#WCW Stephanie has a crush on . . .


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!


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.




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.


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



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


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.”

#WCW for Women’s History Month, Delayed, But Stephanie’s Still Got a Crush on . . .

Jeanette Walls!

jeanette walls


 The summer of 2014 was the “Summer of the Memoir” for me. I must have read at least 6 of them, but my favorite was The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls. It sounds very English teachery, but the language of the book is absolutely gorgeous—it reads like poetry. I feel that students would embrace this memoir for several reasons: the characters are deliciously vivid, the chapters are easy to read, both male and female perspectives are represented, the themes are obvious, and the anecdotes are both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Below is an excerpt…

glass castle

Reprinted by permission of Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., NY.(pages 19-22) 

We were always doing the skedaddle, usually in the middle of the night. I sometimes heard Mom and Dad discussing the people who were after us. Dad called them henchmen, bloodsuckers, and the gestapo. Sometimes he would make mysterious references to executives from Standard Oil who were trying to steal the Texas land that mom’s family owned, and FBI agents who were after dad for some dark episode that he never told us about because he didn’t want to put us in danger, too. Dad was so sure a posse of federal investigators was on our trail that he smoked his unfiltered cigarettes from the wrong end. That way, he explained, he burned up the brand name, and of the people who were tracking us looked in his ashtray, they’d find unidentifiable butts instead of Pall Malls that could be traced to him. Mom, however, told us that the FBI wasn’t really after Dad; he just liked to say they were because it was more fun having the FBI on your tail than bill collectors.

We moved around like nomads. We lived in dusty little mining towns in Nevada, Arizona, and California. They were usually nothing but a tiny cluster of sad, sunken shacks, a gas station, a dry-goods store, and a bar or two. They had names like Needles and Bouse, Pie, Goffs, and Why, and they were near places like the Superstition Mountains, the dried-up Soda Lake, and the Old Woman Mountain. The more desolate and isolated a place Wise, the better mom and dad liked it.

Dad would get a job as an electrician or engineer in the gypsum or copper mine. Mom liked to say that Dad could talk a blue streak, spinning tales of jobs he’d never had and college degrees he’d never earned. He could get about any job he wanted, he just didn’t like keeping it for long. Sometimes he made money gambling or doing odd jobs. When he got bored or was fired or the unpaid bills piled up too high or the lineman from the electrical company found out he had hotwired our trailer to the utility poles — or the FBI was closing in — we packed up in the middle of the night and took off, driving until Mom and Dad found another small town that caught their eye. Then we’d circle around, looking for houses with for-rent signs stuck in the front yard. Every now and then, we’d go stay with Grandma Smith, Mom’s mom, who lives in the big white house in Phoenix. Grandma Smith was a West Texas flapper who loved dancing and cussing and horses. She was known for being able to break the wildest broncs and had helped Grandpa run the ranch up near Fish Creek Canyon, Arizona, which was west of Bullhead City, not too far from the Grand Canyon. I thought Grandma Smith was great. But after a few weeks, she and Dad would always get into some nasty hollering match. It might start with Mom mentioning how sure we were on cash. Then Grandma would make a snide comment about Dad being shiftless. Dad would say something about selfish old crones with more money than they knew what to do with, and soon enough they’d be face-to-face in what amounted to a full-fledged cussing contest.

“You goddamned flint-faced hag!” Dad would shout back.”You flea bitten drunk!” Grandma would scream.

“You no-good two-bit pud-sucking bastard!”

“You scaly castrating banshee bitch!”

Dad had the more inventive vocabulary, but Grandma Smith could outshout him; plus, she had the home-court advantage. A time would come when Dad had had enough and he’d tell us kids to get in the car. Grandma would yell at Mom not to let that worthless horse’s ass take her grandchildren. Mom would shrug and say there was nothing she could do about it, he was her husband. Off we’d go, heading out into the desert in search of another house for rent in another little mining town.

