Happy (belated) Birthday, Maya Angelou!

Yesterday would have been Maya Angelou’s 88th birthday, and though she is not here to celebrate with us, she’s left a legacy of the written word that we can celebrate in her honor.

angelou

Today, I would just like to share some of Angelou’s poetry that we may not know as well as “Phenomenal Woman” and “Still I Rise” – and poems that would easily add to much of what we’re teaching:

A Brave and Startling Truth by Maya Angelou  (1995, for the UN’s 50th Anniversary)

We, this people, on a small and lonely planet
Traveling through casual space
Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns
To a destination where all signs tell us
It is possible and imperative that we learn
A brave and startling truth

And when we come to it
To the day of peacemaking
When we release our fingers
From fists of hostility
And allow the pure air to cool our palms

When we come to it
When the curtain falls on the minstrel show of hate
And faces sooted with scorn are scrubbed clean
When battlefields and coliseum
No longer rake our unique and particular sons and daughters
Up with the bruised and bloody grass
To lie in identical plots in foreign soil

When the rapacious storming of the churches
The screaming racket in the temples have ceased
When the pennants are waving gaily
When the banners of the world tremble
Stoutly in the good, clean breeze

When we come to it
When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders
And children dress their dolls in flags of truce
When land mines of death have been removed
And the aged can walk into evenings of peace
When religious ritual is not perfumed
By the incense of burning flesh
And childhood dreams are not kicked awake
By nightmares of abuse

When we come to it
Then we will confess that not the Pyramids
With their stones set in mysterious perfection
Nor the Gardens of Babylon
Hanging as eternal beauty
In our collective memory
Not the Grand Canyon
Kindled into delicious color
By Western sunsets

Nor the Danube, flowing its blue soul into Europe
Not the sacred peak of Mount Fuji
Stretching to the Rising Sun
Neither Father Amazon nor Mother Mississippi who, without favor,
Nurture all creatures in the depths and on the shores
These are not the only wonders of the world

When we come to it
We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe
Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger
Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace
We, this people on this mote of matter
In whose mouths abide cankerous words
Which challenge our very existence
Yet out of those same mouths
Come songs of such exquisite sweetness
That the heart falters in its labor
And the body is quieted into awe

We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness
That the haughty neck is happy to bow
And the proud back is glad to bend
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction
We learn that we are neither devils nor divines

When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear

When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.

There are many topics and “big ideas” we could connect this poem with – in order to work it into what we’re teaching about contemporary and current events or literature. We could connect it to war, the environment, the potential (and disappointment? and hope?) of people.  The repeated “When we come to it,” emphasizes our still-coming-into-itness.  What might our students have to say about this in light of other things they’re learning or reading?  Are we closer than humanity was in 1995 . . . or further away?

This poem may also work nicely paired with a poem from a previous post, Matthew Olzmann’s Letter Beginning with Two Lines by Czeslaw Milosz, which is about the violence happening in America – in schools and elsewhere.  It begins:

You whom I could not save,
Listen to me. 

I wonder what these two poems would have to say and reveal about one another. It might be an interesting discussion or Socratic Seminar.


At the time of Angelou’s death, she had been working on a collaborative project with producers Shawn Rivera and RoccStarr, who focused on original beats and instrumentals as Angelou recited her poem, “Harlem Hopscotch”:

One foot down, then hop! It’s hot.
Good things for the ones that’s got.
Another jump, now to the left.
Everybody for hisself.

In the air, now both feet down.
Since you black, don’t stick around.
Food is gone, rent is due,
Curse and cry and then jump two.

All the peoples out of work,
Hold for three, now twist and jerk.
Cross the line, they count you out.
That’s what hopping’s all about.

Both feet flat, the game is done.
They think I lost, I think I won.

The video can be seen with this Huffington Post article, “The Music Video For ‘Harlem Hopscotch’ from Maya Angelou’s Posthumous Hip-Hop Album, is Here.”


 

And, finally, the poem most often used in tributes right after her death, “When Great Trees Fall,” published as the last poem in the 1990 collection of poetry, I Shall Not Be Moved. 

