Spring 2018: Inaugural LCC Community-Generated Poetry Project

A pile of possibilities

Inspiration Story Problem:

At least 150 LCC students from English, History, Philosophy, Digital Media, and Theater courses produced hundreds of pages of source material in response to four different questionnaires written collaboratively by myself and faculty from those courses.  The questionnaires covered the general themes of: LCC, Community, College, and Lansing and they were all introduced with the question “Using what you’ve learned at LCC, how will you engage with the larger community?”.  Students from my Spring 2018 ENGL 201 Introduction to Poetry course (as well as some students from Fall 2017 ENGL 201 class) then collaged four poems from the raw material and read them at StarScapes April 18th, 2018.  In addition, the poems were interpreted by Catzian Maris, a student in the Sign Language Interpreter Program, and two of the poems were performed at StarScapes April 19th by students from Paige Tufford’s THEA 143 Stage Voice for the Actor.

The final poems displayed at StarScapes April, 2018

So…how did we get to those outcomes for the inaugural LCC Community-Generated Poetry Project? On my part, it was lots of excitement about the possibilities, belief in the power of community-generated poetry to allow students to explore complex ideas, and relentless optimism that others would agree with me once they experienced it.  From my amazing colleagues, it involved being open to something new, collaborative conversations, creativity, and just plain old “saying yes” to my hopeful vision of what this thing could be.

Who Was Involved:

In addition to my primary role in imagining, adapting, designing, implementing, and facilitating the project, several LCC faculty members – especially those with whom I attended the 2017 Imagining America conference: Melissa Kaplan, Jeff Janowick, and Matt VanCleave – helped develop the ideas around this first Poetry Project.  This aspect of the initial planning and development was an important beginning for what I’ve come to understand as one of the most powerful aspects of all subsequent versions of the Poetry Project: its deeply collaborative nature.

Dennis Hinrichsen leading a workshop on finding order in the chaos of the raw material

Poet, former LCC professor, and Lansing Poet Laureate (2017-2019) Dennis Hinrichsen was invaluable in this first iteration of the project.  Dennis and I met 11/30/17 to begin to imagine possibilities for a community-generated poetry project at LCC. At the poem collaging stage, March 2018, he led a workshop with the ENGL 201 student poets to help them wrangle and creatively approach the massive amount of language in the gathered raw material in order to find their poems.

What It Came To Be:

Because I so loved creating the poems from community-generated responses the previous semester, (Let’s try this community-generated thing!) I didn’t want to keep my students and other potential participants from the joy of collaging and creating poetry.  Therefore, this project, where I moved from being the person collaging others’ words, to creating and facilitating the process and having students take up that joyous activity of writing, provided a road map for future iterations of the Poetry Project. It also pulled heavily from my first experience at the Imagining America conference using questionnaires as the source of raw material for the poets/poems.

Project Specifics:

After collaboratively deciding on the overall focus question “Using what you’ve learned at LCC, how will you engage with the larger community?” I created four different questionnaires incorporating questions from involved faculty,   some of my own, and some adapted from Andrew Sullivan’s questionnaires (he made sure to let participants know at the 2017 IA session that all he shared was open for use).  Each questionnaire had a different title based on the first prompt — LCC, Community, College, and Lansing —  and included the following introductory paragraph:

“Dear Students:  Please take some time to respond to as many of the following poetic and not so poetic questions and prompts as interest you, though the more the better.  Your responses will be used, by your fellow students, to construct one or more community generated poems inspired by the theme of “Using what you’ve learned at LCC, how will you engage the larger community?”  The completed poem(s) will be shared in various ways at StarScapes April 18-19, 2018.”

“LCC” questionnaire prompts:

  1. Complete the simile: LCC is like…
  2. Finish the sentence with one word: I am ______________!
  3. If I met one of my LCC professors in five years, it would be at_____________ and we would talk about _____________.
  4. Briefly describe the most LCC thing you’ve ever done – don’t be afraid, of course, to upend tired old stereotypes.
  5. How do you engage with your community/communities?
  6. Describe something that happened to you by chance at LCC.
  7. In one sentence, personify LCC, that is give it animate qualities. (“LCC sprawled along the Grand River, but sat up to see the capital under the blue moon.”)

“Community” questionnaire prompts:

  1. Complete the simile: Community is like…
  2. If you could change one thing in your community for the better, what would it be?
  3. In 30 years, LCC will dedicate a plaque in your honor; what will it say?
  4. If you created a new LCC graduate superhero, what would be the three most important qualities or superpowers of this being?
  5. What five qualities are important to being a good citizen?
  6. Imagine future monuments or art installed on LCC’s campus: To whom or to what ideas will they be dedicated?
  7. Create an acrostic of the word “college” with the first word being “community” For example: Community Of Learners Laconically Endeavoring Great Edification. In other words, each successive word of your mini-definition of our college community begins with the next letter of the word “college”.  Yours could be either realistic or aspirational.

“College” questionnaire prompts:

  1. Complete the simile: College is like…
  2. What is your dream for your future?
  3. Complete the following sentence: “In response to the U.S. President’s assertion that Lansing was a “shithole” city, students at LCC replied…”
  4. If you made a film of the LCC experience, what would be the opening shot? What would be the closing shot? Briefly describe them.
  5. Write a song title or a line of lyrics about your dream for the future.
  6. What are your responsibilities or obligations to others?
  7. What is an important feeling, frustration, revelation or idea you’ve been living with recently?
  8. “The Art of Community” is the title of your poem. Now write a line of this poem that includes “LCC”.

“Lansing” questionnaire prompts:

  1. Complete the simile: Lansing is like…
  2. List three life skills you have discovered/learned/improved on while at LCC.
  3. If Lansing Community College were a series on Netflix/HBO/Hulu/etc., what would it be titled?
  4. When I come back to accept the alumni of the year award, my speech will be about ____________.
  5. What superhero powers (existing or of your own creation) best describe what you want to do for the community when you leave LCC?
  6. Using five words, what would you tell us about being a student at LCC?
  7. Write down something you’ve overheard someone saying about LCC.

Faculty shared various combinations of the questionnaires with their students asking for anonymous responses. The size of the pile of returned questionnaires from over 150 different students was somewhat intimidating.  How would my ENGL 201 students pull poems from so much raw material?

So many words! Filled out questionnaires where students found the language for their poems.

On the day I set aside for students to work with the returned questionnaires, Dennis’ workshop, held for a few minutes at the beginning of class, focused on ways to order the themes they would see emerging from the verbiage.  In addition, trying to anticipate how the poems might be used/shared I had students read a Creative Commons Licensing Guide and sign, if willing (they all were), an “agreement to contribute to OpenLCC Poetry Project Content”. The use of the creative commons guide and the “agreement to contribute” document is something I’ve repeated for all other Poetry Projects.  And then we just jumped in to having the students find their poems because…we didn’t know how to do this until we did it!

I had my Spring 2018 ENGL 201 students form three groups on their own. In addition, one other group of students from my ENGL 201 F17 class, who had volunteered to be a part of this project, met that same evening.  I then, very unscientifically, split the big pile of questionnaires where all of the returned questionnaires were mixed together, into three piles, i.e. one still quite large pile for each group. For the evening group I (inadvertently cruelly) gave the whole huge pile to the four students with a loud, satisfying thump. Those game students helped me see that, although that decision came from confidence in their abilities based on the community-generated poetry experiment they had enjoyed last semester…that “thump” and the amount of words to sift through was somewhat overwhelming.

Finding room for all the creativity

At first I gave the students just the questionnaires and highlighters – the “equipment” I had used at the IA session.  However, it became clear that more tools were necessary as the students were buried by all the questionnaires and words. I handed them 3×5 note cards, which worked well for pulling out good lines/language and seeing things come together.  Eventually, one student suggested sticky notes would be helpful and that clicked with everyone.  Students then came up with the approach to piece together their lines/words written on the sticky notes into a “puzzle” of a complete poem before writing it out.

The four groups produced four different poems:

    1. “¿Shackled in Freedom?” by Brad Chattaway, Jesse Hamilton, and Uriah Lahti
    2. “Brokeback College” by Jaquanna Carter, Kayla Norris, Tricia Wickens, and Emilee Wilcox
    3. “Last Chance of College” by Grace Carroll, Gracie Smith-Jobski, and Ebonee Young
    4. “As Yet Untitled” by Lorisa Bolinger, Echo Canaday, Ryanne Gumfory, and Courtney McLaren.