Some of the people who lived in those towns had been there for years. Others were rootless, like us — just passing through. They were gamblers or ex-cons or war veterans or what Mom called loose women. There were old prospectors, their faces wrinkled and brown from the sun, like dried-up apples. The kids were lean and hard, with calluses on their hands and feet. We’d make friends with them, but not close friends, because we knew we’d be moving on sooner or later.

We might enroll in school, but not always. Mom and Dad did most of our teaching. Mom had us all reading books without pictures by the time we were five, and Dad taught us math. He also taught us the things that were really important and useful, like how to tap out Morse code and how we should never eat the liver of a polar bear because all the vitamin A in it could kill us.

He showed us how to aim and fire his pistol, how to shoot Mom’s bow and arrows, and how to throw a knife by the blade so that it landed in the middle of a target with a satisfying thwock. By the time I was four, I was pretty good with dad’s pistol, a big black six-shot revolver, and could hit five out of six beer bottles at 30 paces. I’d hold the gun with both hands, sight down the barrel, and squeeze the trigger slowly and smoothly until, with a loud clap, the gun kicked and the bottle exploded. It was fun. Dad said my sharpshooting would come in handy if the feds ever surrounded us.

Mom had grown up in the desert. She loved the dry, crackling heat, the way the sky at sunset looked like a sheet of fire, and the overwhelming emptiness and severity of all that open land that had once been a huge ocean bed. Most people had trouble surviving in the desert, but Mom thrived there. She knew how to get by on next to nothing. She showed us which plants were edible and which were toxic. She was able to find water when no one else could, and she knew how little of that you really needed. She taught us that you could wash yourself up pretty clean with just a couple of water. She said it was good for you to drink unpurified water, even ditchwater, as long as animals were drinking from it. Chlorinated city water was for namby-pambies, she said. Water from the wild helped build up your antibodies. She also thought toothpaste was for namby-pambies. At bedtime we’d shake a little baking soda into the palm of one hand, mix in a dash of hydrogen peroxide, then use our fingers to clean our teeth with the fizzing paste.

I loved the desert, too. When the sun was in the sky, the sand would be so hot that it would burn your feet if you were the kind of kid who wore shoes, but since we always went barefoot, our soles were as tough and thick as cowhide. We’d catch scorpions and snakes and horny toads. We’d search for gold, and when we couldn’t find it, we collect other valuable rocks, like turquoise and garnets. There’d be a cool spell come sundown, when the mosquitoes would fly in so thick that the air would grow dark with them, then at nightfall, it turned so cold that we usually needed blankets.

There were fierce sandstorms. Sometimes they hit without warning, and other times you knew one was coming when you saw batches of dust devils swirling and dancing their way across the desert. Once the wind started whipping up the sand, you could only see a foot in front of your face. If you couldn’t find a house or car or a shed to hide in when the sandstorm started, you had to squat down and close your eyes and mouth real tight and cover your ears and bury your face in your lap until it passed, or else your body cavities would fill with sand. A big tumbleweed might hit you, but they were light and bouncy and didn’t hurt. If the sandstorm was really strong, it knocked you over, and you rolled around like you were a tumbleweed.

IDEA #1- write your own memoir

IDEA #2- pair these 2 links for Socratic Seminar



 IDEA #2- use this picture as a creative writing story/poem starter OR art response OR connect it to the novel


Dorothea Lange‘s Migrant Mother depicts destitute pea pickers in California, centering on Florence Owens Thompson, age 32, a mother of seven children, in Nipomo, California, March 1936

by guest blogger, Stephanie DeCosta

#WCW: Frank D’s Got a Crush on Octavia Butler

Today’s guest blogger is Frank D.


In the realm of science-fiction, there is only one true African American queen: Octavia Butler.  Considering that the genre is dominated almost exclusively by men, Butler’s success and audience are a testament to her unique vision.