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
examines,
gnaws on kind words
unsaid,
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
nurture,
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
radiance,
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
caves.

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.


 

And if you want to participate in “Take a Poet to Word Day,” here’s your chance with Maya: http://www.tweetspeakpoetry.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Take-Your-Poet-to-Work-Day-Printable-Maya-Angelou.jpg

It’s #WriterCrushWednesday featuring Edgar Allan Poe

We all know the master of the macabre, Edgar Allan Poe, but it seems only apropos to highlight him and two of his lesser-known (and not-so-often-taught) “haunted’ poems the week before Halloween.

So for today’s #wcw, I thought we’d feature “Spirits of the Dead” and “The Haunted Palace.” These poems can be practice for annotation, finding literary devices, studying how writers create mood, rhyme scheme . . . or as mentor texts for a spooky poem of the students’ own.

 

Spirits of the Dead

BY EDGAR ALLAN POE

I

 

Thy soul shall find itself alone
’Mid dark thoughts of the gray tombstone—
Not one, of all the crowd, to pry
Into thine hour of secrecy.

 

II

 

Be silent in that solitude,
   Which is not loneliness—for then
The spirits of the dead who stood
   In life before thee are again
In death around thee—and their will
Shall overshadow thee: be still.

 

III

 

The night, tho’ clear, shall frown—
And the stars shall look not down
From their high thrones in the heaven,
With light like Hope to mortals given—
But their red orbs, without beam,
To thy weariness shall seem
As a burning and a fever
Which would cling to thee for ever.

 

IV

 

Now are thoughts thou shalt not banish,
Now are visions ne’er to vanish;
From thy spirit shall they pass
No more—like dew-drop from the grass.

 

V

 

The breeze—the breath of God—is still—
And the mist upon the hill,
Shadowy—shadowy—yet unbroken,
Is a symbol and a token—
How it hangs upon the trees,
A mystery of mysteries!

 

 

Source: The Complete Poems and Stories of Edgar Allan Poe (1946)

 

The Haunted Palace

BY EDGAR ALLAN POE

In the greenest of our valleys
   By good angels tenanted,
Once a fair and stately palace—
   Radiant palace—reared its head.
In the monarch Thought’s dominion,
   It stood there!
Never seraph spread a pinion
   Over fabric half so fair!

 

Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
   On its roof did float and flow
(This—all this—was in the olden
   Time long ago)
And every gentle air that dallied,
   In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
   A wingèd odor went away.

 

Wanderers in that happy valley,
   Through two luminous windows, saw
Spirits moving musically
   To a lute’s well-tunèd law,
Round about a throne where, sitting,
   Porphyrogene!
In state his glory well befitting,
   The ruler of the realm was seen.

 

And all with pearl and ruby glowing
   Was the fair palace door,
Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing
   And sparkling evermore,
A troop of Echoes, whose sweet duty
   Was but to sing,
In voices of surpassing beauty,
   The wit and wisdom of their king.

 

But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
   Assailed the monarch’s high estate;
(Ah, let us mourn!—for never morrow
   Shall dawn upon him, desolate!)
And round about his home the glory
   That blushed and bloomed
Is but a dim-remembered story
   Of the old time entombed.

 

And travellers, now, within that valley,
   Through the red-litten windows see
Vast forms that move fantastically
   To a discordant melody;
While, like a ghastly rapid river,
   Through the pale door
A hideous throng rush out forever,
   And laugh—but smile no more.

 

Source: Poets of the English Language (Viking Press, 1950)

 

Since many of us already know Poe’s basic biography, I thought I’d highlight the Edgar Allan Poe House that it just over the bridge in Philadelphia.  The Edgar Allan Poe House is a National Historic Site located at 532 North 7th Street, just off of Spring Garden. This is just one of the homes in which Poe lived during his time in Philadelphia, which were some of his most prolific years. He wrote many of his well-known works in Philadelphia, including “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Murders of Rue Morgue.”  It is free to visit and is open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 9 am to 12 pm and 1 pm to 5 pm.

