What do you notice when you’re in a routine situation, like going shopping with mum on a Saturday? How many of you do that? How many of you like it? Hands go up, opinions are aired.
What do you do? What does she do? Malika answers for herself by reading her own poem about when she was a child dragging a basket around a supermarket and watching, as her mother slowly examined every egg for cracks and every vegetable for defects with a hawk-like gaze. The children recognise the behaviour, and smile.
And what about an unusual or stressful situation? What do you see? How do you feel? After the class’s responses, she talks about how she got lost in a maze every time she went into it at Hampton Court, where she was poet in residence, about how she walked past the same groups over and over again, and the young Chinese boy who helped her escape.
Then comes the main theme of all three sessions at Brudenell – the Second World War. Short poems are distributed and read, including one in the form of a letter with deliberate gaps. Full discussions follow, first of all based on the five senses. What would you hear in a war situation? Touch? Taste? The class knows plenty about war, and is soon writing letter poems, most of them from young soldiers to mum back home, then editing them. Malika talks about clichés, and metaphors, and many of the other things that poets should know about. The ten year-old poets write about bombs exploding, people escaping from execution, the sound of machine guns, inedible food, terrible sights, hope for the future and love for their mothers. Some of their lines are strikingly memorable.
|Malika Booker and Tom Nutman|
In the week-long breaks between her sessions, class teacher Tom Nutman continues the work. He groups the poets into fours, which is how they will perform at a grand finale. They begin rehearsals for this. After Malika arrives on the final day, she works with them in a big circle, tells them to read to the wall behind, not to the audience in the front row, to plant their feet. She moves on to pauses, which must be marked in pencil. On the whiteboard, she writes the first lines of her own poem about a cat which was removed from the house when she was born. Where should I put the pauses? Who has a suggestion?
This year, the grand finale is in a classroom, which means it does not echo like the gym or the main hall. It is intimate, with no distractions, because everybody packed into the room – the other class, the visitors, the mothers – is fully intent on listening to the performers, all of whom quell nerves and deliver their poems so well that some audience members cry. The clapping is frequent, and at the end is particularly loud for Malika, who steps forward to thank the class for being so brilliant.
I can smell the gun powder striding up my nostrils (Sudais)
It was because the ash from the bombs that had dropped on the buildings clogged up my throat (Zain)
Here it’s as sad as a dark, gloomy night in Britain (Amaya)
It’s like an ocean’s drowning me (Hirah)
The only thing is I have a shell in my arm and an AR bullet in my knee (Hishaam)
I miss you and the incredible taste of your spaghetti (Ian)
It tastes as bad as a rotten blueberry smoothie (Joel)
There is a silent scream hidden inside (Soad)
I’m so sorry I didn’t write,
I don’t know why,
Now I see myself,
As a reflection of guilt
Bombs have been crashing down all day,
But don’t fret, I’m fine
Every day people will come to me,
Injured and in pain
And I do the best that I can,
To help the soldiers recover.
My role is very important
But I’m in danger too
Hopefully I’ll survive.
It’s like an ocean’s drowning me
Because you or me
Don’t know what’s going to
Happen in the future
If I’ll survive
I miss you so much,
Hopefully I’ll see you again
And always remember
I Love You
Love from Rose by Hirah 2019
I am so sorry I wasn’t able to say goodbye.
I have no idea why.
I have been practising to call out when bombs hit rooves.
I miss you all so much.
The soldiers shouting keep me awake all night.
I am so tired
I am waiting to come back home
Alive. Not dead.
I have realised that I have come from generations from the past.
I am now regretting lying about my age.
Just because I wanted to join the army.
I have had enough of the rubble on the floor.
I always step on broken glass.
Please forgive me.
It is hard work digging up holes in the wet, squishy ground.
I am so regretful like a muddy footprint in fresh snow.
I am so sad I feel like a masterpiece being destroyed.
Lots of Love from,
Jamie by Amina 2019
I’m very sorry I haven’t
Written to you for so long
The constant noises keep
Coming back it’s like
You’ve got something beating
In your head 24/7
That’s it, it’s the wail of the air raids it stuck
In my head because I get used
To hearing it, I hope it stops as
Soon as possible.
Anyways hope you are healthy
Well as you could ever be.
Wish you all the best
Wait a second! I have realised I haven’t
Described how much I missed you I
Miss you all the way to the sun
I was squelching through the mud
Calmly until I tripped on something
And fell into the mud not being able to get back up!
Love you so much
Norma by Mawadah 2019
I’m so sorry for leaving without a goodbye
Silence was loud it was like a clock ticking
In my head tick tock tick tock.
Salty dust took over my tastebuds as I struggled
To breathe a breath of clean air, I have seen some
Terrible things that are still in my head.
I am shattered and I am tired, of digging holes
Day and night it’s like I’m being pulled into the
Fires of hell. Help me I’m burning!
I hope to see you again soon!
From your beloved
Hope. There’s not much hope left here. If anything happens
To me, please stay safe. by Praise 2019
I regret joining the army.
I’m so sorry that I haven’t written back until now.
The guilt I feel inside myself looks like muddy footprints in the snow.
I hope I come out alive.
I may not as I’m not trained.
I was conscripted along with a few other boys in the village.
What the army do not know is…
I am not loyal.
I am planning to run away secretly- in the dead of night.
If they catch me, I will be executed as a coward and a traitor.
I’m supposed to be fighting for the King and our Country,
But I’m not sure who I’m fighting for anymore…
by Sari 2019
I’m so sorry I didn’t say goodbye
Because I might not see you again.
I don’t know why.
Do not worry,
I’ll be fine.
I miss you and the hugs you gave me.
I have been digging all day today.
I am tired and am having to train now for hours.
I have seen so many things I can barely remember you.
I have seen men die right in front of me.
I never should have lied about my age to sign up.
Boys my age shouldn’t have to be in this situation.
No one should.
My regret tastes like a dry mouth in the morning.
My regret feels like I’ve burned my hand on a hot cooker.
My regret sounds like the uneven beat of a drum, going on and on and on…
I lie awake at night with the sound of grown men sobbing, ringing through my ears
Love, your son by Ke’Shaune 2019
I’m so sorry I didn’t write.
I’ve been off in the forest, camping.
I miss you.
I think of you from dawn to dusk.
Do not fret,
Maybe a few cuts and a bullet in my leg,
Bullets are springing from soldiers’ guns
And brains splatter through the air.
Friends and foes screaming as they fight for their lives.
I’ve seen worse.
But I cannot share it with you…
The food over here is terrible,
You’d find better scraps in a bin.
I can never sleep because of the horrible noises
The guns make.
BOOM! CRASH! BANG!
I don’t think anybody deserves this kind of life,
Billy by Waleed 2019