“As Yet Untitled” was the holding place title I inserted after forgetting to title it following their long evening of collaging from the entire stack of questionnaires. The poets all thought it fit and wanted to leave it as the title 🙂  The poems ended up having echoes of ideas and language connecting them while simultaneously encapsulating the voices and talents of the individual poets as well.

The Poems:

“Shackled in Freedom?” poets foreground to background: Brad Chattaway, Jesse Hamilton, and Uriah Lahti
¿Shackled in Freedom? 

by Brad Chattaway, Jesse Hamilton, and Uriah Lahti

Dead broke and feeling sour
Woke up and didn’t even shower
Ignite the beater and off I wander
Dodging millions of potholes over yonder
Off to LCC I go

A career I can enjoy that supports me
And maybe even some extra change for the family
But how can I get all the way to school
If I can’t park my car…maybe carpool?
Lost at LCC I am.

I get to class and am blown away
At all the homework we have for the day
But not once have I ever raised my hand
I sit there lost and confused about supply and demand
Lost at LCC I am.

One thing we want is BETTER SECURITY
And we believe in ECONOMIC EQUALITY
I never take tests and I still get a hundred
I don’t know why, but that grade will get me off this cheap bed.

Searching for parking, for what seems like days
I am tired,
Anxious about my grades

Throttling the car to my newly earned place
emotions swell
My procrastination piling up homework
already from hell,
leaving me gasping,
trying to do well
Now I bolt for my class
I’ve just missed the bell

But all can be well
If we refuse to fall victims to procrastination
in a forced
yet functional community
we can overcome hate of all
every person
or nation.

I find myself asleep
in a nap between classes
just trying to keep my GPA consistent
But it’s hard to be persistent
when I’m chained in this prison
for which I must pay.

As I complete my assignments
drinking cheap liquor
I reflect
what I pay for is not just solitary confinement
we make good friends
run into old ones
tie up loose ends.

We are learning at discount,
Just like my liquor
we are open minded
even as some of our skulls are thicker.
On others – our positive difference we can amount.

Now as I set down
my unsatisfying cup
I know we are not those who’ve all but given up,
submitting to
“the last chance college.”

Together a family, we walk down the path
of happiness
our condition is math
one problem, many solutions.

Although we are shackled
we’re shackled in freedom,
our failures help us,
as long as we see them.

There’s an obligation to encourage and inspire
Gaining knowledge to spark an idea like a fire
Discovering a love for different cultures
We are free, not frozen like a sculpture
Spending time with the people I love
While shooing away racism like a dove
Here, learning is the goal
to motivate the youth is our role
to be successful you must work hard
have fun in the world like it’s your backyard

Now I’m living on a beach sipping a mojito
Living large on the island of Wakito
Cuz’ I’m dead broke and feeling sour.
Woke up and didn’t even shower
Survived LCC I did.


“Brokeback College” poets at work: l to r: Jaquanna Carter, Kayla Norris, Emilee Wilcox, and Tricia Wickens
Brokeback College

by Jaquanna Carter, Kayla Norris, Tricia Wickens, 
and Emilee Wilcox

Brokeback college
It’s like a Ponzi scheme,
eating my money and my time
The most expensive simultaneous ego boost
and ego shatter
I’ll ever participate in
Full of lonely lesser-thans

“Last Chance College”
It’s college on easy mode
that’s why you get good grades
You’re just solving problems
someone already knows the answer to.
Waiting 10 minutes for someone to back out
of their parking spot
they never did
Is it over yet?

Powering through malady
like a bittersweet symphony
Participation, connection, empathy
Stressful but worth it.
I am phenomenal,
I’m not afraid to move forward

Moving forward
there’s hope for everyone.
It’s not where we came from
but where we are going.
We don’t need superhero powers;
What we do is good enough.
We will one day be
greater and stronger.


“Last Chance of College” poets from l to r: Ebonee Young, Gracie Smith-Jobski and Grace Carroll working with Dennis Hinrichsen
Last Chance of College

by Grace Carroll, Gracie Smith-Jobski, Ebonee Young

The earth actually could be flat
Fast forward time
Looking both ways before crossing the street, 
   and then getting hit by a plane
Leaving on a jet plane
Long journey with no exact destination
A series of unfortunate events
You can never park anywhere
Steal parking spots
Where people stalk you for your parking spots
Taking the L
Being stuck between child and adulthood
College turns a teenager into an adult
My patience wears thin more quickly than i thought
Came 40 minutes early to school and was still 
   late because I couldn’t get a parking spot
I am very
A pebble, small and boring
A colone of ants
LCC weight on my shoulders, like a weight
Its smart to go to to save money
Rich AF-2Chainz
Be prepared to be tired
Lansing is like a home i don’t want to live in
The place you dred going to
High school on drugs
I prepares for real life
College is like the food chain, someone is always 
   going to be better and smarter than you
Transfer students: the ones who got away
My daughter cancer
I like to procrastinate everyweek
LCC concert, a musically painful moment
Lansing is like big and new I was not born in lansing 
   so it is different being from a small town
If i met one of my LCC professors in 5 years it would be 
   at fun and we would talk about what we doing


“As Yet Untitled” poets from l to r: Echo Canaday, Lorisa Bolinger, Ryanne Gumfory, and Courtney McLaren
As Yet Untitled

by Lorisa Bolinger, Echo Canaday, Ryanne Gumfory, 
and Courtney McLaren

I just go to LCC
a last chance college
the first step
toward the future
where I want to be somebody
but I’m locked in conformity
a cage, an empty room
a blank wall
so much potential

Our community, a pack of wolves,
brings security, a thriving ecosystem the
true heart of the state
a beehive
all sorts of buzzing and humming,
everyone doing their own thing
constant panic
too many people do the wrong thing.
I’m not living for myself.
Welcome to the club.

The roads are terrible
The earth might actually be flat
I’m on a long journey with no exact destination
on a busy street that never sleeps
filled with pebbles small and boring
the smallest stepping stones
anyone can go to college
I owe it to myself to take control

I am somebody
to love and be loved
community is like a human blood stream, 
   an open-ended family
a giant pot of boiling opinions
that taught me not everyone has the same heart as me
and so together through bagels, buildings 
   and a whole lot of stairs
we grow and learn and start.


The students performed their poems at StarScapes 4/19/18.  I put no pressure on students to read/perform.  One poem had just one reader, others, the poets split up reading stanzas. I ended up reading one as well – which I always left as an option.

Barb Clauer reading one of the students’ poems


I asked students in my ENGL 201 class to fill out “student poet’s reflection” forms responding to two questions: What worked well about the community-generated poetry writing experience? and Do you have any suggestions for what we could do differently?

What worked well about the community-generated poetry writing experience?:

    • I really enjoyed working together with my classmates and found it to be a really fun experience. One of the things that helped my group the most was when we wrote all of the interesting language on sticky notes so that we could put them together like a puzzle.
    • It all came from student’s honest opinions about community which was good.
    • I thought it was awesome. I enjoyed having to make a poem about nothing at all.  It was cool to try and make a poem like that and not have any set guidelines or rules to it.
    • The freedom to write the poems however we saw fit. It was a nice break from class while still on the topic of poetry.
    • I think that everything went positively (?) with the experience. I in particular think the participation and coordination with the sign language interpretation program went well.
    • I think it brought together the collective thoughts most students have about LCC. Good or bad, it was a good way to let our voices be heard.
    • I think overall it was a cool experience to be able to “blindly” interact with other students on a project like this.
    • It is a creative and fun idea.
    • I think it was fun and a cool idea but it was a lot more stressful for me than it should have because there was a lot of information to deal with and my group members weren’t very focused.

Do you have any suggestions for what we could do differently?:

    • I think handing out sticky notes at the beginning would help – at first we were stuck for a while, but once we got the sticky notes we were able to pull things and themes together fairly quickly. Also, I personally would have liked a chance to go back and revise the poem a bit in respect to punctuation and other small picky things.
    • Maybe have more students participate in filling out ?s (questionnaires)
    • I thought this was a fun experience and I thought handing a group of kids some raw material was a smart way of doing it.
    • Involve more people and get feedback from more students.
    • I would maybe just give the questionnaire to more people for a more varied response.
    • I think we needed more time. I wasn’t crazy about how we put our poem together last second.
    • It would have been cool to have in-class time to view other StarScapres iterations of the poems.
    • Let people work individually, let people submit more than one poem, make the packet questions and poems be about topics other than just LCC, more student led, less suggestions or structure from outside people.
    • I would maybe not do it in groups, instead everyone work together to get multiple poems. Or have sorting out the information on one day and writing the poems on another day.