Here are a few pictures from the website:

poe hosue poe house 2 poe house

#WCW Stephanie has a crush on . . .

pablo

Pablo Neruda

a guest blog post by Stephanie DeCosta

Neruda, born Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto, in Chile at the turn of the 20th Century became famous for his poetry from a very young age, having his first work published when he was all of 13. “Pablo Neruda” was the name he used to avoid being found out by his father, who did not approve of his son’s writing aspirations. This pen name is believed to have been a combination of Czech Poet Jan Neruda and French Poet Paul (or Pablo) Verlaine. Despite his father’s disapproval, Neruda continued to write under his pen name, and eventually adopted it as his legal name. His illustrious and varied career not only included verse, journalism, and other writing, but also diplomatic office, political leadership, and international negotiator and peace-maker. He wrote in a variety of styles, including surrealist poems, historical epics, overtly political manifestos, a prose autobiography, and erotically charged love poems such as the ones in his collection Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (1924). He often wrote in green ink, which was his personal symbol for desire and hope.

“… dark smell of seaweed…”    

“… blaze of the rose-tree…”

“…pale stones of your fingernails…”

What imagery. What gorgeous, delicious, unique imagery. Pablo Neruda and I are having a love affair—unbeknownst to him. How can you not fall in love with him? I mean, not only is he a poet but just look at the above picture: dark, deep in thought, impeccably dressed. His words wrap around my heart like a velvet sash and tug tight tearing me between emotions. There is SO much that can be done with his work…

  1. There is a movie about him. Check out http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0110877/ (The Postman: Il Postino). Students can experiment with genre writing and compose a film review.
  2. I have attached a file called “Pablo Pieces” that has several project outlines which can be used with his work:  pablo pieces
  1. Pablo Neruda wrote surrealist poems; Salvador Dali created surrealist art. Both were alive at the same time as well. Below is one of Dali’s most famous paintings. Students can write an art response OR use this painting as the inspiration for their own poem
The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali

The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali

Below are my 3 favorite Neruda poems. Students can get into groups to explicate them, deliver a dramatic reading, identify literary devices and create “found” poem based on them.

Perhaps not to be is to be without your being,
without your going, that cuts noon light
like a blue flower, without your passing
later through fog and stones,
without the torch you lift in your hand
that others may not see as golden,
that perhaps no one believed blossomed
the glowing origin of the rose,
without, in the end, your being, your coming
suddenly, inspiringly, to know my life,
blaze of the rose-tree, wheat of the breeze:
and it follows that I am, because you are:
it follows from ‘you are’, that I am, and we:
and, because of love, you will, I will,
We will, come to be.

Carnal apple, Woman filled, burning moon,
dark smell of seaweed, crush of mud and light,
what secret knowledge is clasped between your pillars?
What primal night does Man touch with his senses?
Ay, Love is a journey through waters and stars,
through suffocating air, sharp tempests of grain:
Love is a war of lightning,
and two bodies ruined by a single sweetness.
Kiss by kiss I cover your tiny infinity,
your margins, your rivers, your diminutive villages,
and a genital fire, transformed by delight,
slips through the narrow channels of blood
to precipitate a nocturnal carnation,
to be, and be nothing but light in the dark.

I crave your mouth, your voice, your hair.
Silent and starving, I prowl through the streets.
Bread does not nourish me, dawn disrupts me, all day
I hunt for the liquid measure of your steps.

I hunger for your sleek laugh,
your hands the color of a savage harvest,
hunger for the pale stones of your fingernails,
I want to eat your skin like a whole almond.

I want to eat the sunbeam flaring in your lovely body,
the sovereign nose of your arrogant face,
I want to eat the fleeting shade of your lashes,

and I pace around hungry, sniffing the twilight,
hunting for you, for your hot heart,
like a puma in the barrens of Quitratue.

#WCW for Poetry Month: I’ve Got a Crush on . . .

Wislawa Szymborska!

szymborska

Wislawa Szymborska (Vi-slav-ah Sshm-bor-ska) is a Polish poet who lived between 1923 and 2012, living through tumultuous times in Poland that included Nazi occupation and Soviet rule.  She was a quiet and private person who spoke eloquently through her poetry, which were published in sixteen poetry collections throughout her life.

