Every month I write a blog post for a government agency with a focus on using poetry in the classroom and library. January has been a tumultuous month for me with the Presidential inauguration and the far more satisfying Women's March on Washington and around the country and world as it turned out. Because of my heightened emotional state I wrote this month's post about the inauguration and march and ways in which teachers and librarians might use poetry to help students talk about these events. Today I received a phone call that my post had been declined. This is not a surprise, nor am I offended, instead, I am frightened. Frightened that we now live in a nation where we are afraid of the repercussions if we speak out, or even hint that we are less than thrilled with this administration. Journalists are being harassed, rights are being curtailed, and bloggers are being hushed. But a bloggers gotta blog. So here is my post...make your own judgement about its content. All I ask is that we all start thinking about where we stand and what rights we are willing to concede.
Over the past few days, living in Washington, DC, I have watched or participated in historic activities. First, was the Presidential inauguration, then the Women’s March on Washington the next day. Both events made me think about the power of poetry, whether because I was remembering inaugural poems of the past or thinking about the strong emotions of these events that may have already inspired poems.
Students around the United States and the world are also aware of these historic events. They may be dealing with their own feelings as well as those of family, friends, and their community. Reading and writing poetry can inspire, spur, and engage them, helping students to connect with feelings about current events and build empathy or sympathy for those who walk in different shoes.
Reading the poetry of others may help students begin to talk about their reactions to and feelings about current events. Think about sharing using Poetry 180 - A Poem a Day for American High Schools, Hosted by Billy Collins, U.S. Poet Laureate, 2001-2003. Another approach is to select specific poems with themes appropriate to recent events such as “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers” (314) by Emily Dickinson. Listen to a reading at the Library of Congress during this day long reading on December 8, 2014, celebrating Emily Dickinson’s 184th birthday at time marker 2:20:34. Also consider something more provocative to spark discussion among students about their political concerns. Here, Naomi Shihab Nye reads Lisa Suhair Majaj’s “Guidelines.”
Writing poetry is a way for students to proclaim these thoughts, feelings, and political concerns in a concrete way. Asking students to record ideas in poetic formats promotes literacy by encouraging writing in multiple formats.
As an educator I feel I can support students when I offer opportunities for discussion prompted by poetry, only one of the ways in which Americans express themselves.
How do you prompt students to discuss current events?
**Photograph: [Chief Justice William Rehnquist administering the oath of office to Bill Clinton on the west front of the U.S. Capitol, January 20, 1993]