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7 — Imaginative recreation: From picture to poem

A photo from Warsaw Ghetto circa 1942

Above: Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, photo from Jürgen Stroop Report to Heinrich Himmler from May 1943, originally captioned ‘Forcibly pulled out of dug-outs’; public domain image, no copyright

In this learning sequence the students will compare and evaluate representations of individuals in photographs and poetry. They will examine the significance of a photograph that captures a seminal moment in history and explore a poetic response to it. In Activity 2, they will write their own poems using the poetic form of the lune as a starting point.

Activity 1: Comparing texts 

As an initial activity, invite the students to closely examine the image above. Discussion prompts might include:

Share with the class the historical background to the photograph (which is given in brief at Wikimedia Commons). Ask the students how they might feel if they were a Holocaust survivor. Show Holocaust survivor Peter Fischl reading his response to the image, his poem ‘To the Little Polish Boy Standing with His Arms Up’ (a text version together with the photograph can be found at the Holocaust Teacher Resource Center website). Students record their responses using the Comparison and contrast chart worksheet.

Discuss how the poem draws on the poet’s memory of his experiences and how it relates to the child’s experience. Discuss the warning the poem offers to contemporary society.

Activity 2: Memory – imaginative recreation

Invite the students to imagine they are the child, the mother or the soldier in the photo and to recall two memories from the photo, one positive and one negative.

Introduce students to the lune poetic form. A lune is a three-line poem. It is measured in words: the first line has three words, the second has five words and the last line has three words. Ask the students to use the Composing lunes worksheet to create three lunes based on the image: one for setting, one for sounds and one for smells. They can then use the words of the lunes to compose a poem. Issue only one criterion for the poem: it must use the words I remember.

Activity 3: Poetry reading

The students read aloud the poems they wrote in Activity 2. Possible strategies could be rehearsing and then reading each others’ poems expressively, reading their own poems to small groups or using the poems for readers’ theatre activities.

These activities were adapted from Jim Milner’s (2008) Bridging English, page 202 and Kath Lathouras’ (2012) ‘A Poetry Quickie: Using biographical texts with Stage 4 to compose poetry’.