Other feedback  was anecdotal but all generally positive.  Most of the faculty members who had been a part of the project came to hear the poems at StarScapes and were impressed by the process and the outcomes.

I did hear that some Board of Trustee members and other LCC administrators viewed the poems outside of StarScapes and were possibly concerned/troubled by the themes that were pervasive throughout the poems.  However, what that helped me realize is how strongly I feel that no version of this project should be directed in terms of tone and output. This type of work does not exist as PR but as hopefully another avenue of exploration, creativity, communication and understanding.  Isn’t it important to get a sense of the true voices of our students? Positive, negative and even ambivalent?  I remember being so moved by the aspects of defiance, hope, anger, determination, and vulnerability in the poems.  The unfiltered nature of the output is much of its strength.

What Did I Learn:

So much! This project and working through the bumps and turns compelled me to begin the document I now call “Poetry Project Principles”. Principle #1 = trust the students (link to Poetry Project Principles page).

Origin of Poetry Project Principle #1:

    • I was determined to make the whole process as student-focused as possible: student voices and language in the questionnaires and students collaging the poems from that mountain of words.
    • What that meant also was to step way back and be sure to not dictate topic, approach, tone, etc. Having that as a guiding principle helped with one of the four poems in particular, “Last Chance of College”.
    • That group of poets made the choice to leave in all the grammatical and general language/sense issues that showed up in the raw material – one can see that right in the title 🙂 What that meant was that the tone they intended for the poem was difficult to determine.
    • We had a somewhat awkward conversation in class a bit after they had written the poems when I asked: Is it meant to be mocking something? If so what/whom?  At that time the poets didn’t have clear answers.
    • Among my three other colleagues integral to early discussions of the project and this first project in particular, two of them thought we should probably edit the poem.  My gut just said to leave it alone even though, like them, the poem made me deeply uncomfortable because I just couldn’t tell if it was intended to be mocking/derogatory and if so to whom because I would want to “protect” the student questionnaire respondents as well.
    • Even when listening to the poets practicing to perform the poems, I still wasn’t sure how it was ultimately going to go or sound at StarScapes because there was some lingering nervousness and silliness during practice.
    • Catzian Maris, the student trying to do ASL interpretation for the poems was struggling to determine the tone during practice as well.
    • However, although all the poems were great when read, somehow “Last Chance of College” with all its warts, discomfort, and awkwardness, was the most moving, poignant ,and heartfelt heard out loud. I’m not sure there was some big plan on the part of the students but something translated powerfully from the grammatically mistake-ridden raw material to the serious, earnest way one of the poets read that poem at StarScapes.
    • Trust the students.

The low-stakes and partially anonymous nature of the process is part of its strength as well. Responses in the raw material were…raw…and shocked the poets at times.  The fact that the words weren’t theirs empowered the poets to not shy away from including prevalent themes even if they were awkward, painful, troubling, etc. (best example = “Last Chance College” showing up in all the poems).  The layers of removal led not to diluting the ideas, emotions, and tone, but instead to clarifying them especially when the poets could see them repeated throughout the raw material responses.

Personally, I learned that it was going to be a struggle for me to figure out what of all of this growing project I’m developing is legitimately “mine” and how to honor and claim that clearly while simultaneously acknowledging the powerfully collaborative nature of the project as well. I’m still working through this. (See Poetry Project Principles page)

Some of the nitty gritty of the process for future projects came from bumping through this first one:

    • The importance of provocative questions/prompts that help responders (raw material generators) get to specific, concrete, layered language
    • Using sticky notes – to write out possible lines/stanzas and then be able to easily assemble them in various ways
    • Limiting the size of the pile of raw material given to groups – make it something manageable
    • When possible (depending on the type of project or activity) give more time to be able to come back to the rough poems after a day or two to craft them a little more; although the quick turnaround was part of the intensity of my own experience at IA, we were experienced writers – the quick turnaround perhaps doesn’t add value for the students
    • Allow students more ways to choose the “right” group for them (evolved into tent cards and “go to the table/idea that speaks to you the most” for collaging days and 1-day activities like the Student Summit)
    • Be sure to get the author/poet/student agreement read and signed before any distribution of the finished poems (do first day of poem writing/collaging)

I learned that the process is a much a part of the whole learning experience as the output (poems, etc.) and that the less I do once I’ve given the students all the raw material and tools (markers, sticky notes, some thoughts on focusing on concrete language), the better. A guiding principle in my teaching translates to this creative endeavor as well: students know more and are capable of more than they think.




Fall 2018: Homelessness Poetry Project (In collaboration with Professor Judy Allen and her docu-play “I Have A Name”)

Home at the center of this project

Inspiration Story Problem:

Over 300 students in 17 different sections of Anthropology, Biology, English, History, Philosophy, Theater, and Filmmaking classes produced hundreds (and hundreds!) of pages of source material in response to prompts focusing on the concepts of: Home, Stranger, Dream, and Charity. The raw material was then used by my ENGL 201 Introduction to Poetry students, who read and sifted through all the language from their fellow students to collage two poems.  These poems were written to be included in Judy Allen’s docu-play I Have a Name to be performed Fall 2019. This Poetry Project marked a new approach in that I designed it collaboratively with Judy Allen having a specific focus and output in mind. However, as the Project is sort of a live thing, we gave it room to show us how it could grow and change from our seeds of ideas from our first meetings Summer 2018.

Faculty sharing the prompts with their classes: Barb Clauer, Tim Deines, Dan Holt, Tim Kelley, Kali Majumdar, Alicia Musser, Lance Norman, Bonnie Sumbler, and Matt VanCleave.

What It Came to Be:

This Poetry Project was unique in that Judy Allen approached me to design a project together that would be a small part of Judy’s larger sabbatical project: an Interdisciplinary stage production about homelessness called I Have a Name performed November 2019.  This approach presented rewarding challenges that helped me see principles that anchor each project.

Notes from a late summer 2018 meeting with Judy Allen and Melissa Kaplan show the process of working through Judy’s vision, my ideas and some general concerns:

Notes from 7/31/18 meeting re: Judy’s I Have a Name Project:

  • Working with a playwright from MSU (Rob Roznowski – director of acting/theater) and Judy working with Chelle Peterson from LCC – she’s writing the score.

  • She’s incorporating lots of the arts in her sabbatical project (poetry, dance, theater…)

  • Themes: connection, “seeing” your fellow human, overcoming ignorance/assumption, transformation (also discrepancy between expectation vs. reality)

  • Where poetry project comes in: students (which students?) respond to prompt – “when I look at you (homeless person) I see…”

My questions:

    • More prompts to respond to in order to get layered language?
    • Who fills them out?
    • ENGL 201 write the poem(s)?
    • How/where performed and by whom?

My concerns:

    • How do we avoid presenting LCC students’ responses as narrow, naïve and without opportunity for growth? (if expecting “negative” responses to the original prompt as part of the overall flow of the play?)
    • Can we have a “before” and “after” poem?
    • We don’t want to just mine the students like a natural resource without giving them an opportunity for learning and growth. (I think we had a good discussion in connection with this concern!)

Re: Melissa’s “is this a good fit” question (i.e. with the poetry project)

      • Potential issue = the poetry project/art created shouldn’t be dictated re: tone, theme, approach etc.
      • Expanded question: is there a way that no matter what comes out of the poems/no matter what is created, there’s a place for it in the project? (“Yes always” Judy said)
      • this pairing could really fit well still b/c expectation (what we might have thought the students would say/write – in prompts and in the poems) could end up being very different from reality (what the students really think and what they write/create in a poem)

Have ENGL 201 students write the poems but not be the main responders to the prompts

Gather responses from wider range. Possibilities:

        • a reoccurring table in Gannon Commons for a couple of weeks? (to introduce/explain/contextualize a little?)
        • an anonymous drop off in Gannon Commons?
        • distributed in a variety of classes?
        • Discussion re: prompts:
        • have pairs of prompts that then go to different ENGL 201 student groups writing the poems – the prompts could be connected loosely
        • having different sets of prompts would possibly elicit different raw material for different poems in terms of tone/subject

Example prompts

    • What does “homeless” mean to you?
    • When I look at a homeless person I see…
    • When a homeless person looks at me, think see?
    • Remember that some of our LCC are homeless/housing insecure
    • look at examples from past poetry project prompt questionnaires (I’ll get a list of rough ones to Melissa and Judy this week)

Ultimately, we decided on two poems written by my ENGL 201 students using language gathered widely from LCC students.  The poems would have the very loose guidelines of a somewhat hopeless tone for a poem intended to be included early in the play and a more hopeful tone for a 2nd poem intended to be included toward the end of the play. During the meeting I shared my experiences with the Spring 2018 Inaugural Poetry Project and how deeply I had come to feel that the first principle of the Poetry Project is to trust the students.  With that in mind we all agreed to set the task before them and see what would happen.

