Cheryl Moskowitz: The Corona Collection

The Corona Collection – A Conversation

School’s out for summer. For most children during this pandemic school has been out for a very long time. Not just school but playgrounds, football fields, cinemas, restaurants, playdates with friends, visits with grandparents and so much else.

We’ve all needed support to navigate our way through the crisis, but children especially have needed help and reassurance to know that the world is not ending however much it might seem like that from where they are standing.

Despite most parents not being trained teachers and teachers not able to teach as they normally would, these adults have been expected to meet the educational requirements set out for children by government during the lockdown. Children have been scared, confused, frustrated, sad, depressed and bored. How can their learning needs be met when issues relating to their mental health and well-being are so overwhelming?

I live in North London where there are many families and young children. Within a mile radius of my house there are 9 primary schools and one large secondary. In March 2020 when school closures were announced my concern was for all those school children. How, I wondered, would they and their carers cope?

That’s where poetry comes in.

I am a parent, educator and a trained counsellor. I am also a writer and a poet. When a problem overwhelms me, I turn to poetry. When I need to make sense of my feelings and voice my concerns, I turn to poetry. A poem is a way of sharing thoughts and ideas widely with others. A poem is a conversation and one that can be easily shared, even (or perhaps especially) from a place of isolation.

Having conversations, especially with our children, is key to understanding what the other is thinking, feeling, what they value and what they most need and want to happen. I wrote this poem as a way of starting that conversation.

 

Just Supposing…

 

you woke up tomorrow

and there weren’t all these rules

like: YOU HAVE TO STAY HOME!

and: YOU CAN’T GO TO SCHOOL!

And whatever you wished for,

where to go, what to do,

who to be with, how many –

was all up to you.

Where would it be,

doing what, and with whom?

Would you go to the park

or fly up to the moon?

You could go on a picnic

or stay in your room.

If you woke up tomorrow,

restrictions all lifted –

what kind of a world

would you want to be gifted?

 

I took the poem to my local community, conducting pavement interviews with children at a distance, talking to teachers in schools, children of key workers and others in attendance. Inspired by the conversations I was having I wrote more poems and those poems grew into a collection The Corona Collection – A Conversation.

The collection is designed to encourage ongoing conversation between children and adults, in school and at home. I have created resources to go alongside the poems and used the collection to deliver poetry workshops via zoom to children as far away as Hong Kong! In June and July I also ran workshops with small groups of pupils back at school, in their ‘bubbles’.

Since June over 6,000 physical copies of The Corona Collection have been printed and distributed to children and schools around the country. Pop Up Projects took the initiative and gifted 2,000 copies of a special edition to their partner schools nationwide. In London, recognising the value of poetry, Enfield Council adopted the collection, making it central to their PSHE and recovery curriculum for KS2 and transitioning pupils across the borough and have already distributed 4,300 copies. My hope is that organisations around the country will follow suit.

A website www.coronacollectionpoetry.com has been set up as a hub for resources and news, and to gather new poetry and conversations in response.

Cheryl Moskowitz

Cheryl Moskowitz is a poet and educator. She writes for adults and children, runs workshops regularly in schools and is passionate about getting teachers and pupils to write their own poems. She runs writing projects in a wide variety of community settings often working with the most disadvantaged and vulnerable. She serves on the Creative Council for Create Arts and is working with Pop Up on a three-year project to develop creative resources for use in SEN schools across Kent.

Rachel Rooney: Poetry: A Changing Relationship

Poetry as Parent

Books, particularly poetry collections, were a real comfort to me in what was otherwise a rather austere childhood. I was an insular child who’d taught myself to read before starting school. And as the fifth of six children, all born within 9 years of each other and raised by a very unmaternal mother, it wasn’t surprising that literature became a kind of parental substitute. Reading poetry lead to attempts at writing it, though I never shared my efforts at home or school. Below is the last poem I’d written as a child, aged 13. I still have it on scrap paper somewhere.

 

The sky at night is like a precious stone,

studded with flecks of silver and a pearl.

Surrounded, even though I am alone.

Covered, like an unprotected girl.

 

It shows some technical promise and a pithy allusion to a darker subtext. But after this, I drifted away from writing towards music culture. Other than an appreciation of the odd song lyric, it would be another 27 years before I thought of poetry again.

Siblings, with me on the right.

Poetry as Lover

In my 40th year, I chanced upon a weekly class, Writing for Children with Roger Stevens. We spent a term studying poetry where I revisited and appreciated its otherness and the space it gave for self-reflection. Life had become difficult around that time and writing gave me a much needed sense of control and an alternative, positive focus.  It hooked me in and soon poetry became my obsessive love interest.

Although I knew I wanted to write and publish poetry for children, I was driven to expand my understanding of it, so spent the following three years focusing on writing courses, workshops and residential weeks. As my writing developed, my personal and emotional life came apart. But poetry was both the catalyst to initiate productive change, and the tool to navigate through those changes.

Long story short, I acquired an agent, Caroline Walsh, who helped place my first collection, The Language of Cat, with Janetta Otter-Barry at Frances Lincoln.  And I became part of a new wave of children’s poets emerging alongside renewed publisher and educational interest that continues to grow and flourish today.

Poetry as Boss

Strange as it may seem, it didn’t occur to me that I’d have to ‘work’ to promote my book. I hadn’t considered much beyond the writing of the poems. But I was edged into the limelight when my first collection won the CLPE Award. Public performances terrified me and marketing my work felt alien, but somehow I’ve managed to muddle my way through for long enough to have two more collections (both CLIPPA shortlisted) under my belt. While I’m incredibly grateful for the reception my poetry has had, I can’t help but hold an ambivalence to the job description of Poet. I’m quite protective of my relationship with poetry, viewing it more as mother or lover rather than allowing it to act as my employer.

My next (and likely final, collection) Hey, Girl! is out next year, and is one I’m hoping will speak for itself. It’s pitched at an older readership – early adolescence upwards, and is unapologetically Asperger-ish and female-orientated. It contains poems I’ve written over the last ten years which are part-autobiographical, part epistolary in nature. It marks a natural return to where I’d left off as a young teen and feels somewhat like an ending – but in a good way.

Here’s the title poem.

 

XX

 

Hey, girl!

You’re a miracle, already.

What are the odds a cluster of cells

could grow human from a mother’s womb

and arrive in a bright world, blinking and blue.

That was you.

 

Hey, girl!

Remember, you had the power

to commando crawl over sharp bricks,

risk unsteady steps in hard, new shoes,

turn upside-down on swings for the view.

That was you.

 

Hey, girl!

You’re simply a sacred being-machine.

No body is perfect but you are perfectly yours.

Hold fast to this thought if others try to undo it.

I am sending this and a kiss (or two).

I was you.

 

Rachel Rooney

Rachel Rooney‘s latest picture book The Problem with Problems, illustrated by Zehra Hicks and published by Andersen, is out now. Her crossover poetry collection, Hey, Girl! is to be published by Otter-Barry Books in 2021.