Allow me to preface this by saying that I am not a science fiction fan; I’ve never been a Trekkie nor have I read more than a snippet of texts from the genre.  Unlike my classroom library, built to reach a diverse set of interests, my personal library boasts a miniscule collection.  Aside from Well’s, Time Machine, Heinlein’s  Starship Troopers and Haldeman’s The Forever War, little from this genre peaked my interest, although I am a fan of dystopian stories like 1984, A Brave New World, etc.

As an adjunct instructor in the First-Year Writing program at Temple University, careful thought was placed on the thematic structure of coursework.  Some of the ways the college approached the typically banal composition course were innovative, even somewhat provocative.  It was perhaps the influence of Sam Delaney, who besides being a noted science-fiction author and bearer of Gandalf’s beard, is a prominent professor at the college, which led us to use Octavia Butler’s Kindred the capstone text at the end of our course.   It would lead to an astounding experience for both my students and myself.

Butler is considered the quintessential voice amongst African American women in the genre of science fiction.  She is the only African American female to be inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, and her awards and accolades are too numerous to recount.   But the most striking characteristic about her as an author is the rebellious humility with which she approached her work.  Butler commented numerous times about her status as a writer, openly defying labels while simultaneously fearing that the ‘science fiction’ label might cause others to avoid reading her stories.  It is a paradox that, although her career was remarkable, may have relegated her to a fringe market.  It is a paradox only one of her novels seems to transcend.  Kindred.

Kindred is a tour de force, carefully folding elements of traditional science fiction into a profound piece of historical fiction.  It is a story about history and perception.  Butler said it was the only novel of hers that was not particularly sci-fi, more of a “grim fantasy” in which the characters lived in the horrors of the past.  It is a cerebral type of science fiction, using the genre as a tool for social commentary; no futuristic settings, no strange races, only the twist of a mysterious first-hand interaction with one’s own past.  Within those pages, Butler challenges the reader to witness the unavoidable past through the eyes of the present.


  •  An article where Butler addresses her use of the near-future to discuss the present.  She would likely argue that science-fiction is a process in which we use the past to create a future, through which we discover the present.
  • The official Octavia Butler site.  Included are resources for teaching her novel Kindred, as well as information about the Octavia Butler Memorial Scholarship Fund, which enables young writers of color to attend the Clarion writing workshops where she got her start.

#WCW I’ve got a crush on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Disclaimer: This week’s writer’s crush is a Nigerian woman who splits her time between Nigeria and the United States.  So she is not an African American writer, but a Nigerian writer.  I chose her anyway, even though she doesn’t perfectly fit the “theme” for this month’s #wcw.

Getting to Know Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


I first came to “know” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie through her TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” which I shared with Senior teachers earlier this school year.  In it, she humorously (and seriously) explains why we cannot learn about other cultures from observers and outsiders.  In my opinion, TED can be incorporated into the classroom in all kinds of ways. This one works well with an essential question that gets at the root of perspective or point of view, such as “Why should we entertain more than one perspective?”  or “Why should we study world literature?” (I know some Senior teachers used/use this TED talk, so just check with comrades before using it class.)

Here it is:

If you want to use TED this Black History Month, but worry about stepping on too many toes using Adichie’s, check out this TED playlist: 10 Great Talks to Celebrate Black History Month, which includes Adichie and 9 others (seriously, there are some great-looking talks included here, including one on bias, injustice, color blindness vs color bravery, etc.).

A Snapshot of Quotations – Brain Food, Writing Prompts, Etc.


“You must never behave as if your life belongs to a man. Do you hear me?” Aunty Ifeka said. “Your life belongs to you and you alone.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“Racism should never have happened and so you don’t get a cookie for reducing it.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah

“You can’t write a script in your mind and then force yourself to follow it. You have to let yourself be.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun

More Ways to Bring Adichie to the Classroom (before we have her books and excerpts!)

Check out these YouTube search results that feature talks and interviews with Adichie, including one with writer Zadie Smith!

adichie youtube

What’s Next?

I have Adichie’s Americanah on my nightstand awaiting opening, and I know some teachers are looking to teach her novel, Purple Hibiscus.  No matter what, I think she’s an writer worth reading because she offers us another perspective from which to approach the world, the issues in it, and, of course, ourselves.