Project Specifics:

Developing the prompts:

With Judy’s input, I developed grouped writing prompts for faculty to share with their students around the general concepts of: charity, home, stranger and dream.  Each of the prompt sheets had the following paragraph at the top:

Dear LCC Students:  Please take some time to respond to the following three questions/prompts. There are no right or wrong ways to respond. Feel free to use the back of this sheet if you need more space.  Your anonymous responses will be used, by fellow LCC students, to craft one or more community-generated poems to potentially be used in a documentary-play exploring and sharing stories of homelessness. Some or all of the poems will be shared at StarScapes Fall 2018 as well.

“Charity” prompts:

  1. What I have done when I’ve encountered a homeless person?
  2. What haven’t I done when I’ve encountered a homeless person?
  3. “I Have a Name” is the title of a poem about homelessness.  Now write one line of this poem that includes the word “charity”

“Home” prompts:

  1. What does “homeless” mean to you in 5 words or less?
  2. When I look at a homeless person I see/think/feel…
  3. “I Have a Name” is the title of a poem about homelessness.  Now write one line of this poem that includes the word “home”.

“Stranger” prompts:

  1. If I was bold, what would I want to do about homelessness?
  2. In a perfect world, what could be done about homelessness?
  3. “I Have a Name” is the title of a poem about homelessness.  Now write one line of this poem that includes the word “stranger”.

“Dream” prompts:

  1. Where does a homeless person sleep and what do you imagine they dream about?
  2. Complete the simile:  Homelessness is like…
  3. “I Have a Name” is the title of a poem about homelessness.  Now write one line of this poem that includes the word “dream”.

In addition, I also wrote one prompt – “When I look at a homeless person I think/believe/feel” – on several of the hallway whiteboards in A & S hoping to broaden the ways I collect language for the poems.  Although we did not get many responses to this approach, trying this out was useful in expanding my thinking on ways to generate language for the poets.

Picture of a white board with the question: When I look at a homeless person I think/believe/feel and one answer reads What is their struggle?
Trying out gathering responses from the A & S whiteboards

Gathering the raw material:

I invited faculty to be involved, distributed different groups of the prompts to those faculty, and set a date for return.  In mid-October 2018, with all the raw material/prompts returned, my ENGL 201 students were set to collage the poems.

The impossible-to-say-no-to 🙂 invitation e-mail I sent to several colleagues:

Hello colleagues I’m willing to bug,

This Fall I’m working on the Community-Generated Poetry Project with Judy Allen in connection with her very cool sabbatical project concerning homelessness.  We have very short groups of prompts that we’re hoping to get in front of lots of different students in order to generate raw material for a few poems my ENGL 201 Intro to Poetry class will be collaging/crafting mid-October.

Here’s my question:  Would you be willing to use about 10 minutes in one (or more!) of any section/subject you’re teaching to have students respond to 3 short prompts focusing around homelessness? I would provide the 1/2 sheets of paper with the prompts (including a short explanatory blurb at the top) and would just ask that you have students do them so I can pick them up from you by Thursday 10/11, or earlier.

If you can/are willing, I’d ask you to hand out and collect the prompts all in one class (i.e. don’t send them home with the students).  If you can’t I totally understand!!!

So…please let me know if this is something you can do/are interested in and I’ll get you the materials asap as well as a big old high five and my general appreciation 🙂

Thank you in advance and Happy Wednesday,


Getting ready to write the poems:

Judy had visited my ENGL 201 class early in the semester to introduce the Poetry Project with me and explain her sabbatical project in order to give the poets an idea of our hopes for the poems.  Once we had the piles of raw material returned from faculty, we were ready to hand it over to the students.  As I said in a process update e-mail (below) “Trust the students, right? Here we go :)”

Poetry project update e-mail sent to Judy Allen and Melissa Kaplan Monday 10/8/18:

Hi Judy,

I should be getting the rest of the prompts back by tomorrow and then I’ll get them all copied.  I’m planning on getting 3 copies of the whole set of raw material made for 4 sets total:

      • 1 for my ENGL 201 students to use
      • 2 for me: the originals and 1 set to keep in reserve (last year I used a reserve set for the PD day presentation with faculty)
      • 1 whole set for you

Thursday 10/11 is when my 201 students will be seeing the prompts for the first time.  I’ve been thinking about ways to approach the various sets of prompts (charity, dream, home, stranger) for the actual poem writing/collaging.  Just today I was thinking I would put the prompts around as “stations” and have students go to a prompt set that intrigues them and then form groups from there.  I’m thinking the “stranger” prompts and maybe also “home” would lend themselves to one or more “hopeless” poems from which to choose and then “charity” and “dream” would maybe work for more hopeful poems.  I’ll remind them that the trajectory of the play goes from hopeless to hopeful and that we’re hopeful 🙂 they can collage poems to work within those loose parameters.

I know we also talked about looking through the prompts first to pick out really strong ones, but I’m not sure when we’d have time and I think we can trust the students to pull out strong images/language especially if they don’t have the whole pile in front of them but only one set of prompts. Plus, from what I’ve seen, there’s lots of good stuff in the raw material!

I’ve also reserved most of Tuesday 10/16 for my 201 students to be able to re-visit and revise their rough poems from 10/11.  That’s a new thing I’m trying with the poetry project this year based on some student feedback from Spring 2018.

Trust the students, right? Here we go 🙂


The students ended up working at stations they chose (dream, home, stranger or charity) and the process they all came to was that those stations ended up each creating a different stanza for the two poems.

At the end of day one, the class had made enormous progress.  One student had the brilliant idea of each person having two different colored highlighters: one to mark language for the first more hopeless poem and one to mark language for the more hopeful, concluding poem.  With that they were then able to mark language for both poems while reading through the raw material.  On day one they crafted their lines for the first poem and worked together to find a good order for those lines eventually writing them on easel sized sticky pads:

The “home” stanza for poem one

The second day on the poems was focused on Poem 2 and the class later said how different the vibe in the room was as they crafted the more hopeful poem.

Poem 2 “Charity” group l to r: Julita Fenneuff, Shelby Frink, Olivia Bush

They were pros with the process by day 2 and Poem 2 came together far more quickly.

Putting the lines together

Once the different stations had their stanzas written, we put them on the wall, read them out loud, reordered them and made some edits/corrections right then.

Poem 2 stanzas from the different groups

The students and I filled the room with snaps and clapping after reading the stanzas altogether. “That was intense!” was the general consensus. 🙂

Communication is Key:

Barb Clauer and Judy Allen happy after the poetry reading at StarScapes

Some highlights from our many e-mails during this collaborative process as Judy and I moved through the project.  From a mid-October e-mail conversation just before and then discussions after the first day of poem writing:

10/10 from Barb: Prepping for tomorrow and I’m oddly nervous but also just excited to see what the students do.  The four sets of prompts are all different but have, as the 3rd question, the one about a line of a poem using the word ____ and that word is different for each of the 4 sets: charity, dream, home, and stranger.  (So there isn’t one specifically on “family”, Judy, but I do think some of the raw material/prompt responses certainly touch on that idea).

I’ll get the copies back in 4 sets (organized by those 4 words) and am planning on keeping those together for the students but that doesn’t mean the perfect poem wouldn’t come from a combo of responses to the different prompts.  We’ll just have to see what happens tomorrow.

Now that I’m thinking through it, (because, as I constantly tell my students, Writing is Thinking!) I can picture reminding them of the place in the play/tone of the desired poems and then working toward each of those ideas as a whole class — i.e. individually finding lines/moments for poem 1 (the one darker in tone) and then collaging that together and then individually finding lines/moments for poem 2 (the one more hopeful in tone) and collaging that one.  That would mean the whole class would be authors of both the poems which is cool if it works…cross your fingers AND trust the students!

10/10 from Judy: This is amazing and exciting. I would love to be a fly on the wall and watch the students do their thing. I find students so fascinating, and I can’t wait to see their products. I’ve been thinking about this all week – probably all month. Probably since we first talked about it.