Her poems have been translated from Polish into English, German, Swedish, Danish, Hebrew, Hungarian, Czech, Slovakian, Serbo-Croatian, Romanian, Bulgarian, and other languages.  They have also been published in numerous poetry anthologies (nobelprize.org).

The Poetry Foundation (poetryfoundation.org) describe her poetry: “Readers of Szymborska’s poetry have often noted its wit, irony, and deceptive simplicity. Her poetry examines domestic details and occasions, playing these against the backdrop of history.”

In the New York Times Book Review, Stanislaw Baranczak wrote, “The typical lyrical situation on which a Szymborska poem is founded is the confrontation between the directly stated or implied opinion on an issue and the question that raises doubt about its validity. The opinion not only reflects some widely shared belief or is representative of some widespread mind-set, but also, as a rule, has a certain doctrinaire ring to it: the philosophy behind it is usually speculative, anti-empirical, prone to hasty generalizations, collectivist, dogmatic and intolerant.”

Wislawa Szymborska @ PoetryFoundation.org

Wislawa Szymborska @ NobelPrize.org

Here are a few of her poems:

The Three Oddest Words

When I pronounce the word Future,
the first syllable already belongs to the past.

When I pronounce the word Silence,
I destroy it.

When I pronounce the word Nothing,
I make something no non-being can hold.


Dreams

BY WISŁAWA SZYMBORSKA

TRANSLATED FROM THE POLISH BY CLARE CAVANAGH AND STANISLAW BARANCZAK

Despite the geologists’ knowledge and craft,
mocking magnets, graphs, and maps—
in a split second the dream
piles before us mountains as stony
as real life.
And since mountains, then valleys, plains
with perfect infrastructures.
Without engineers, contractors, workers,
bulldozers, diggers, or supplies—
raging highways, instant bridges,
thickly populated pop-up cities.
Without directors, megaphones, and cameramen—
crowds knowing exactly when to frighten us
and when to vanish.
Without architects deft in their craft,
without carpenters, bricklayers, concrete pourers—
on the path a sudden house just like a toy,
and in it vast halls that echo with our steps
and walls constructed out of solid air.
Not just the scale, it’s also the precision—
a specific watch, an entire fly,
on the table a cloth with cross-stitched flowers,
a bitten apple with teeth marks.
And we—unlike circus acrobats,
conjurers, wizards, and hypnotists—
can fly unfledged,
we light dark tunnels with our eyes,
we wax eloquent in unknown tongues,
talking not with just anyone, but with the dead.
And as a bonus, despite our own freedom,
the choices of our heart, our tastes,
we’re swept away
by amorous yearnings for—
and the alarm clock rings.
So what can they tell us, the writers of dream books,
the scholars of oneiric signs and omens,
the doctors with couches for analyses—
if anything fits,
it’s accidental,
and for one reason only,
that in our dreamings,
in their shadowings and gleamings,
in their multiplings, inconceivablings,
in their haphazardings and widescatterings
at times even a clear-cut meaning
may slip through.

Possibilities

I prefer movies.
I prefer cats.
I prefer the oaks along the Warta.
I prefer Dickens to Dostoyevsky.
I prefer myself liking people
to myself loving mankind.
I prefer keeping a needle and thread on hand, just in case.
I prefer the color green.
I prefer not to maintain
that reason is to blame for everything.
I prefer exceptions.
I prefer to leave early.
I prefer talking to doctors about something else.
I prefer the old fine-lined illustrations.
I prefer the absurdity of writing poems
to the absurdity of not writing poems.
I prefer, where love’s concerned, nonspecific anniversaries
that can be celebrated every day.
I prefer moralists
who promise me nothing.
I prefer cunning kindness to the over-trustful kind.
I prefer the earth in civvies.
I prefer conquered to conquering countries.
I prefer having some reservations.
I prefer the hell of chaos to the hell of order.
I prefer Grimms’ fairy tales to the newspapers’ front pages.
I prefer leaves without flowers to flowers without leaves.
I prefer dogs with uncropped tails.
I prefer light eyes, since mine are dark.
I prefer desk drawers.
I prefer many things that I haven’t mentioned here
to many things I’ve also left unsaid.
I prefer zeroes on the loose
to those lined up behind a cipher.
I prefer the time of insects to the time of stars.
I prefer to knock on wood.
I prefer not to ask how much longer and when.
I prefer keeping in mind even the possibility
that existence has its own reason for being.


