Poems inspired by GUERNICA, 19374
December 14, 2016 by Lydia Syson
A report earlier this year concluded that the number of civilians around the world killed by explosive weapons had risen by 55% in five years. The humanitarian crisis in Yemen has finally hit the headlines this week – a crisis that has been building for nearly two years due to a proxy war in which the UK government is directly implicated. Today, the evacuation of Aleppo has been delayed, and airstrikes continue. It’s hard for young people in the UK to make sense of any of this. It’s harder still, now that what was once called ‘total warfare’ has become commonplace, to imagine what it was like in the 1930s when, during the Spanish Civil War, the first cities in Europe were attacked from the air.
When I met year 10s earlier this term at Sydenham High School to talk about my novel A World Between Us, and British involvement in the Spanish Civil War, we also discussed the difficulties many of them had in understanding the impact of the very first aerial bombardments. In small group workshops, we explored the response of poets and artists, including Picasso, to the bombardment of Guernica in 1937. After watching and listening to contemporary newsreel footage and press reports, the students produced their own, very immediate poetic responses. The poems below were all written in the last 10 minutes of a busy hour, packed with discussion, drama and group recitation. I’m delighted to be publishing them here now.
Like dreams falling from the sky
Planting themselves in our lives
Destroying everything in their path
Grasping anything near your heart
Nothing but shadows remain
Knowing nothing will ever be the same
Bouncing and banging
The ground shakes
It all comes crumbling down
Shadows stretch to encompass all
Forcing a world of black and white
Yet colours blend
We shall amend
And take back what is right
In an ancient town
Everyone’s been let down
Destroyed and destroyed
With people being killed, over killed
With the hole 25 feet deep
With a tragedy beneath our feet
It’s an emotional time for everyone around
Still. Everyone silent
As they hear the sound of wreck and death and threat in the air.
Bricks crashing upon civilians
Unparalleled for destroying millions
Anticipation filling the air
Children crying in despair
Niah Hay-Henry and Sally Prifti
Silent and still lays the left over debris
Silent and still lay the devastated civilians
Loud and immense as the flames lit the town up
Loud and immense as the people demolish
The breeze runs through the ruthless place
Civilians’ spirits going with it, full of grace
Stomach churning up
Eyes swelling with water
Heart beating fast
Fists start to clench
I can hear the screams in my head
The anger wants to explode out of me
Thinking how all the dead bodies lay
I felt as deep as the 25 foot hole
The gunshots make my ears bleed
Leaves me with sleepless nights
Tragedy overtaking our town
Terror left in our lives
The relentless banging
Terror devours the city
Strangled cries and screams echo
Around the crumbling walls
The chorus of guns shatters down the street
Can you hear her?
She calls for her baby: ‘Where is she?’
The planes’ hum drones on,
Their bombs peel off them.
The bombs flying like birds
Swooping down and landing on houses
The light flashing from the window panes
But then came the crashing of the lanes
Mothers and children are heard screaming
While others in the world are day dreaming
The threat from the air is high
But when it gets to you – you sigh
Open your eyes and see the light
Before it turns to night.
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Lydia, thank you for sharing these poems. They truly touch my heart.
Wonderful poems – sounds like a great workshop.
Lovely poems – so glad that young people are learning about this period in history and using their imaginationsto think deeply about what must have been like then. Congratulations to everyone who was involved. Amazing achievement to write like this in 10 minutes!