I love the idea about a whole class collaboration. It would be so cool for all the students to have input in the final poems. You have done an awesome job pulling this together. Thank you so much.

… Have fun! You’re amazing, and I appreciate you sooo much. Thank you!!! (can you tell I’m excited?!)

10/11 from Barb: Super rough Poem 1 is attached with a few notes and some pics … I’ve told the students that they will be able to workshop it a little on Tuesday (checking the punctuation and line breaks as well as content) and we’re also trying to get Poem 2 done as well. They already have some work done toward Poem 2 and knowing the process will save time as well. They were straight-up awesome — enthusiastic, game, open, earnest, and creative!

Note: Stanza 1 is from a student’s perspective; stanzas 2-4 are from a homeless person’s perspective. It was interesting how that happened and worked out!

10/16 from Judy: I love what your students did with the poems. Amazing work! Like you, I thought it was so cool how the first stanza is from the POV of the students and the last three stanzas are from the POV of the homeless.

I took those last three stanzas and aligned them to the right margin. I thought it looked cool and envisioned the students reading the lines to each other across the stage – the poem added to this visual .

No need to change it, if you/they don’t want me to mess with it! I didn’t change a word.

10/17 from Barb: I really like how the formatting changes you made impact how the first poem looks on the page.  I’ve included the student edits to it in what I’m attaching — some line break changes, capitalization changes, and they really wanted “one” to be “1” in that one line :).  I’ve also typed up poem 2 so they’re both in the same document.  I really love how it came together — the version here includes some edits they were able to make all together while we looked at the big sticky notes on the wall.  One of the edits included moving a line from the beginning of the last stanza to be the first line of the whole poem — the students loved how that bookended the entire poem with the lines: “I have a name”

Some great reflections from the students:

    • Poem 1 day was awesome but the poem/subject made them sad so it was an interesting juxtaposition
    • writing and reading poem 2 had a different way more “up” vibe
    • we were all a little emotional after reading poem 2 🙂

…This process has been awesome for the students and for me!  Thank you for incorporating the Poetry Project in your super cool sabbatical project 🙂

10/17 from Judy:  I’m so impressed with these poems. The students are young, yet their thinking is mature. What an amazing job; this work really touches me. I’m guessing they will now view the homeless in a different way. One of the lines that I found striking is “give conversations instead of coins.” It shows so much humanity.

Also, it was cool because several of the themes in the poems came through in the interviews I did with the homeless people. Two of them specifically talked about dreams (remember the woman who dreamed about being a mermaid?). The dream theme wasn’t on my radar until you included that prompt; it worked so well!

10/17 from Barb: They did a great job and it was so fun to witness how they worked together and incorporated each others’ ideas as they worked through writing the lines and finding the order…

I love the layers of all this: your big core idea, our ideas for the prompts, the LCC student body responding to the prompts, my framing for my 201 class approaching the pile of raw material and the ENGL 201 students collaging those words and ideas into two different poems. So cool!

Some communications re: poem 2 in particular, because at one point in the process, Judy thought she wasn’t going to use it and felt badly about that.  However, it all turned out to be a really good example of a surprising turn in the process that ended up being really positive.  It was yet another reminder to always just trust the students in that they understood the play was Judy’s to shape, and they supported that, while at the same time claiming their right to keep the poem as is for their own StarScapes reading:

10/25 from Barb: Just to follow-up on our meeting from 10/23 … I totally understand and support the possibility that Poem 2 is not included in the docu-play (that’s the cool term we like, right?).  AND, as I think this part was the part that surprised you, I think the reasons it doesn’t work are good!  My understanding of why it doesn’t work is that it’s redundant with much of what the actual people who experienced homelessness are sharing in the play.  That’s so cool that through this wild community-generated poetry process the students got to imagine themselves so well into that experience. The voices of the actual humans who had the actual experiences should be at the center — that’s so powerful.

Also, the ENGL 201 students got the full experience I hoped for when I suggested the possibility of bookend poems.  They have reflected that writing poem 1 was great but difficult and that writing poem 2 was more uplifting…this has been great!

11/2 from Judy:  I really appreciate your support during and after we talked. I just felt like I was being ungrateful when I couldn’t use the second poem. Your perspective was one I didn’t think about, but you’re right: the students did an awesome job of putting themselves in the shoes of the homeless. Good for them! I was so proud of the work they did – I can only imagine how you felt – and not to use it really bothered me.

I’m thrilled that the experience was so valuable for them. That’s how I felt when my students did the service-learning project at the VOA shelter…

11/15 from Barb (re: talking to the students about the possibility that the 2nd poem might not be in the play): It went well and they had thoughts! First, they hope you didn’t struggle/suffer at all on their behalf and appreciated that you were worried about not using the 2nd poem and also about revising it.  They think what you did for the second poem is great!  AND they also still want to read their 2nd poem in its original form for Starscapes — I love that this was where they arrived as a class because I think that’s a great combination of outcomes.

Our conversation today provided a perfect opportunity for me to talk to them about the biggest thing I learn every time I do a Poetry Project: Trust the students.  This came out of their gratitude that you trusted them to create something good enough for your play (“we totally could have effed it up!!!” one student said) and that you loved what they did and that the 2nd poem’s “problem” was that it was “too good”! 🙂 …

They’ll be reading their poems in the 10-12 range Tues 12/4 at Starscapes.  This has been amazing! Thank you again for providing this very cool umbrella for this semester’s Poetry Project.

11/15 from Judy: Your students! I appreciate them so much, and I’m glad for the conversation and thoughts. I’m especially glad that they are using their second poem at Starscapes. That would have been my choice for them. And, you’re right: it is a great combination of outcomes.

I put Starscapes on my calendar! … I would be honored to be in the listening audience. It’s exciting!!

Yes, we can trust the students. They prove time and time again, that they are trustworthy!

Thanks for everything, Barb. This has been fun, valuable, meaningful. You must feel like a proud mom 🙂


The poems displayed outside StarScapes

When trying to list the “output” for this project, it’s not as easy as “two poems on homelessness”. Instead, this project seemed to work like a pebble dropped in a pond with the impact rippling outward in amazing and surprising ways.  A list of creative work connected to this project:

    • Two poems on homelessness written by students in my Fall 2018 ENGL 201 Introduction to Poetry class and read/performed at StarScapes December 2018.
ENGL 201 students reading their two poems
    • Two poetry videos were produced by students in the Spring 2019 DMAC 244 Media/Cinema Producer class taught by Prof. Bonnie Sumbler. The students formed two teams to create the videos inspired by poems about homelessness written during the Fall 2018 Community Generated Poetry Project. DMAC 244 builds collaborative skills; these poetry videos also gave the DMAC students an opportunity to be involved in a multi-program interdisciplinary project. Participating DMAC students were Kasey Bailey, Connor Carlson, Gino Fata, Christopher Horta, Marja Jones, Ronald Kapp, Daron Mackinder, Nicholas Moline, Keith Saylor, Jade Smith, and James Van Zile. My Spring 2019 ENGL 201 class got to view the videos at StarScapes the same day they were performing their poems from the Spring 2019 One Book Poetry Project (link to post).
    • The two poems, written by my Fall 2018 ENGL 201 class, with some minor modifications, were included in I Have a Name, performed as recordings accompanied by original dance numbers November 2019. I did not know all the details of how they would be incorporated and was so moved by the play overall, as well as at how the poems were incorporated into the play.

Another aspect of the concept of “output” with this project is that this Poetry Project existed as both a small portion of Judy’s play, I Have a Name, AND as a project on its own which meant lots of open, collaborative, creativity-filled conversations between Judy and myself to navigate her vision for the play and my vision for my students and the Fall 2018 Poetry Project. I always feel a little sheepish/selfish about how much I get out of each of these projects in terms of professional development and expanding my own world. Hopefully those positive aspects of planning and designing the projects ripples out and over the other faculty involved as well as our students in the ways they participate – both as responders to the questionnaires/providers of the raw material and as the student poets collaging the final poems.

The Poems:

Poem 1

My mother tells me not to look at them;

they have a name, but only the local charity cares.

I avoid eye contact and try not to stare,

I can’t do enough, I’m not charity, I’m me.

It’s easier to ignore them than to ask them about their story.

If they approach me I say,

I don’t have my wallet on me.

I have limited resources.

I don’t have time.


