"I Hear America Singing" by Walt Whitman
"I, Too" by Langston Hughes
"Praise Song for the Day" by Elizabeth Alexander
These poems gave us a way to examine America's history of civil discourse and social challenges through the lens of the "singing" of diverse voices and the ways in which different voices have or have not been "heard" throughout history. Using poetry written at pivotal moments in history ("I Hear America Singing" during the Civil War era; "I, Too" during the Harlem Renaissance; and "Praise Song for the Day" at Obama's first inauguration), students were able to both place the art in a larger context and consider the ways in which the social and political landscape of the time is represented in the poem.
Working in small groups, students had to analyze the poems' form, content, and language; research the historical and cultural significance of the poem and poet; discuss the ways in which the poem is relevant today; and develop a lesson to engage the rest of the class in an activity based on the work itself or its message. To accomplish these tasks, students had to do their own research (using web resources and books) and practice citing a source using MLA format.
In mid-November, the groups shared their work during our first exhibitions of the year. Belated and tremendous thanks to the parents and students (in Jason and Sam's classes) who joined us for these exhibitions. Students used their knowledge of poetic terms and concepts (such as, but not limited to, free verse, rhyme, metaphor, and simile) to analyze and discuss the poems. Presentations were informative, conversations were lively, and, as usual, we ran out of time to do all of the activities in their intended entirety.
Poetry continues to be a useful lens through which to attempt to understand the nuances of language and narrative. In these specific cases, connecting poetry to history gave us a way to examine the current political climate as part of the evolving American "song" and the ways in which the global (and local) events of our time shape our own voices.