The End and the Beginning

BY WISŁAWA SZYMBORSKA

TRANSLATED BY JOANNA TRZECIAK

After every war
someone has to clean up.
Things won’t
straighten themselves up, after all.
Someone has to push the rubble
to the side of the road,
so the corpse-filled wagons
can pass.
Someone has to get mired
in scum and ashes,
sofa springs,
splintered glass,
and bloody rags.
Someone has to drag in a girder
to prop up a wall.
Someone has to glaze a window,
rehang a door.
Photogenic it’s not,
and takes years.
All the cameras have left
for another war.
We’ll need the bridges back,
and new railway stations.
Sleeves will go ragged
from rolling them up.
Someone, broom in hand,
still recalls the way it was.
Someone else listens
and nods with unsevered head.
But already there are those nearby
starting to mill about
who will find it dull.
From out of the bushes
sometimes someone still unearths
rusted-out arguments
and carries them to the garbage pile.
Those who knew
what was going on here
must make way for
those who know little.
And less than little.
And finally as little as nothing.
In the grass that has overgrown
causes and effects,
someone must be stretched out
blade of grass in his mouth
gazing at the clouds.


Nobel Prize Winner

Wislawa_Szymborska_zyje_5628471

Szymborska was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996 “for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biographical context to come to light in fragments of human reality.”

The Nobel Prize site (nobelprize.org) describes her this way:

“A Mozart of Poetry”

Wislawa Szymborska was a Polish-born poet, essayist and translator. Her first collection, ‘That’s What We Live For’ (1952), was written under Poland’s communist regime and was an expression of socialist realism. She has been described as a “Mozart of Poetry”, as her words fall into place with a veritable ease, and during her lifetime, she wrote around 400 poems, seemingly simple, but subtle and deep. She used common everyday images to reflect on larger truths – an onion, a cat – in her poems about life’s big subjects: love, death and passing time.

Here’s an article/interview with the New York Times after Szymborska won the prize.

Here’s her Nobel Lecture, “The Poet and the World.”

“The world – whatever we might think when terrified by its vastness and our own impotence, or embittered by its indifference to individual suffering, of people, animals, and perhaps even plants, for why are we so sure that plants feel no pain; whatever we might think of its expanses pierced by the rays of stars surrounded by planets we’ve just begun to discover, planets already dead? still dead? we just don’t know; whatever we might think of this measureless theater to which we’ve got reserved tickets, but tickets whose lifespan is laughably short, bounded as it is by two arbitrary dates; whatever else we might think of this world – it is astonishing.”

“Heaven or Whatever” by Shane Koyczan, a Spoken Word Video

So, it’s Monday.

And I’ve found that the best break for assessment-writing on any Monday morning, is poetry (or a poet) that inspires you.

So when I saw that Shane Koyczan, author of “To This Day,” penned and compiled another spoken word mini-film, I couldn’t help myself.

There are a few ways this poem/video can connect to what you’re teaching.  It can begin or engage a discussion about respecting beliefs (before or with any text where there is a difference in beliefs), serve as a nice intro to The Five People You Meet in Heaven, be a mentor text for Writing Workshop for memoir, personal narrative, or just a creative piece about someone they’ve lost or something someone important taught them, an example of a creative-writing/film teacher’s choice assessment from their perspective or a character’s, as a cinepoem example if you have them create their own (a project I used to do with Walt Whitman’s Drum Taps, if you’re interested), and . . . plenty more.