Lost in the depths

I see no escape from

my unfortunate fate

I have been reduced to

nothing but insulting words





And I’m always where the darkness glows

where good dreams hide,

Nightmares are shown

Home is a disappearing act, one moment it’s

there and then another it fades

The street is the sanctuary for the



Loneliness is like dreamlessness

“living the dream”!

A malnourished, American dream

Dream of a New Beginning

I dream of the day I

will be considered. I

vacate my former dream

the next day and the next

day and the next

Chased by nightmares

of what tomorrow brings.

Existing but, not living

1 day I’ll become a business

making my Dream…

a Reality.


I am not a stranger to the cold

As passersby don’t meet my eye,

They never see my pain

I have a name

I am one of you

I have an identity, a heart

Don’t banish my soul.

“Why should I help a stranger?”

I don’t want your money

You don’t know what I have

They glare, none seem to care

Under the dirt is a person that’s hurt

You don’t know my name

I was left behind.

Another stranger who can’t meet my eye

The constant flow of people around me

never acknowledge I exist

I am different

I am the one they avoid

How could you love a stranger?


Poem 2:

I have a name.

You see me as a stranger but I can be a friend.

Less judgment more effort.

I’m calling to action

those who choose to be willingly blind.

In a perfect world,

we would lift others up,

instead of leaving them down.

Never think of a homeless person

as just another stranger, they have a name.

Give conversations instead of coins.

A stranger to familiar faces

judging by looks instead of seeking the story.

Every stranger has a name, a voice.

Though a stranger I remain,

Hope I will maintain.


There is more to charity than just giving.

Charity is another term for love.

Help another human being;



don’t judge,

it can turn their life around.

In human dignity we find happiness. Now

I’m in your family

I’m in your heart

I’m human again.

It was my past, but it could be me again.

It could be you.


When you have no home of your own

you must learn to find a home within yourself

you must find strength to keep living

and better yourself.

You eat and sleep and breathe just as me,

I just have no home or place to be.

I have a heart, and lungs, and working brain,

even though I have no home, I have a name.

I am more than meets your eyes.

My strength may have dwindled but the fire has only grown.

My body is my temple so I call it my home.

Home is a picture painted differently in every mind.

Home is where the heart is, the people

you are surrounded and loved by.

I am a person with a life.


I exist

I have an idea of stability,

of safety,

of self-discovery.

I have a name.

I have a dream,

a dream to be like you,

a dream of new beginnings.

I have a name:

it’s happiness

it’s peace.

For the time being,

you probably don’t dream of being like me,

how life was before,

how life used to be.

When I have a name,

I become a bird

and dream about everything.

Just like you,

I have a name.

The students’ preferred “album cover” group photo after reading the poems at StarScapes. Kneeling l to r: Schuyler Clark, Douglas Patterson, Nicole Cade, Caite Eddy, Julita Fenneuff, Mariah Mitchell. Standing l to r: Dayona Jennings, John Mertke, Elliot Lowe, Ashley Guston, Barb Clauer, Shelby Frink, Morris Luckett, Tayler Woog, Claire Taylor.


Poetry Project-related answers from ENGL 201 student poets in response to a general end of semester reflection question re: a memorable day or activity:

    • “I loved writing the poems for the play. It was really fun how we put them together as a group. It also allowed me to get to know people in the class better.”
    • “I really loved the community poetry we did for StarScapes; that was really fun.”
    • “My favorite days were the community-generated poem days. I had a lot of fun and learned a lot.”
    • “My favorite activity was the poetry workshop – to be able to get a sense of homelessness.”
    • “The community-generated poetry project was great.”
    • “Memorable day: working in groups to write the home/homeless poems”

What will I change?

Due to the complexity of the task at hand – a mountain of raw material and two very different poems – I did learn that the students ended up needing more time than I had originally allowed.  They needed a 2nd day to revisit their ideas for the first poem and finalize their approach for the 2nd poem. Happily, the added time didn’t dilute the intensity of the process, but layered it and made it more meaningful in that the students had time to reflect, as noted, that writing the more hopeless, first poem was rewarding but emotionally taxing and that writing the 2nd, more hopeful poem, had a completely different, more uplifting feel. Extra time allowed for those reflections to emerge. So, unsurprisingly, for future iterations, I learned that we all need more time…which, of course we do.

What else did I learn?

Poetry Project Principle #1: Trust the Students led this project and the students reinforced this at every turn.  Will the raw material be stuff we can use? Sure: Trust the students. Should we direct the tone/approach/language/ideas of the poems? Nope: Trust the students.  Will we be able to use what they produce? Yep because: Trust the students.  What if it’s not exactly what Judy had in mind at first? That’s ok: Trust the students.  What if Judy needs to change some aspects of the original poems to fit in her play? That’s ok: Trust the students to understand.

The students trusted me and Judy as well to honor what they created.  That lovely realization came from lots of open communication between Judy and me as well as with my ENGL 201 students about our ideas for the Poetry Project process, changes/improvements to it, and input from the students about their feelings of ownership and well as how honored they felt that Judy wanted to use their work in her play.  Everyone felt integral to the process as well as the outcomes and that was incredibly empowering. Poetry Project Principles #2 & #3 emerged from this project: Trust the process & Trust each other.


Spring 2019: LCC One Book (now called Capital Area One Book) Poetry Project with Angie Thomas’ novel The Hate U Give

Name card with "code-switch/identity"
Working through complex concepts in The Hate U Give

Inspiration Story Problem:

Over 200 LCC students in 16 different sections of English, History, and Sociology courses, who read Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, produced hundreds of pages of source material in response to eight prompts I wrote around concepts in The Hate U Give, (such as racism, code-switching, identity, and privilege). My Spring 2019 ENGL 201 Introduction to Poetry students read and sifted through all that language from their fellow students in order to craft and collage four poems: “Hidden Beneath my Skin is a Soul that Nobody Will See”, “It’s a Luxury”, “Read Me”, and “Identity”.  The poets then read their work at LCC’s student showcase, StarScapes, April 16th 2019.  Those four poems were shared with Angie Thomas’ agent and also used in the OneBook wrap-up activities held at the end of the Spring 2019 semester (link).

From the Wikipedia summary of the novel:

The Hate U Give is a 2017 young adult novel by Angie Thomas. It is Thomas’s debut novel, expanded from a short story she wrote in college in reaction to the police shooting of Oscar Grant. The book is narrated by Starr Carter, a 16-year-old black girl from a poor neighborhood who attends an elite private school in a predominantly white, affluent part of the city. Starr becomes entangled in a national news story after she witnesses a white police officer shoot and kill her childhood friend, Khalil. She speaks up about the shooting in increasingly public ways, and social tensions culminate in a riot after a grand jury decides not to indict the police officer for the shooting.

Student reading a poem
ENGL 201 student, Kurstina Simmons, reading her group’s poem: “Hidden Beneath my Skin is a Soul that Nobody Will See”

What it came to be:

This Poetry Project was another new kind of collaboration in that I approached and worked with the co-chair and other members of the One Book committee, Mindy Barbarskis and Melissa Kaplan in particular, to create a project model for the 2018/2019 One Book The Hate U Give that could also work for future Captial Area One Book Poetry Project collaborations.

Project specifics:

Gathering participants: Mindy shared a list of faculty using the book and I sent an invitation e-mail.  It was a good exercise for me to introduce, distill (& sell!) the Community-Generated Poetry Project to people at LCC unfamiliar with it.

Subject:  Invitation: Spring 2019 One Book LCC Community-Generated Poetry Project

Hello all,

Mindy Babarskis, co-chair of the One Book committee, shared your names with me as faculty who have used, are using, or expressed interest in using The Hate U Give.  With that in mind, I’m writing to see if any (all!?) of you would be interested in participating in this semester’s LCC Community-generated Poetry Project focusing on the larger concepts in The Hate U Give.  If you aren’t using the book this semester or didn’t end up using it at all, then feel free to stop reading this slightly lengthy e-mail…

Some of you know me and this poetry project/obsession of mine and others of you don’t, so here’s some information to serve both as background and to also let you decide if you’d like to have your students participate in the project this semester:

    • Who/what: I’m a writing and literature professor in the Integrated English department. Over the past few semesters, I’ve developed the Poetry Project as a flexible, creative, student-focused, continually-evolving…thing…that never fails to remind me how creative and game our students are.  Each semester the process, focus, and output have been slightly different and each time it has been a positive experience for students and faculty involved.
    • The process: Loosely, the process for the project is that I provide a variety of written prompts to faculty who then have their students respond anonymously to those prompts (usually about 15 minutes of class time tops). Then I collect all that raw material from professors, and have groups of students in one of my classes “collage” a poem or poems using language and lines from the anonymous responses written by their fellow LCC students – i.e. community-generated poetry.
    • Past experiences: For the Spring 2018 project, students responded to general prompts regarding “LCC, college, Lansing, and community” and then my ENGL 201 Introduction to Poetry class collaged four poems from the wide variety of responses. Last semester, Fall 2018, my ENGL 201 class collaged two poems around the concepts of home and homelessness to be used in Judy Allen’s sabbatical project: a documentary play on homelessness called I Have a Name. For both projects, students read the poems they collaged at StarScapes – which is an opportunity for your students to hear the poems and listen for their words.

