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Ode to Code

Poems inspired by the story of Bletchley Park

Ode to Code Poems inspired by the story of Bletchley Park

Ode to Code: Poems inspired by the story of Bletchley Park The Poetry Society 22 Betterton Street London WC2H 9BX

The cover quote is from Ella Standage’s ‘-.. .- -. -.-. .’, see p. 12. Cover illustration by Alex Leigh Whitworth © Bletchley Park Trust Text © The Poetry Society & authors, 2019

Ode to Code Poems inspired by the story of Bletchley Park

Acknowledgements The Poetry Society would like to thank the team at Bletchley Park for their support and partnership in this project. We also thank So Mayer, who researched, wrote and judged the poetry challenge for Young Poets Network; and poet-educators Siân Hughes and Rachel Piercey for their work on the Bletchley Park poetry teaching resource on our website for teachers, Poetryclass. Thanks go to Paul Lyalls, who delivered a day of writing workshops at Great Linford Primary School – and to all the teachers and pupils there who took part and submitted their poems. We thank Arts Council England for its ongoing support. Finally, we thank the young poets presented in this anthology, and all the young writers and teachers who entered the Young Poets Network challenge. Keep writing!

Contents Introduction from The Poetry Society Introduction from Bletchley Park Introduction from So Mayer

6 8 10

Ella Standage Liberty Hinze Jayant Kashyap Amy Wolstenholme Asmaa Jama Ellora Sutton

12 14 15 17 20 21

Jack Cooper Hannah Hodgson Thurab Ali Sharifi

-.. .- -. -.-. . Home of the Codebreakers From Bletchley With Love Codons Bi-när I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire (There’ll Always Be an England) <Vera> When I Tell You About My Day Hidden Messages

Young writers and The Poetry Society The Poetry Society digital bookshelf Schools and The Poetry Society

22 23 24 27 31 32

Introduction Welcome to Ode to Code, an anthology of winning poems inspired by the story of Bletchley Park. As part of a partnership with Bletchley Park, in 2018 The Poetry Society’s Young Poets Network sent poet So Mayer off to explore the Park’s archive. Based on their visit, So invented a number of creative prompts for Young Poets Network, challenging young writers to respond to the site’s fascinating story. In particular they encouraged poets to consider the staff’s lives outside of their code-breaking work, inspired by Bletchley Park’s 2018/19 exhibition Off-Duty: High Spirits in Low Times. This anthology presents the nine poems So selected as winners. The winning poems incorporate letters, diaries and archive material, as well as Morse code, DNA, riddles, and ‘found’ or ‘black-out’ techniques to look afresh at Bletchley Park’s story. We were thrilled to receive entries from poets aged 10-25, writing from 13 different countries – from India to Ghana, Italy to Indonesia, Nigeria to the USA, and across the UK. With Bletchley Park’s support, we were able to create a teaching resource for our website Poetryclass, and offer a free day of writing workshops to a local school, Great Linford Primary School, facilitated by poet Paul Lyalls. We are delighted that one of the poems written during this session (‘Hidden Messages’ by Thurab Ali Sharifi) was commended.


We congratulate the winners again, and thank all the young writers and teachers who took up the challenge. We hope you enjoy this anthology and that it encourages you to think again about codes, language, and the fascinating lives of all who worked at Bletchley Park. Young Poets Network is a key part of The Poetry Society’s mission to support young poets and poetry-lovers. If you’re inspired by the poems presented here, visit our online platform at to read the resources and writing prompts So Mayer produced for this project, and to discover further poems, articles, and new writing challenges. You can also find the poems in this anthology online, along with So’s judge’s comments on each one. Helen Bowell, Education Co-ordinator, The Poetry Society