So here’s the video.  It’s worth every second of your day that it’ll occupy while you’re watching it and all those seconds it’ll resonate with you afterwards:

here’s the accompanying blurb from youtube: As a kid I was a terrible Catholic… as an adult I’m an okay atheist. I’ve seen religion do good. I’ve known people who were able to turn their entire lives around because they found God. That just hasn’t been my experience. I think, in this life, we search for what gives us comfort. For some people it’s a concept like Heaven, for others it’s something different. I make no claims that what I believe is the truth… it’s simply what I believe. I’m grateful that I was able to find some small measure of harmony with my granddad despite our conflicting spiritual paths… I guess that’s how I’ve learned to define respect.

Ideas for Bringing Memorial Day to the Classroom

Memorial Day is upon us.  Here are some ideas for bringing it to the classroom to remind students that it’s more than a three-day weekend and the unofficial start of summer!

Veteran’s History Project (from the Library of Congress)

Check out the Veteran’s History Project, where students can search the collection and learn about a veteran (or two or three . . . or ?).  After reading through different stories (each account has different resources — some audio, some copies of letters, official documents), students could creatively share/present their veteran and why that person’s service is important or they could write a poem or story based on one veteran or multiple veterans based on what they learned about them, their service, etc . . ..

This is a great way to incorporate the standards for using text as evidence, gathering information from sources, writing, etc . . .   You could even work with students to develop a question (yay inquiry!) about war or service or the importance of Memorial Day and let them use this source to help them answer that question.  They can search by war or by branch of service so you (or they) could narrow/expand this as broadly as you want.

If you’re World Literature, it might be interesting to look into Vietnam or Afghanistan.  Brit Literature folks should find plenty in World War I and II that they could perhaps connect to.  If you’re an American Literature teacher, you can tie this idea to the American Civil War, but check out Civil War Soldiers’ Stories instead.

United States War Memorials (from the USA.gov)

Check out this usa.gov site called Military History, Memorials and Monuments that has links to sites about the various monuments and memorials in the United States.  This would be great with an over-arching question, “Why do we memorialize?” or “Why do we remember?”

After choosing a monument to research or read about, students could share what they learned with the class.  You could look at one or two memorials as a class and engage in a Socratic Seminar (see possible questions above) in which the memorials become the “text” that students reference in discussion.

If you’re aching for the literary-connection, there are poems about monuments and memorials, including Yusef Komunyakaa’s “Facing It” (Vietnam War Memorial) and Langston Hughes’s “Lincoln Memorial: Washington.”  Students could use these as mentor texts to write a poem about a memorial or monument of their own or as starting points for research, or for discussion or Socratic Seminar.  There are plenty of possibilities depending on what your students and you may want to do. 🙂

You could also use this information to invite students to design their own memorial in order to answer the question, “Why do (should) we memorialize?” (How?)

TeachingHistory.org

And if none of these ideas are moving you and you still want to do something, check out Teaching History’s list of Teaching Memorial Day resources.

Have an idea to share?  Shoot it to me in an email or leave it below in the comments!

All of Us or None

A German poet for the 29th day of #poetrymonth

All of Us or None by Bertolt Brecht

Slave, who is it that shall free you?
Those in deepest darkness lying.
Comrade, only these can see you
Only they can hear you crying.
Comrade, only slaves can free you.
Everything or nothing. All of us or none.
One alone his lot can’t better.
Either gun or fetter.
Everything or nothing. All of us or none.

You who hunger, who shall feed you?
If it’s bread you would be carving,
Come to us, we too are starving.
Come to us and let us lead you.
Only hungry men can feed you.
Everything or nothing. All of us or none.
One alone his lot can’t better.
Either gun or fetter.
Everything or nothing. All of us or none.

Beaten man, who shall avenge you?
You, on whom the blows are falling,
Hear your wounded brothers calling.
Weakness gives us strength to lend you.
Come to us, we shall avenge you.
Everything or nothing. All of us or none.
One alone his lot can’t better.
Either gun or fetter.
Everything or nothing. All of us or none.

Who, oh wretched one, shall dare it?
He who can no longer bear it.
Counts the blows that arm his spirit.
Taught the time by need and sorrow,
Strikes today and not tomorrow.
Everything or nothing. All of us or none.
One alone his lot can’t better.
Either gun or fetter.
Everything or nothing. All of us or none.