Any takers?  If so, please read on 🙂

    • Timeline: If you are interested in having your students participate, I would send you two different sets of prompts on ½ sheets of paper by MONDAY 2/25 (Week 8). You could choose the prompts for your class, have them respond to both, or perhaps have students choose which set of prompts speak to them. I would then ask that you complete having students respond to the prompts by THURSDAY 3/21 (Week 10) which would mean you could give students the prompts before or after Spring Break. I absolutely understand if this timeline doesn’t work for you – the number of you who can and are interested in participating will end up being just the right number.
    • The prompts: I’m creating pairs of prompts that are more specifically connected to The Hate U Give and pairs of prompts more loosely connected to larger subjects in the book. Again, you can choose to give both sets I send you, or just one to your class, or have students choose.
    • To do: If you’d like to have your students participate, please reply to this e-mail letting me know a few of things:
        1. Would you like the prompts via e-mail or hardcopy?
        2. If you would like hardcopies delivered, please let me know how many you need and where I should send them
        3. Especially if we don’t know each other J please let me know what discipline/course you’re having respond to the prompts. It would be wonderful to have this spread wide across all our disciplines here at the college
    • Big hopes/dreams: In addition to my students reading their collaged poems (from language provided by your students) at StarScapes again this year (April 15 & 16), we’re also hoping to include the poems in writings to be given to The Hate U Give author Angie Thomas during her 4/17 visit to LCC.

Thank you for your time looking this over and a preemptive thanks to those of you who respond with a yes! (+ information on how you would like the prompts delivered and how many you need).

Barb Clauer

Ultimately the faculty from various disciplines sharing the prompts with their sections were:  Judy Allen, Barb Clauer, Anne Heutche, Leslie Johnson, Lance Norman, Rosalie Petrouske, Sally Pierce, Susan Serafin-Jess, Pam Smith

The writing prompts & gathering raw material:

I was using The Hate U Give in my ENGL 122 Composition II sections and so had been thinking about the larger concepts in the book for several months.  When I sat down to write the prompts, I kept thinking about the role of empathy in the book and connections to a poem by Patricia Smith, “What It’s Like to Be a Black Girl (For Those of You Who Aren’t)”, which is always a powerful piece of writing to discuss with students. I used the Smith poem as inspiration for prompts that leaned on the perspective of “for those of you who aren’t” to try to help the student-responders sift through the complexity of the concepts and the various perspectives in the book itself.

The process of writing the prompts is always fruitful in that it makes me think about the underlying ideas of the particular project, reminds me to put myself in the place of the anonymous responders, and…it’s fun!

Some of the communication with the One Book committee re: crafting the prompts illustrates my thought-process. What follows is a portion of an e-mail from me responding to ideas for feedback from my OneBook collaboration partners and explaining what I changed and why:

Privilege prompt: I’ve revised the privilege one to say “What’s it like to realize you benefit from some type of privilege (especially if you don’t feel “privileged”)? — my thinking is that I want to acknowledge/make space/have students grapple with that “yes you are/no I’m not” tension around the concept of privilege.

Code-switching prompt: I’ve changed the order so the prompt comes first and the definition comes second but I think I want to keep the distinction in the parentheses re: (for those of you who don’t) to focus on responses from students who can relate to that feeling of having to code-switch.  I also added, like I did at the eat and engage, “what would happen if you didn’t code-switch”? Hoping that’s not too much to squeeze on that 1/2 sheet!

It’s so helpful to respond to feedback to really know my own thinking on this! 🙂 I tried to have each pair of prompts have at least one that was a little more general so that anyone might feel they could respond to it while also having some that are more specific/speak to different experiences and perspectives.  Also, I’ll be giving each faculty two sets of the 2-question prompts so they can decide what to give their students.  So looking at the pairings I was thinking at first:  (character/police and police/privilege) and (cover/racism and code switch/identity) I think I’ll switch those up to be (character/police & code switch/identity) and (cover/racism & police/privilege) because those pairings each seem to then cover a wider range of perspectives.

This is probably more than you all want to know about my process and thinking…thanks for witnessing (AND for any other feedback you have).

The final list included 8 prompts that were ultimately shared with students in pairs.   Professors could chose to share just one pair or all 4 pairs with their classes. Below are the prompts and the introductory paragraph included with them:

Dear LCC Students:  Please take some time to respond to the following prompts. There are no right or wrong ways to respond, although the more specific language you use the better. Feel free to use the back of this sheet if you need more space.  Your anonymous responses will be used, by fellow LCC students, to craft one or more community-generated poems to potentially be shared with The Hate U Give author Angie Thomas when she visits LCC’s campus 4/17/19. Some or all of the poems will be shared at StarScapes Spring 2019 as well. Many of the prompts are inspired by the title of Patricia Smith’s 1991 poem “What It’s Like to Be a Black Girl (for Those of You Who Aren’t)”.

Small picture of the cover image from The Hate U Give

  1. What does the cover of The Hate U Give say to you? What does the phrase “the hate u give” mean to you?
  1. What’s it like to explain racism (to those who don’t regularly experience it)…


  1. Considering any of the characters in The Hate U Give, who, specifically, would you put in the blank and how would you answer “What it’s like to be _________ for those of you who aren’t”? (Examples: Starr, Khalil, Chris, Starr’s Uncle Carlos, Starr’s school friends Maya or Hailey, Maverick or Lisa Carter – Starr’s parents, etc.)
  2. What’s it like to be afraid of the police (for those of you who aren’t )…
  3. What’s it like to not be afraid of the police (for those of you who are)…
  4. What’s it like to realize you benefit from some type of privilege (especially if you don’t feel “privileged”)…
  5. What’s it like to feel like you have to code-switch (for those of you who don’t)? What would happen if you didn’t code switch? Code-switching: brief/loose definition = consciously or unconsciously switching among dialects and speaking styles, as well as other markers of identity, depending on the specific situation.
  6. What aspects of our identity do we get to decide and what aspects does society dictate? Why?

I had originally planned to suggest pairs of prompts in order to get an even number of responses to each of the prompts.  However, I decided to expand Poetry Project Principle #1 Trust the Students to trust each other.  Here’s the note I sent to faculty with the prompts:

Thank you for being willing to participate in this project! I’m including copies of all eight of the prompts I’ve developed instead of pairs of them as I had originally intended.  My thinking is that, since you know your classes best, you can choose which writing prompts you want to use, or you can choose to let students pick which speak to them.  In my head, when I was just going to send paired sets I was thinking the prompts on “character/police” and “code switch/identity” paired up well and then “cover/racism” and “police/privilege” also paired up well because each of those pairings has prompts more specifically about the book and prompts more generally about larger ideas in the book.  But…again, I think you all are the best ones to decide what prompts to give your students.

Logistics and timing:

      • The prompt pages are intended to be copied and cut in half (save trees!)
      • Whatever your students produce will be useful — even if they skip certain prompts
      • Please try to have these done by Thursday 3/21 (Week 10) so that I can have time for my students to collage the poems ahead of StarScapes and Angie Thomas’ 4/17 visit.
      • Just let me know when/where/how to pick up the hardcopies/responses when you have them

Thank you again for participating! Please let me know if you have any questions,


My ENGL 201 students ended up with another big pile of raw material in which to find the language for their poems.

Pile of raw material
Response piles grouped with their paired prompt subjects

Writing the poems:

Using all the refinements students have suggested in past Poetry Projects – ability to choose their “team”, sticky notes, highlighters, big easel pads – as well as some additions – candy! – the ENGL 201 poets got to work on the raw material.

