Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Writing With Say Her Name

I know I'm in love with poetry right now. After Amanda Gorman's spoken word performances at the inauguration AND at the Super Bowl, I've been thinking a lot about poetry and spoken word. I've been talking to my students about activism and we're looking at poetry as a way to speak up about something that is important to you. 

A few years ago, I went to a poetry workshop with Ola Faleti at 826CHI and I remember she talked about how writing your name on a piece of paper is resistance. Just the fact that YOU are here matters. I love that sentiment and have thought about it over and over again. 

We watched Amanda Gorman's The Hill We Climb and then we watched Elizabeth Acevedo's Rat Ode and we answered some of the questions from session one of this 826 Digital Lesson: Poets in Revolt! written by Ola herself. I used Flippity to create a spinner with 6 numbers on it and we discussed the questions that came up. This is how I was able to put a digital-hybrird-pandemic "spin" on Ola's M&M activity. You could use digital dice too. 
I love poetry as revolution and was happy to discover Zetta Elliott's Say Her Name. It's a poetry collection that pairs well with Woke by Mahogany L. Browne, Elizabeth Acevedo, and Olivia Gatwood with illustrations by Theodore Taylor. 

In the introduction, Zetta writes, "I shared my 'mentor texts' - poems I have admired, studied and taught for years. These poets helped me to find my own voice and I hoped they would inspire my students, too." (Introduction, p. 1)

One of the questions that came up with my students was whether they read poetry or whether they considered themselves to be poets. One student mentioned Shel Silverstein. I grabbed two Shel Silverstein books I had and read "Jimmy Jet and His TV Set" and "Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out" and how he's definitely speaking up about something he cares about with those poems. Overall, though, my students didn't feel that they knew much about poems or that considered themselves to be poets. 

We're going to change that! I asked them to share song lyrics that they like and we'll discuss them next, looking at what stands out and how they might try that themselves. As I read, I thought about poetry as resistance. I thought about me as resistance. How do I take care of myself, how do I live fully, what am I doing that impacts the world, how am I celebrating? So many themes popped out to me and I started making lists. I love to make lists and sometimes I don't know how much I have to say until I start to make lists. And then once I can see what I have to say, then I can decide how to organize it and make it mean something from there. 

I started by thinking of ways I resist...
which is kind of how I show up fully as myself without apologizing to anyone:
Then I read one of the poems on self care and I wrote some words about that:
And then she included a Lucille Clifton poem called "Won't You Celebrate With Me?"
and I asked the question, "how do you celebrate everyday?"
And finally, I saw this poem and it made me smile because I have a tattoo with roses and this poem made me stop and think about how roses are gentle but also thorny and fragile about they also climb walls, they won't be held down and I love that. 
You might use this poem as a mentor text, or many of the poems in this book. Or this might just be one poem or collection you share as your explore poems. I think it's fun to help students find their own style and poetry is one way to really have some fun. 

Here's what I came up with: 

Celebrate Your Life, Come On

I am here
with a "white girls' name" that was spelled 
on my birth certificate

I am here 
to live big
and with purpose

to connect with people
and take time for myself

to dance to live music 
and sleep in the next morning

to tell stories
and listen to some too

Designed to live
Determined to live

Unapologetic and free
I inspire others with my audacity
I am here
to be me

Have any poetry you love to share with students or that goes along with the theme of poetry as resolution? Please share!

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