Introduction from Bletchley Park During World War Two, Bletchley Park was the centre for Allied codebreaking efforts. The secret intelligence produced there directly influenced the outcome of the War. Today, the Bletchley Park story still inspires visitors, and we wanted to hear how young people responded to the story 80 years after World War Two began. In particular, we wanted to ask young poets. People often think that most of the Codebreakers at Bletchley Park were maths specialists. Whilst it’s true that maths was vital to some parts of the job, many of the staff excelled in other areas. Interestingly, of the staff who had links with Oxford University, 46% studied languages, 13% specialised in English and 12% were mathematicians. The ability to understand and play with language was as vital to the workers at Bletchley Park as it is to anyone writing poetry. After all, as one expert writes, “Whether it’s a simple cipher, or something as complex as the codes of the Enigma machine which the Bletchley codebreakers were working on, the trick is making links between letters and words.” (Michael Smith, author of Station X: The Codebreakers of Bletchley Park). Many of the staff at Bletchley Park wrote songs and poetry as a creative outlet, whether for fun or for public performance. Chief Cryptographer Dilly Knox invented a new verse form 8

called the ‘pentelope’; Patrick Barrington wrote humorous verse for Punch magazine before the war; and poets Vernon Watkins and Henry Reed are also Veterans of Bletchley Park. Poetry and codebreaking have many connections, and we’re delighted that this has inspired brilliant new work by young writers. To find out more about Bletchley Park visit Catherine Holden, Learning Manager, Bletchley Park


Introduction from So Mayer Writer and judge of the challenge “there are secrets. and there are secrets.” In their first-prize winning poem, titled ‘-.. .- -. -.-. .’, Ella Standage crystallises the doubleness of the personal and political secret-keeping that went on at Bletchley Park – and in part why the story of its work and workers remains so compelling. Bletchley Park resonates for poets particularly because poetry could be considered an art of coding and decoding. Poets use metaphors and allusions to transmit secret messages, whether intended for a lover, or for an entire resistance movement. Visiting Bletchley Park museum for the exhibition Off Duty: High Spirits in Low Times, I saw how the creative ways in which the Park’s many staff found ways to live together under immense pressure (including poetry and drama clubs) were testament to the same brilliant acts of imagination that changed the course of the war. Today, the computer codes made possible by Bletchley mean that, in a new way, ‘there are secrets. and there are secrets’. The winning poets in this challenge know the secret to the courageous creative imagination we need, more than


ever, in order to address urgent concerns of privacy, truth and who gets to write history. The secret, as Bletchley’s keen reelers knew, is to -.. .- -. -.-. .! To dance – and to crack codes: I had to look up Morse and work it out, and that made me smile, and made me want to read more. I hope, as you read, you’ll agree with Thurab Ali Shafiri in ‘Hidden Messages’ that these poems and their young poets ‘are always there for us, making us happy with their dances’. So Mayer



Ella Standage -.. .- -. -.-. . it’s a dance. two girls trying not to stand on each other’s toes. two girls trying not to stand on the truth, circling each other in the dark. one wrong step: the air-raid sirens howl. there are secrets and there are secrets. the trick is knowing which ones to keep. the days run past like a well-oiled machine, and we don’t write often to the people back home. work is untangling the wires of a truth only to weave them back into a different lie. and outside work: crossword clues become love letters in disguise. i encode my gaze before i watch you dancing with a man who has incendiary bombs in his eyes. but over your shoulder you wink at me—click— click—click—and my thoughts are scrambled. every day our mouths are enigma machines spinning each sentence untranslatable until in the darkness we uncoil: your words unlock me. our mouths turn ciphertext to plaintext as they fit together like gears. 12

tonight you will tap morse code onto the question mark of my spine. but for now we spin in unison, rotors set in motion to unroll a secret or to keep one. we shift like ciphers, circles in the dark. the windows are blacked out. nobody can see us dance.






