I have been meaning to write this for a few years, but never made time or thought that it was necessary. But at the suggestion of Dr. Parker on Twitter, and at the impending presentation I have in a few weeks (now days lol) at MCTE, I think writing through this process may help guide other teachers who wish to do something similar with poetry. Now I am not claiming that this is revolutionary, or new, or uniquely mine, but it is something that I think I (and more so my students) have found success with in terms of poetry analysis and writing.
Like you may have, I started teaching a long time ago using the TPCAST system of analysis or the RAFT or the SWIFT method, and while those all work for a variety of learners, I think they were more foundational for me to push my students further in their writer’s notebooks. In additional to those methods of analysis, I also had a solid foundation in Kelley Gallagher’s approach and used an “Article of the Week” analysis five or six years ago until our school pretty much overdid it (and the joy of learning about current events was completely diminished by a worksheet style article in numerous classes each week) which is a blog for a later time-but that exercise got me thinking: if we can do it with articles, why not poems?
And all that mattered was finding the right poems, right? I thought I had a pretty good grasp on spoken word poetry from watching Slam Nation countless times and watching Saul Williams perform in Detroit and then years later at U of M-Flint, but what else could I use for my students to grasp? Somehow, maybe through friends at #CleartheAir or #DisruptTexts or #THEBOOKCHAT, I found #TeachLivingPoets on Twitter and everything fell into place. I am beyond grateful for the work of Melissa Smith and the #TeachLivingPoets crew. They reminded me that living poets were more than just slam poets. Poets still publish books, Carrie. Duh. I began to learn everything I did not know about the world of poetry once I began researching this group and their mission. As I grew into this community of online educators, I also grew a process of writing that seemed powerful, inspiring, and relevant to the political climate and moreso, issues my BIPOC students were facing every day.
At first the writing process was hard. For all of us. Students were not well versed in analysis, even as seniors, so I had to scale back a little bit, but also switch up the how we attempted the process every week. I thought I could lecture about it and show them my work every so often, but that was not the case-I needed to write alongside them. Usually the schedule follows: M-Step 1 & 2 most often whole class or small group, T-revisit/clarify any step 1 & 2 questions/comments then work on Step 3, W-Step 4 brainstorm which calls for a revisit of notes in Step 1, Th-Brainstorm for Step 5, F-work on Step 5. While this may not fit your particular schedule, it is flexible based on if you meet for blocks or if you assign homework. I do neither. I also start every day with choice reading, so once the flow is felt by the majority of the students, I always add another layer of work (class book, book club book, essay, etc). This usually occurs after MP 1 when students are able to balance the reading and weekly writing expectations.
So here are the steps:
1. Annotate the poem: consider the Kelley Gallagher questions from Readicide-What is being said? What is not being said? Who is saying it? Why does it matter? But also look to Tricia Ebarvia and ask, Whose voices are being centered? Whose voices are left out? Consider mini-lessons with devices and how they help create meaning in the poem.
2. Write a one sentence summary on the poem (bottom right corner). If someone has never read the poem, how could you quickly tell them what it is about?
3. Respond in a ½ page to the poem (all opinion-evidence optional) Did you like the poem? Why or why not? Did you connect with the poem? Explain. Was it a window, mirror, or slider (Dr. Bishop).
4. Analysis of the poem: ½ page minimum (evidence and citations necessary) Using your annotations from Step 1, think critically about the moves the author is making. Write that analysis practice.
5. Remix the poem (I used to call this Imitation, then it became an After Poem, but my students dubbed it a remix last year so this is what I call it now) What inspires you with the poem: content or structure? Now practice writing a poem in your own way.