James Baldwin, Nicky Finney, and Yusef Komunyakaa, NPM Days 26, 27 & 28

So this weekend, I had the pleasure of attending some Live Arts events in NYC to kick off the year of James Baldwin.  I attended a reading and discussion of James Baldwin’s poetry (based out of a book of poems just rereleased), which included 5 renowned poets on the panel.  So this Monday, the Poetry Month posting will be inspired by those poets currently at the top of their field. 🙂

Amen by James Baldwin

No, I don’t feel death coming.
I feel death going:
having thrown up his hands,
for the moment.

I feel like I know him
better than I did.
Those arms held me,
for a while,
and, when we meet again,
there will be that secret knowledge
between us.

I had the pleasure of meeting Yusef Komunyakaa, who was a gracious and incredibly sweet man.

From YouTube, his advice to young writers:

“To not be afraid of surprising oneself”

And one of my favorites:

Facing it by Yusef Komunyakaa

My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn’t,
dammit: No tears.
I’m stone. I’m flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way–the stone lets me go.
I turn that way–I’m inside the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find my own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap’s white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman’s blouse
but when she walks away the names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird’s
wings cutting across my stare.
The sky. A plane in the sky.
A white vet’s image floats
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I’m a window.
He’s lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman’s trying to erase names:
No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair.

In addition, I met Nicky Finney, a 2011 National Book Award Winner in Poetry.

Here is her acceptance speech for that award (video includes introductions, speech begins around 4:45)

and a poem:

Heirloom by Nicky Finney

Sundown, the day nearly eaten away,

the Boxcar Willies peep. Their
inside-eyes push black and plump

against walls of pumpkin skin. I step
into dying backyard light. Both hands

steal into the swollen summer air,
a blind reach into a blaze of acid,

ghost bloom of nacre & breast.
One Atlantan Cherokee Purple,

two piddling Radiator Charlies
are Lena-Horne lured into the fingers

of my right hand. But I really do love you,
enters my ear like a nest of yellow jackets,

well wedged beneath a two-by-four.

But I really didn’t think I would (ever leave),
stings before the ladder hits the ground.

I swat the familiar buzz away.
My good arm arcs and aims.

My elbow cranks a high, hard cradle
and draws a fire. The end of the day’s

sweaty air stirs fast in a bowl, the coming
shadows, the very diamond match I need.

One by one, each Blind Willie
takes his turn Pollocking the back

fence, heart pine explodes gold-leafed in
red and brown-eyed ochre. There is practice

for everything in this life. This is how
you throw something perfectly good away.

Slacker Poster, Time for Poetry Catch-Up, NPM Days 17-25

As I’m sure you’ve noticed (or not . . .visitor numbers are low :)), I neglected NPM postings during Spring Break.

First, in honor of a belated birthday, that of Billy Shakes:

Sonnet 55

Not marble nor the gilded monuments
Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmear’d with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
‘Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room,
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
So, till the judgment that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.

And now . . . let’s play catch-up:

1. From the Poetry Foundation (and Target, apparently), a Teacher’s Poetry Guide for Black History Month.  It deals in three main subjects: Love and Compassion, Heritage and History, and On Being Black.  It includes poems and activities for students: Poetry Foundation Black History Month.

You could use this as it is or extend the subjects out to other poems and poets – other poets writing about identity, heritage, and compassion.

2. Hit some global issues with an article by the New York Times, “Why Afghan Women Risk Death to Write Poetry” or this longer look at Afghan Women’s Poetry in this poetry foundation article (with poems).

3. Have students explore annotated poetry (click yellow text to see pop-up annotations) or annotate poetry themselves at Rap Genius’s poetry genius.

4. Check out the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Lesson Plans that combine music with the social, literary, and political going-ons of its time.  Selections include Langston Hughes and the Blues, Popular Music and the Civil Rights Movement, Music and Protest, Vietnam War, Cold War, etc . . .  (remember – music as poetry totally works!),   This is one of my favorite resources.

5. A video from EduTopia about Empowering Authentic Voice through Spoken Word Poetry  that looks at one student working with YouthSpeaks and learning how to use her life as her primary text.  Great to open a discussion about poetry, why we write it and perform it and how we find ideas for our poems.  Would work as an introduction to spoken word poetry or poetry in general.

