Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum
Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum
Political poems are polemical works of art: arguments that use poetic rhythms, rhymes, and images to persuade readers.
Teachers may begin this exercise by asking students what images best evoke their communities at the present time. The teacher and students may then analyze these images, reflecting on how they point to specific community problems that call for change. For example, in teacher Cathie Wright-Lewis' class, students reflected on the way baggy clothing can indicate defiance for some. Students should be encouraged to think broadly about what their communities look like. They may consider fashion, advertisements, the way the sidewalks or streets look, what kinds of conversations occur in public, or how people greet each other or avoid contact. Students should then write down all the sensory impressions they can summon about the images they've chosen.
Next, teachers may ask students to analyze a political poem from another time period. Students can pick apart these poems, noting how the author's poetic strategies -- rhyme, line breaks, etc -- encourage readers to see the world in the way the author does. One way to help students recognize the effect of poetic strategies is to have them take turns reading the poem aloud; teachers may then ask students why they read the lines in a certain way, or how the poem's structure influenced their interpretation. Once the class has discussed how several poetic strategies can draw readers into a certain political perspective, students can begin to write their own persuasive poems. Teachers may want to divide the class into smaller groups for this portion of the project. In each group, students should compile the images they have discussed with the class and structure them according to the poetic techniques they think will best persuade readers of their political views. Students may choose to compose individual poems, or they may choose to write collectively. Next, the groups can read the poems out loud for the class.
As each student or student group reads a poem aloud, the teacher and the other students in the class should make notes about what aspects of the poem particularly impresses them. They can then share these notes with the student presenting his or her work. It's often valuable for teachers to ask students to respond to others' work with questions or "echoing" statements. For example, teachers may ask the students listening to tell the poet what they think he or she did well, or to tell the poet what he or she seemed to say. In this way, listening to poetry can be as active as writing it.
By asking students to analyze poems as arguments, students learn to recognize the ideological underpinnings of the poems they read. They also learn creative strategies -- such as rhyme, rhythm, and line breaks -- that help to express their ideas. Most importantly perhaps, this exercise gives students a means of articulating some of the issues that trouble them in their daily lives. Once students become comfortable discussing these issues in the classroom, they can begin to debate these issues in their own communities.