Shared Humanity, Seen Through A War’s Lens

Like so many other Americans, Ann Neary watched Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with horror.

As a teacher of Advanced Placement Literature and also in the Pathways alternative program at Staples High School, she often tells students that the reason we read literature — especially works from around the world — is to understand the breadth of human experience, and acknowledge the similarities across all humanity.

Ann Neary

As teachers, Neary says, “we must ensure young people are infused with the compassion and skills to make the world a better place. Creating environments where they are able to grow, and step into a change-making mindset, is vital.”

She also realized she knew very little about Ukrainian literature. She clicked on World Without Borders Campus — a site that connects students and educators to eye-opening contemporary literature from across the globe — and found poetry, stories and children’s folk tales appropriate for the the variety of classes she teaches.

She and her students spent a week learning together from the news, from literature and from each other. Then they created responses.

Some students wrote reverse poems: Read top to bottom there is one message, but if read bottom to top, the opposite. “This appealed to their understanding of opposing forces at work in the world,” Neary explains.

Others used words from the literature to write ‘found poems.”

All, Neary says, wrote with “intent of showing compassion and support to the people of Ukraine.”

Reverse poem:

(Ben Cohen, Sabrina Didner, Phoebe Miller,Talia Perkins, Natasha Taubenheim)

Reverse poem:

(Will Harmon, below)

Reverse poem:

(Sami DeWitt)


(Some students did not want their names published. Those who did are noted above.)

7 responses to “Shared Humanity, Seen Through A War’s Lens

  1. Victoria Capozzi

    Amazing work by our compassionate kids. Thank you Ms. Neary.

  2. Paul Lenihan

    Tremendous accomplishment and vision Ann Neary… thank you for sharing.

  3. Daniel Lyakovetsky

    Reverse poems… Don’t show them to your Ukrainian friends… Moral relativism has been weaponized by Kremlin propagandists and Putin apologists to promote doubt, distrust, confusion, apathy and ultimately surrender of the “open” mind. They say occupation we say liberation. They say potato, we say no nato. The hand wringing uncertainty resolves into a single truth once bombs started to fall. Do we always have to wait for that?

    • Dermot Meuchner

      Sadly we do. Any talk of a multipolar world is quickly shut down, the Overton Window is shut.

  4. What wonderful poems! In all my years of teaching, I don’t think I’ve ever come across the idea of a reverse poem. Brilliant!

  5. Jean Hofheimer Bennett

    How wonderful! Ms. Neary sounds like an amazing teacher! Thank you for posting this, Dan.

  6. Richard Denton

    Yes, I too have not seen or read these reverse poems. They have their own truth. Thank you Ms Neary, an excellent teacher.