Writing poetry based on war photography

In 2013-14 Scottish Education enters a new and exciting phase. Our young people will be accessing a completely new examination system designed to replace Standard Grades and Intermediate qualifications.

For these new national qualifications there is an expectation that all learners who are entered for qualifications in English at National 5 and beyond will have to study the work of at least one major Scottish writer in considerable depth.

As Principal Teacher of English, I have made the decision that our National 5 class will undertake a rigorous investigation of the works of Carol Ann Duffy, Britain’s Poet Laureate. The reasons for studying Duffy’s works are that not only is she the first woman and the first Scot to hold this most prestigious of positions in the world of poetry, but because her work speaks to society about issues such as gender, oppression and violence, and this makes her extremely popular with school pupils today.

Our National 5 class will be studying six of Duffy’s poems in great detail. As preparation for studying her poem, 'War Photographer' we embarked on a study of the history of war photography from its first appearance in the American Civil War through to today’s wars being fought in the Middle East and Afghanistan. Many famous war photographs such as Civilian Resistance of 1943 (pictured) and Napalm Bombings of Vietnam 1972 were viewed and discussed in class. Pupils were encouraged to write down their feelings and attitudes towards these powerful images.

We also examined the language of reporting wars, searching for evidence of the impact on those who were innocent of any motivation and participation in the “theatre” of war and, again, the learners were asked to respond to the situations highlighted and the words used.

After this the pupils were asked to imagine that they were a photographer who had been working in a war zone. They were given a structure that resembles, to a certain extent, the Poet Laureate’s poem. The reasons for this are twofold: learners would have a framework on which to hang their creativity and, hopefully, they will be able to access Duffy’s poem more readily when the time comes to be introduced to it and study it in depth.

I am sure that, as you read through this anthology, you will agree that the young people have composed some stunning poems. Carol Ann Duffy is often looked upon as the superstar of British poetry and I firmly believe that the youngsters who have written for this anthology are amongst the superstars of Lochend Community High School.


You can download poems from pupils Reece and Rachel here:

'Frontline Photographer' by Reece

'Frontline Photography' by Rachel

Gordon Fisher

Gordon Fisher is the principal teacher of English at Lochend Community High School.