Even Beyonce thinks she’s rad.  Adichie’s voice and words are included on her track, “Flawless”:

We teach girls to shrink themselves
To make themselves smaller
We say to girls
“You can have ambition
But not too much
You should aim to be successful
But not too successful
Otherwise you will threaten the man”
Because I am female
I am expected to aspire to marriage
I am expected to make my life choices
Always keeping in mind that
Marriage is the most important
Now marriage can be a source of
Joy and love and mutual support
But why do we teach to aspire to marriage
And we don’t teach boys the same?
We raise girls to each other as competitors
Not for jobs or for accomplishments
Which I think can be a good thing
But for the attention of men
We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings
In the way that boys are
Feminist: the person who believes in the social
Political, and economic equality of the sexes

Check out the LA Time article and then check out “Flawless:”  (Listen for Adichie around 1:30)

This could be great paired with Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise” or any novel, current event, etc. that deals with gender roles and expectations.  (Heck . . couldn’t this even spark a discussion using Canterbury Tales?)

#WCW: Steph’s Got a Crush on Mari Evans

Today’s #WCW guest blogger is Stephanie DeCosta. Here’s her post for her February writer-crush, Mari Evans.

I was introduced to Mari Evans in college; I read “Where Have You Gone” for the first time when I was a single, 19 year-old living at home. Instantly, I had two thoughts:

  1. I liked her simple, colloquial style and pictured her living in Chicago in some swanky apartment listening to jazz on an old record player.
  2. I had no sympathy for her—I wanted to tell her “Get over him! He’s a loser!”

My, how life experience does change one’s point of view.

Since that first reading so much “life” has happened: being completely blind-sided by someone I thought was my soul-mate, falling breathlessly in love with someone who finally treasured me, creating new life for whom I would battle bloody death to protect, hurting so badly over a loss I felt I’d have to keep my hands pressed to my chest for eternity for fear my heart would fall out.

And now I read that poem again. With new eyes…

Where Have You Gone

Where have you gone

with your confident
walk with
your crooked smile
why did you leave
when you took your
and departed
are you aware that
with you
went the sun
all light
and what few stars
there were?

where have you gone

with your confident
walk your
crooked smile the
rent money
in one pocket and
my heart
in another . . .

This time, I have two thoughts:

  1. Her style is not “simple”, but rather—sparse. She has nothing left to give. Not even her words. I picture her living in a small, rented house that she was promised would be “temporary.” Her jazz records still play, but now they skip due to the cracks that appeared over time.
  2. I ache for her. Leaving her was not just leaving her, but everything he had with her as well—children, memories, plans, responsibilities. One person can have a huge and lasting impact on another person’s life.

This is the power and beauty of poetry/literature: although the words never change, we constantly do, therefore it will always yield new reactions. This is why we need to read it.


Evans “To identify the enemy is to free the mind.”

– Mari Evans


  1. Have students write poetry responses to “Where Have You Gone” from various points of view. For example, how would a young daughter respond to this poem? What would an elderly white man say in response?
  2. Have students write an imitation poem: a poem on a topic of their choice but one that imitates the style and structure of “Where Have You Gone.”
  3. Have students find a song that connects to the poem and write a compare/contrast or expository pieces citing lines from the poem and song for support.
  4. Have students, in verbal or written format, respond to her above quote.
  5. Have students discuss the poem in Socratic Seminar
  6. Have students, in verbal or written format, respond to the painting below by Annie Lee entitled “Blue Monday” (LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS AFRICAN AMERICAN ARTIST)
  7. Have students discuss the painting in Socratic Seminar
  8. Have students use the painting as the inspiration for an original poem

Blue Monday

#WCW, I’ve got a crush on James Baldwin!


James Baldwin, LA Times

Ferguson, #blacklivesmatter, & James Baldwin

“Hatred, which could destroy so much, never failed to destroy the man who hated, and this was an immutable law.”

