#TeachLivingPoets in Flint, MI.

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

and loneliness.

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. 

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