ll try the poem out with my young poets when I start mentoring again soon…
    Thanks everyone!

  5. Really enjoyed reading the childrens poems and very impressed with the language skills for their ages, the range of their thoughts was so interesting children tell it how it is !! a great poem to use for this project,

  6. I am profusely thankful to Kim for finding the time to do this! I am also enriched by poetry’s continuing power to move and enthuse young people!

    Thank you.

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