Jayant Kashyap From Bletchley With Love Germany’s war was waged, we had to make it ours. It began then, an almost park given to us: a façade of what it was not, Huts, a family of a hundred hundred people to trust secrets to; we began in quiet and voice never defied us in six – many – years; the war, at times, did. In love letters they told us the sites of rendezvous: every morning, codes that could never be broken; nights, with those going nowhere: days, bided away in uniforms and discipline, by tables – laden with sheets, and codes, and messages, and more codes – and by people, from everywhere, with dancesteps and pints – with more codes; even dances made up of Roman numerals: Bletchley was home; home had alienated: we danced with people never looking at them, they never knew where we learnt those steps.



The place wasn’t made up of words anymore, we preferred silence; the death of a dog on the street was hardly anyone’s concern – we had been busy counting humans. On the radio, Churchill: We shall go on to the end … we shall never surrender. In the Huts, we knew that people died – and that wouldn’t be in vain. Swimmers had been killing the mermaids, but then, Turing in Hut 8 had been successful in decrypting the naval Enigma messages; – the Germans didn’t know soon, then it changed to Tunny ciphers. Another year, the answers were found again. We had been working for the end; it took some time, but it had begun.



Amy Wolstenholme Codons A t the start it felt like a clock. T he rhythm too steady. The tap (drip) you for G ot in the kitchen, or the key in the lock T urning over (and over). And still, we could no T work out the time, no rhythm to it, but still we T ried. The drips on the window sometimes were C rying, and still the church tower spoke in C himes, but other times we could not hear it A t all. Because sometimes we were tired. And the C ode â&#x20AC;&#x201C; The code was trying to be quiet. T hough sometimes it was a dance and we G ot caught up in the hand of it and fou G ht over who would lead in it (rise), T he pattern of autumn leaves (fall)ing T oo hard to predict but still we tried, T hrough the night, dancing (rise) A s though following candles (and f A ll) like embers, to realise it was nothing more


T han smoke against smoke, and so we C hoked. Sometimes it was just a look at A nother pair of tired eyes across a room or A nother cup of black coffee the C olour of sky, whilst the rain against the window C ried. Sometimes it was just the poem in: bu T still we tried. Even then the words shattered. Some T imes that didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t matter. And sometimes it was everythin G . Then later it became the ghost around the C orner, as we trailed our way onwards, the stair C ase turning like a spine as if to say: Now you are mine. T he body and the mind, waiting on opposite streets, jus T out of reach. But still I watched my hands r A ce as if I was somewhere else, and dreaming (now you A re mine). The machine falling away like ticker T ape or the sweetest music, to say: here I am, the eni G ma beneath. So I became the crescendo and it became the bea T . Blasted unrhyming rhythm, just out of reach, in the ver T ebra of the staircase, or the clack of the keys, or the C lock in the corner, or the click of my teeth against the run G of the cup, or the chime of the church behind the window (shu


T ) out the rain, but come in! Because thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s how you win. A nd after, when we had broken it, and found the fallen le A ves had landed silently, softly and unapologetically G old in the gutter, there was time to wonder what equation writes T he shadow race of typing hands, or what second, hidden C ode was whispering beneath; coding me to break a code.


Asmaa Jama Bi-när I’m quite sightless Or tried to translate thes and wore that On this war we’re in en the snow wasn’t ash Or when I no longer got and none of it can be told until I’m blind with black ear nt with each other If I should die, tell him


Ellora Sutton I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire (There’ll Always Be an England) ladies ladies gentlemen set on fire too much land love small lane field I don’t want to don’t want to dreaming of I know I’m dreaming of awry million marching wheel way down deep inside fire one desire baby I’ve ambition there’s surely don’t want to set a don’t want to start a I just want to be a fire always always while worlds change chains wherever wherever admission goal I’m in I me you you free blue shout too loud I just start and set great big down ain’t gonna start no fire but for you always


Jack Cooper <Vera> We’ll meet again Don’t know where, don’t know when But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day. Keep smiling through, just like you always do, ‘Till the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away So will you please say hello to the folks that I know tell them I won’t be long. they’ll be happy to know That as you saw me go, I was singing this song We’ll meet again Don’t know where, don’t know when But I know we’ll meet a

The words in this poem are taken from Vera Lynn’s wartime song, ‘We’ll Meet Again’, in the order of the Fibonacci sequence.


