Can Poetry Help Us To Shape a More Just World?

Can Poetry Help Us To Shape a More Just World?

This is the fourth installment of the NCTE Citizenship Campaign, a blog series sponsored by the NCTE Standing Committee on Citizenship. This month’s theme is using poetry to spark civic engagement. It is written by Nicole Mirra

My first instinct as a teacher of English and longtime member of NCTE was to put this month’s theme together through song lyrics.  This would likely have resulted in a deconstruction of the work of Kendrick Lamar, Tupac Shakur, and certainly a mention of Nikki Giovanni’s Poem, “For Tupac.”  I also considered an exploration of poetic justice through the lens of the current political assault on education.

Instead, I decided to ditch both of those ideas and use this space to discuss the work and life of the recently fallen poet, Derek Walcott.  In the proud tradition of “artist on the margins,” Walcott embarked on a journey to create a myth on the level of Beowulf and Virgil, in his epic poem Omeros. I have been fortunate in my life to have English instructors who exposed me to art that challenged my view of the world, my community and myself. In Walcott I found someone who spoke to the ideas that were circulating in my head: global racial formation and its effects on space, language, and identity.  If you don’t know Walcott already, here are some links to explore:

Walcott’s poem is epic and Afro-futuristic and magical realism and intersectional rolled into one.  Ultimately, he reminds us through his work that with art at the center, understanding and acceptance can be the norm and not the outlier. It is not enough to observe and comment on society. You have to enact and activate in order to seek the justice necessary for equity and equality.

As educators, we have to remember that our daily choices, from the greeting at the door (for all levels), to the selection of text, to the type of assessments we give, illuminate our beliefs about the world—who we read, how we interact and what we say.  To that end, I am also including a few links to national poetry organizations that encourage student voice and often through the subject matter explore issues of equality and justice.

While it is not our job to imbue students with our personal ideology, it is our job to give them the tools necessary to critically understand, reflect, respond and evaluate their world and their own ideology.  Poetry is a vehicle for reading and learning the views of others and exploring our own ways of seeing the world.

More Poetry Resources

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Poetry and Research in the Teaching of English

During National Poetry Month, we will be posting poems that originally ran in one of the ten journals published by NCTE. This poem “Tango” by Clara, a student working with Angela Rounsaville comes from Research in the Teaching of English:

tango

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Today, We Celebrate Shakespeare!

Portrait of English playwright, William Shakespeare
Portrait of English playwright, William Shakespeare

In 1564, William Shakespeare was born on this day. In his life, Shakespeare wrote at least 38 plays and over 150 short and long poems. Shakespeare’s plays can be divided into three main categories: the comedies, the histories, and the tragedies. The following from NCTE and ReadWriteThink.org provide more resources on Shakespeare’s plays.

Comedies

Histories

Tragedies

As author Ben Jonson wrote of him, Shakespeare is “not of an age, but for all time.”

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Poetry and Teaching English in the Two-Year College

During National Poetry Month, we will be posting poems that originally ran in one of the ten journals published by NCTE. This poem “OF ESSAYS AND EIGHT BALL” by Rick Kempa comes from Teaching English in the Two-Year College:

OF ESSAYS AND EIGHT BALL

She chalks her cue and swaggers towards me.
“Look hard,” she says. “Do you remember me?”
“Yeah, sure, you were in my class, when was it,
eight, ten years ago?” “Nineteen ninety nine.”
“Forgive me,” I say, “You’ll have to help me
with your name.”

Leona, of course! How good
it must feel to kick my butt, killing me slowly
the way I did you when I kept your essays too long,
trying to justify a C-minus, or groping for words
to dull the anvil blow of a D. (Funny how,
when all else fades, a grade persists like
a bad tattoo.)

She hunkers down, nails a combo,
takes a swig, and, grinning, sidles up to me.
“So what did you think of my last paper?”
“Well, I, uh . . . ” “Wasn’t that a kick-ass title page?”
Ah yes, now I remember, how the words arced
in 3-D script above a perfectly-centered
red syringe.

“I am telling you, that was the
best damn title page I have ever seen and
believe me I’ve seen a lot,” I say, and we
touch bottles in honor of the sentence fragment
and the scratch shot, the cue ball that soars into
a knot of drunks and the prose that falls flat,
the eight ball that threads the needle,
kisses the cushion, and topples safely home,
and title pages that stand the test of time.

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Every Member an Advocate (Live Web Seminar)

On Thursday, April 27, NCTE members will gather on Capitol Hill for the 2017 NCTE Advocacy Day.  Whether you are in Washington, DC or your home district, you, too, can participate.

Join fellow NCTE members this Sunday, April 23 at 8:00 p.m. EDT for a live webinar, Every Member an Advocate, to learn the following:

Together, we will discuss key priorities in the US Congress and issues at home, where your attention, your expertise, and your unique perspective can make a critical difference. We will also share simple and concrete ways for you to engage in person, at home, and online in our policy agenda so that your experiences can influence policymakers and grow NCTE’s credible voice and visibility this year!

The webinar is FREE for NCTE members.

Although this event is free for members, you still need to register through the online store [click Add to Cart in the top-right corner]. You will receive a follow-up email Sunday afternoon with login information.

Why is your voice important now?

At the Federal level, President Trump has recommended that Congress eliminate critical (Title II) formula funds that flow annually to states in support of teacher professional development in schools and districts. If Congress adopts the President’s proposal, then that elimination of funding will compromise the recruitment, training, and ongoing professional learning for teachers where you live and work.

At the State level, your state is making decisions about ESSA implementation that will affect your classroom, such as:

  • how much annual testing will factor into a school’s ranking/rating within the state accountability system;
  • how to better measure and calculate English language proficiency; and
  • where to target improvement funding so that schools and districts get much-needed financial and technical support.

At the Local level, your school board, state and federal legislative representatives, and others need to hear from you to help influence budgeting, new legislation, research, and to assure schools and districts provide equitable access to rich and compelling learning opportunities and transformative curricula for all students.

Teachers are a credible and integral resource and must influence these important decisions! We encourage you to join us Sunday, April 23 at 8:00 p.m. to learn how.

Click here for answers to frequently asked questions about Web seminars.