6. YouthSpeaks’s Brave New Voices (featured on HBO) includes videos (watch here) of students’ performances at the finals.  It is nice for students to see what other teens are writing about and how they are performing.

7. The National Writing Project’s long list of resources (many are articles, but the ideas may spark something!) for Teaching, Reading, and Writing Poetry.

For Strength, Survival, Grief and Moving On . . . Day 16 of NPM

Yesterday was the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings.  Here’s an incredible “Dear World” site with messages and photos of survivors.  It’s just moving to see . . . there are longer messages accompanying the pictures, but the main message is written on the bodies of the survivors.  Might be interesting to share with students and open up a dialogue about strength, survival, grief, and moving on.

boston marathon

And a few poems that might suit those discussions:

Still Start by Kay Ryan

As if engine
parts could be
wrenched out
at random and
the car would
still start and
sound even,
hearts can go
with chambers
broken open.

Source: Poetry (May 2013).

 

A Nation’s Strength by Ralph Waldo Emerson

What makes a nation’s pillars high
And its foundations strong?
What makes it mighty to defy
The foes that round it throng?

It is not gold. Its kingdoms grand
Go down in battle shock;
Its shafts are laid on sinking sand,
Not on abiding rock.

Is it the sword? Ask the red dust
Of empires passed away;
The blood has turned their stones to rust,
Their glory to decay.

And is it pride? Ah, that bright crown
Has seemed to nations sweet;
But God has struck its luster down
In ashes at his feet.

Not gold but only men can make
A people great and strong;
Men who for truth and honor’s sake
Stand fast and suffer long.

Brave men who work while others sleep,
Who dare while others fly…
They build a nation’s pillars deep
And lift them to the sky.

 

I Have to Tell you by Dorothea Grossman

I have to tell you,
there are times when
the sun strikes me
like a gong,
and I remember everything,
even your ears.

Source: Poetry (March 2010)

 

We Are Seven  by William Wordsworth
———A simple Child,
That lightly draws its breath,
And feels its life in every limb,
What should it know of death?

 

I met a little cottage Girl:
She was eight years old, she said;
Her hair was thick with many a curl
That clustered round her head.

 

She had a rustic, woodland air,
And she was wildly clad:
Her eyes were fair, and very fair;
—Her beauty made me glad.

 

“Sisters and brothers, little Maid,
How many may you be?”
“How many? Seven in all,” she said,
And wondering looked at me.

 

“And where are they? I pray you tell.”
She answered, “Seven are we;
And two of us at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea.

 

“Two of us in the church-yard lie,
My sister and my brother;
And, in the church-yard cottage, I
Dwell near them with my mother.”

 

“You say that two at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea,
Yet ye are seven! I pray you tell,
Sweet Maid, how this may be.”

 

Then did the little Maid reply,
“Seven boys and girls are we;
Two of us in the church-yard lie,
Beneath the church-yard tree.”

 

“You run about, my little Maid,
Your limbs they are alive;
If two are in the church-yard laid,
Then ye are only five.”

 

“Their graves are green, they may be seen,”
The little Maid replied,
“Twelve steps or more from my mother’s door,
And they are side by side.

 

“My stockings there I often knit,
My kerchief there I hem;
And there upon the ground I sit,
And sing a song to them.

 

“And often after sun-set, Sir,
When it is light and fair,
I take my little porringer,
And eat my supper there.

 

“The first that dies was sister Jane;
In bed she moaning lay,
Till God released her of her pain;
And then she went away.

 

“So in the church-yard she was laid;
And, when the grass was dry,
Together round her grave we played,
My brother John and I.

 

“And when the ground was white with snow,
And I could run and slide,
My brother John was forced to go,
And he lies by her side.”

 

“How many are you, then,” said I,
“If they two are in heaven?”
Quick was the little Maid’s reply,
“O Master! we are seven.”

 

“But they are dead; those two are dead!
Their spirits are in heaven!”
’Twas throwing words away; for still
The little Maid would have her will,
And said, “Nay, we are seven!”