Hannah Hodgson When I Tell You About My Day Shirley Cottrell’s diary extract, Tuesday 17th April 1945: “To see Fantasia in afternoon with Mummy”. Mother, we are firing silent rounds at the enemy, bullets they cannot see and don’t even know exist. Mother, we conceal weapons inside our skulls, fuel them with rations, save lives abroad. We are fighting just like the men, Mother, you have so much to be proud of. Mummy, I hope you enjoyed Fantasia as much as I did. Much love, Shirley.


Thurab Ali Sharifi Hidden Messages Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a collection of symbols we always use. Undeniable hate takes the passion out of our speech. They will help you with your words. Beginning at relations, itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a family of 26 all into one house. We make them into words and speech. They are always there for us, making us happy with their dances. You can make them jump around, forming different groups and lines. They dance about, making different words. I am the Alphabet.


Young writers and The Poetry Society Young Poets Network The Poetry Society’s online platform for young poets and poetry-lovers up to the age of 25. It’s for everyone interested in poets and poetry – whether you’ve just started out, or you’re a seasoned reader or writer. We welcome and showcase all kinds of poetry so there’s something for everyone. You’ll find features about poets and poetry, challenges and competitions to inspire your own writing, new writing from young poets, and advice and guidance from the rising and established stars of the poetry scene. For updates about poets, poetry, competitions, events and more, follow us on Twitter @youngpoetsnet, like us on Facebook, follow us on Instagram @thepoetrysociety, or sign up for fortnightly updates from Young Poets Network.

Illustration: Andrew Rae.


The Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award is the largest free international poetry competition for 11-17 year olds, with entries from thousands of young people worldwide. Each year 100 winners (85 commendations and 15 overall winners) are selected by high-profile judges to win publication, tuition, poetry goodies, membership of The Poetry Society and much more. Past winners include Helen Mort, Sarah Howe, Jay Bernard, as well as Ella Standage and Amy Wolstenholme who appear in this anthology. In 2019, the judges are poets Jackie Kay and Raymond Antrobus. The Award closes 31 July every year, and is open to poems on all themes. With no entry fee, and no limit on number of poems submitted, itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a fantastic opportunity for any young writer. 26

The Poetry Society digital bookshelf Flick through our ever expanding range of free and exclusive poetry anthologies and resouces by visiting

Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award anthologies of winning and commended poems.

Partnership publications of poems inspired by African footballers and the environment, and an invaluable resource book, packed with activities for teachers and pupils. 27

Schools and The Poetry Society Teaching resources, including free lesson plans, are available from Page Fright is an online resource bringing canonical poetry to life with contemporary spoken word performances. There are also ideas and writing prompts to inspire new writing. Poets in Schools is a service placing poets in classrooms across the UK, encouraging an understanding of and enthusiasm for written and spoken poetry across all key stages. Whether itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a one-off workshop or a long term residency, an INSET session for staff or a poet-led assembly, we can find the right poet for your school. School Membership connects your school with all that The Poetry Society has to offer. School members receive books, resources, posters, free access to our Poets in Schools service, and more.

The Poetry Society in school. Photo: Hayley Madden for The Poetry Society.


there are secrets and there are secrets. the trick is knowing which ones to keep.

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Ode to Code: Poems inspired by the story of Bletchley Park  

Ode to Code is an anthology of winning poems inspired by the story of Bletchley Park. In 2018 The Poetry Society's Young Poets Network teame...

Ode to Code: Poems inspired by the story of Bletchley Park  

Ode to Code is an anthology of winning poems inspired by the story of Bletchley Park. In 2018 The Poetry Society's Young Poets Network teame...

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