There are a few things that never change though:
-we read the poem aloud and watch the video if there is one, multiple times (and I am well aware of NOT reading it aloud as a WW as it can be offensive when written by a BIPOC author so that is why audio and video are integral)
-we always complete 5 steps (which was not the case right from the start-early on I allowed Ss choose 3 of the 5 steps, but then it did not show the growth I knew they had inside them)
-we share our best work after the semester (or half-way through) which can be a spoken word event, a hallway gallery walk, or a classroom walk (also can be anonymous if author chooses)
-we revise and discuss further based on what the Ss need from me as a guide (not an expert at all since the poems are also new to me)
-we have bailed on poems before, but not too many times (we just scrap it and write)
-I read and study the poem ahead of time but don’t do the steps prior to class (I do it alongside students which helps two fold: prove that poetry is subjective based on the experiences we bring to the reading, and how vulnerable teaching and learning can be)
-sharing can be really personal so often we share lines or ideas of how to remix but not necessarily entire poems (if we share whole group it is in a gallery walk form w/some choosing to be anonymous)
Here is a list of poems that have been successful in my classroom:
“To the Notebook Kid” by Eve Williams
“Call and Response” by Kyle Dargan
“For Trayvon Martin” by Reuben Jackson
“Complainers” by Rudy Fransisco
“Touchscreen” by Marshall Davis Jones
“This Has Always Been our Active Shooter Drill” by Jason Reynolds
“10 yr old Shot Three Times but She’s Fine” by Patricia Smith
“Hir” by Alysia Harris & Aysha El Shamayleh
“For the Dogs Who Barked at me on the Sidewalks in Connecticut” by Hanif Abdurraqib
“We Should Make a Documentary About Spades” by Terrance Hayes
“American Arithmetic” by Natalie Diaz
“Anxiety: A Ghost Story” by Brenna Twohy
“Hair” by Elizabeth Acevedo
Ode to Cheese Fries” by Jose Olivarez
“If they Should Come for Us” by Fatimah Asghar
“There are Birds Here” by Jamaal May
“There is a Lake here” After Jamaal May by Clint Smith
“American History” by Michael Harper
“Ode to the Only Black Kid in Class” by Clint Smith
“Death Poem” by Alysia Harris
“A Small Needful Fact” by Ross Gay
“african american ii” from the Salt Collection by Nayirah Waheed
“Ohm” by Saul Williams
“Don’t You Wonder Sometimes” by Tracy K. Smith
“My First Memory” by Nikki Giovanni
“Flounder” by Natasha Trethewey*
“Dinosaurs in the Hood” by Danez Smith
“In Praise of My Manicure” by Aimee Nezhukumatathil
“Microaggression Bingo” Fatimah Asghar
“Good Bones” by Maggie Smith
Overall I am proud of our efforts with #TeachLivingPoets and our weekly writing. I have attached a few samples (with consent) so you can get a sense of the student work that is also happening.
A Tribute to “ If They Should Come for Us” by Fatimah Asghar By B. G.
Sometimes I wonder what will happen If we are all united under one
When they come for us Flag then why do we not act like it
Should I run, should I hide or should We watch each other differentiate
I stand in front of them ready And isolate ourselves rather than
To face whatever will come my Love and embrace
Way I am from a city where I am from a city where hate and death
You dont want them to come for us Is well and alive everyday
Where if they come for you But so is peace and love and the
Lifes are in jeopardy both yours and your assailant And the demand for it to thrive
Even if they aren’t assaulting you, where Yes I am from the city where no
If they come for you, you may lose One wants to live because the
Everything but your life Water is tainted and there are murders
However your dignity will be tainted All around but there is also a beauty
Like the water in Flint, and your struggles A beauty most people can’t see
Will mean nothing to those unaffected Because they are looking with their
I wonder what will happen if they come for us Eyes and not their soul I am
Should we run, should we hide From a city with hope and resilience
Or should we speak for those who
Have no voice
If we unite we can make things right
How about we all band together
To make a change
Whether you’re white black
Mexican muslim asian
It doesn’t matter we are all people
If They Should Come for Us
After Fatimah Asghar By J.H.
These are my ancestors & I find
them chained together at the bottom of the ocean floor.
my ancestors my ancestors
Broken physically, mentally, and emotionally
Brought to a foreign land then
auctioned off to then be known as someone’s
“Property” and left with nothing but utter humiliation
I claim you..
To the women that are sexually assaulted,
Molested, raped, and left to care for children that will soon be
Made to live in the same conditions as their mother.
I claim you too..
To Egyptian man that went up the river and
fell in love with the African American woman
I want to say thank you for creating a new shade of brown.
dear black sister, I claim you!
Better yet I applaud you for crawling so that I can walk
For displaying such selflessness and bravery.
I want to thank you too, for spreading our bloodline
In places like Spain, Ireland, and even France
For helping create so many beautiful brown women
And men through the world.
To the biracial children of America
That don’t know about how significant
Their ancestors sacrifices were
I claim you too
Because even though you may not like
Watermelon or the color of your skin is
Too light to be considered black
When I see you, I see me too.