Some of the most haunting poems of the First World War were written by Jews. In this special event for Jewish Book Week London secondary school students performed selected works by Siegfried Sassoon and Isaac Rosenberg - one a gentleman officer who survived to be celebrated in his lifetime, the other a poor soldier whose work was largely neglected after his death on the Western Front in 1918.
On 20 January some 50 students from Year 8 and 9 (aged 13 to 15) from Friern Barnet, JCoSS, JFS and Immanuel College took part in "Poetry on the Front Line", a special seminar at JFS in north London in preparation for the event at Jewish Book Week.
They heard from Jean Moorcroft Wilson, author of biographies of both Sassoon and Rosenberg, about their lives, war experiences and poetry. Wilson brought along a copy of the massive 1922 "British Jewry Book of Honour" listing all the Jews who served in World War One throughout the British Empire.
BBC drama producer Peter Kavanagh coached students in reading some of the poems aloud, including "Does It Matter?" by Siegfried Sassoon, and "Returning, We Hear The Larks" by Isaac Rosenberg.
The Jewish Museum and the Jewish Military Museum, London brought a handling collection of propaganda and objects related to World War One and to its collection of works by Isaac Rosenberg. Students also explored the experience and death of Marcus Segal, an ordinary Jewish soldier from Kilburn, London, whose letters home are preserved in the Jewish Military Museum archives.
Following the seminar the students produced their own creative writing responses to the poetry. Schools and Jewish Book Week selected the four best for showcasing at the February 27 event at the festival.
Rosenberg and Sassoon poetry read by students:
Nir Nash of Friern Barnet read Rosenberg's "Returning,We Hear the Larks"
Max Misrahi of Immanuel College read Rosenberg's "August 1914"
Lucas Samuel of JCoSS read Sassoon's "Does it matter?"
Amy Oberlander of JFS read Sassoon's "Everyone Sang".
Students' poetry showcase:
Sin Cheng Yan of Friern Barnet read a poem she wrote with Eda Yeter, "Over"
Orli Vogt Vincent of JCoSS read "Human"
Sabrina Miller of Immanuel College read "My Garden"
Oz Myerson of JFS read a poem by Tom Freedman of the same school, "Nation's Pride".
Peter Kavanagh is a drama director, writer and producer. A published poet, his awards and nominations include a BAFTA, Sony, Writer's Guild, Prix Italia Chicago Film Festival and Prix Futura.
Jean Moorcroft Wilson is the author of acclaimed biographies of Siegfried Sassoon, Isaac Rosenberg, Charles Hamilton Sorley and Virginia Woolf. She is married to Woolf's nephew.
Supported by a Grant for the Arts from Arts Council England.
In partnership with the Jewish Museum, London and Friern Barnet, JCoSS, JFS and Immanuel College schools.
To buy books featured in this event please click here. Ten per cent of all sale proceeds will go to Jewish Book Week, supporting the festival for future years.