It’s no surprise to anyone who knows me that I selected James Baldwin for my February #wcw, but I didn’t JUST choose him because I have a crush on him, I chose him because some of his work is very poignant and pertinent in light of the recent events with Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, etc.  He has had a lot to say about how black men are perceived and the potential danger of a limited perception.  The best place to look for pieces that relate to this is in Notes of a Native Son or The Fire Next Time. You could engage this discussion with some of Baldwin’s quotes, too.  Here’s “5 James Baldwin Quotes that Foreshadowed Ferguson” from advocate.com.

“Sonny’s Blues”

“For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn’t any other tale to tell, it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness.”

One of my favorite things to teach is his short story, “Sonny’s Blues.”  I think you could easily connect this to texts about the young men listed above, but it’s also a great resource for teaching motif or music-as-narrative.  In the past, I’ve used it to introduce big ideas in Fences, but it’s a short story that is so rich and meaningful, that I’m confident we could connect to it to just about anything.  So if you’re teaching something about fathers and sons, brothers, family, music, freedom etc., “Sonny’s Blues” could be a nice text for you to include.  If you’d like a copy (it’s a long short story), I have a PDF version saved that I can easily share with you.

James on Lorraine 

“When so bright a light goes out so early, when so gifted an artist goes so soon, we are left with a sorrow andwonder which speculation cannot assuage. One’s filled for a long time with a sense of injustice as futile as it ispowerful. And the vanished person fills the mind, in this or that attitude, doing this or that.”

Teaching Raisin in the Sun this year?  James Baldwin wrote an essay about Lorraine Hansberry called “Sweet Lorraine,” and it’s a moving and insightful companion piece.

James and Lorraine

James Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry

Jimmy’s Blues: Poetry by Baldwin

Recently, some of James Baldwin’s poetry was poetry in Jimmy’s Blues, there are a few excerpts here, if you’d like to teach or incorporate something shorter.  Here’s a sample:


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.

Words of Note

AND . . . if you want a quicker, easier way to get James Baldwin in your classroom, here are a few of my favorite quotes:

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

“Love takes off the masks we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.”

“I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

“You write in order to change the world … if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change it.”

“It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

“It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”

And check out the rest on goodreads!

I’ve got a crush . . . 

Why do I love James Baldwin?  I love what he stood for.  I believe that he wasn’t afraid to speak up and speak his mind in the face of injustice.  He was a leading voice during the Civil Rights movement and did not silence his voice until he died in 1987.  But I think that I mostly love that James Baldwin believed that love (really knowing, seeing, and listening to one another) could fix a lot of what was/is broken in America, and he balanced that with a healthy dose of cynicism (at times) and realism.

Introducting #WCW: Writer Crush Wednesday

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Do you want to share your writer-love with others?  Would YOU like to be entered to win a prize at the end of the month?  Then you should sign up to be a guest blogger for #wcw!

Starting this month, Wednesdays will be #wcw, or “Writer Crush Wednesday,” and each Wednesday we’ll feature a new writer.

February will be African American writers for Black History Month;

March will be women writers for Women’s History Month;

April will be poets for Poetry Month;

and May will be a free-for-all.

Instead of me deciding who gets selected to be featured, I would LOVE for guest bloggers to sign up for a week to contribute their writer-crushes.  There’s no strict structure for the blog, so the only requirements would be that you:

  • feature one author
  • provide a link to background information and/or texts
  • suggest a least one text teachers can do with their classes
  • tell us why you love him/her AND/OR provide creative, fun, or practical way to teach the author

Posts can be as long as short as you’d like them to be, and you’ll submit it to me via e-mail, so I can post it to the blog.  Just submit your post to me by the end of the day Tuesday (before your Wednesday posting date!)

My hope is that #WCW can increase our knowledge-base of great authors, pique our interest, and give us some more fodder for our classrooms and teaching.

You never know when someone will introduce you to you next crush!  Share your love!