Cover/Racism station
Candy-fuel for creativity at the “Cover/Racism” station

I had four stations named for and supplied with the raw material from those prompts: Code-switch/Identity, Cover/Racism, Police/Privilege, and Characters/Police.  However, the Code-switch/Identity station had the largest number of students congregating around it and the Characters/Police table had very few.  So, trusting the students, I split the Code-switch/Identity and the Characters/Police piles of raw material and the students formed two different groups focused mostly on the concepts of Code-switching and Identity, which were of great interest to them, while also looking over the responses to the questions from the Character/Police prompts. The two poems from these hybrid groups titled “Hidden Beneath My Skin is a Soul That Nobody Will See” and “Identity” are fascinating in their differences in approach, format, and tone all while using responses to the same questions

The Poems:

Students at work
Foreground: “Hidden” group l to r: Tucker Tatroe, Emmerson Myhre, Kurstina Simmons. Background: “Read Me” group l to r: Audrey Spitzfaden, Chloe Teunis, Madison David

Written by LCC students Emmerson Myhre, Lauren Nugent, Kurstina Simmons, and Tucker Tatroe, this poem came from source material written by other LCC students in response to prompts concerning identity and feeling pressure to code-switch

Hidden Beneath My Skin Is A Soul That Nobody Will See

This is not me, nor do I want it to be
Feels like I am in camouflage
It’s hard to see yourself as the same person
In a situation where people
Call you by a different name
It’s like we have to put on a different mask every day
I am the work me
I am the school me
I am the home me
I am the friend
I could be an actress
Standing for too long in one spot
Truth disguised
Broken identity
Overwhelming urge to belong
Doing everything right
And still being afraid that everything will go wrong
Feeling trapped gets tiring
Changing for others instead of ourselves
If I didn’t
My Christian grandparents would know I’m agnostic
It feels like a burden and a lie
Not being who I am on the inside
Like…if I don’t I’ll be an outcast
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid
It’s okay to not be “perfect”
Unless you allow society to tie your own hands behind your back
Craving their acceptance
Because we are insecure
We can never win


Sticky notes on an easel pad
“Read Me” poem-puzzle coming together

Written by LCC students Killian Burcham, Madison David, Audrey Spitzfaden, and Chloe Teunis, this poem came from source material written by other LCC students in response to prompts concerning the cover of The Hate U Give and racism.

Read Me

A misunderstanding by white
Supremacists who live their
Lives in fear and anger,
Unnecessary negativity.
Racists are lowlifes with
Nothing better to do.

Overwhelmed by the hate
Oppressors give: HATE
Brings out something within us
We do not recognize.

Can come crashing,
What do you expect when
You give hate?
A woman taking a stand against
The hate you spread,
Putting up a barrier to protect
Herself from what’s happening
To her.

“They don’t understand even
If they’re really trying to”
Is an excuse.
It implies there’s nothing
White people can do to

We can’t spark change if we
Show no change.
I feel less than human.

Students at work
Foreground: “It’s A Luxury” group l to r: Keaton Woods, Victor Verhill, Robert Glew. Background: “Identity” group l to r: Sam Nichols, Jake Sinnaeve, Levi Lantz, Taylor Matlock

Written by LCC students Levi Lantz, Taylor Matlock, Sam Nichols, and Jake Sinnaeve, came from source material written by other LCC students in response to prompts concerning identity and feeling pressure to code-switch


                    I can never be myself. Blank canvas.
                  ReD = Family
                 BluE = Friends
                GreeN is the real me
             Living Two lives is exhausting and overwhelming
                 If I were not to change I would be an outsider
                    The people in my life decide who I am
At the end of the daY, people will see me as they choose to.

Written by LCC students Robert Glew, Raymond Latchaw, Victor Verhil, and Keaton Woods, this poem came from source material written by other LCC students in response to prompts concerning recognizing one’s privilege and fearing the police.

Police/Privilege station

It’s a Luxury

I can’t help but feel upset.
Yet I continue unphased.
Recognizing the image when blurry, but not in full focus.
I never had to work during high school, watching others worry
while I haven’t had to consider it.  Feels like I’m taking something for granted.
As we grow, we’re all led to believe that the color of our skin
is supposed to define who I am, for “better” or “worse”.
To realize you benefit from a privilege, could make you feel more
important than others. When in reality, you earned something that isn’t
It’s not just color though. I pass a homeless man; despite treating
everyone with respect and humor, I’m somehow complicit
in the misfortune of others.
Not everyone wants to have that privilege over someone
because of skin color and status.

For this iteration of the Poetry Project, I planned for extra time to give the poets the chance to focus on formatting, revising, and editing their poems. They used it to catch small details they wanted to change as well as make important decisions that, for them, impacted the overall meaning of their poems.

Specifics from each group re: their poems that I shared with Melissa as we prepped the poems to be printed on foam core:

“Identity”: they were very specific in their plans for the form of their poem around the word IDENTITY and made sure I formatted it to their vision once typed up. They’d like IDENTITY in a larger font, bold and in caps all the way down the middle of the poem.  Although they didn’t specify a font, I think we need a font with serif to help make the important “I” stand out and not look like an “L”.

"Identity" poem on large easel paper

“Hidden Beneath My Skin is a Soul That Nobody Will See”: they excluded all punctuation on purpose; first words of each line capitalized, all words in title capitalized

“Read Me”:  they paid close attention to the punctuation they did include

“It’s a Luxury”: They definitely meant the length of the lines and wouldn’t want line breaks inserted so it will hopefully work to print it landscape.

Poems typed out

In addition to reading the poems at StarScapes, the poets were excited that they would be shared with The Hate U Give author Angie Thomas as well.  I felt compelled to write a letter of explanation to the author because, as I said in an e-mail conversation with Melissa (below), I wanted Angie to know the reach of her book and the varied ways it provided inspiration for this project beyond just handing her the finished poems:

I can’t help thinking it would be such a missed opportunity to not share the larger process for this semester’s OneBook project with Angie Thomas while she’s at LCC. I realized last night why “just” giving her the poems felt incomplete…:  the whole process/context is the product, not just the poems. They’re the outcome of layers and layers of interaction with her book that included so many people — dozens of faculty having their classes use it, hundreds of students responding to the 8 prompts I wrote making hundreds of pages of written raw material, that my 16 Intro to Poetry students read and sifted through to write these 4 poems. …So the poems are an important product but the process and all the people it incorporates is the thing and her book was the anchor for that process and inspiration this time.

To that end I wrote this letter to Angie Thomas that also included the poems and the prompts:

Dear Angie Thomas,

I’m Barbara Clauer, an English Professor at Lansing Community College.  I have created the LCC Community-Generated Poetry Project and design and implement different projects every semester that have produced poems about a wide variety of topics such as the community college experience, homelessness, and responses to poems of the Harlem Renaissance. The loose process is that source material is gathered anonymously in response to writing prompts connected to the focus of that semester’s Poetry Project, and then students in my Introduction to Poetry class read and sift through that writing to find language to collage into poems. This semester The Poetry Project focused around LCC’s OneBook, your wonderful novel, The Hate U Give.

The attached four poems are the culmination of what I’ve started calling a math story problem of inspiration.  Over 200 LCC students in 16 different sections of English, History, and Sociology courses produced hundreds of pages of source material in response to eight prompts I wrote around concepts in your book The Hate U Give, (such as racism, code-switching, identity, and privilege) that were then given to my 16 Introduction to Poetry students, who read and sifted through all that language from their fellow students, to collage these four poems.  The poets then read their work at LCC’s student showcase, StarScapes, April 16th 2019.

Thank you for providing all that inspiration in your book and for writing a story that touched so many of our students here at LCC.  We hope you enjoy the poems and other materials connected to the Poetry Project we did this semester with your book, The Hate U Give.


Barb Clauer and the students of ENGL 201 Introduction to Poetry

Feedback sheets


For this project I gathered feedback from my ENGL 201 students (the poets) using 3 different sets of questions and at 3 different times:

Immediately after collaging the poems I asked students to respond anonymously to the following questions:

  1. What worked well about the community-generated poetry writing experience?
    • Being able to choose our own prompt to work with and having freedom with the poem
    • It was fun to write with my classmates and helped me form group project skills.
    • The entire experience was great.
    • Yeah it was cool I guess getting to hear everyone talk; I just don’t like group shit that’s all.
    • Seeing all the different answers from people here. Also coming up with the poem.
    • I enjoyed working with classmates – and even people who I may not have necessarily grouped with if given the choice. It was nice to work on something outside of my own head, couch, bed, & bedroom…and hear words & opinions spoken out loud & hearing poetry used as connection and understanding.
    • It got to not so talkative kids in class to loosen up and blab their mouth off and discuss a subject as a group. Getting to know other students more.
    • Two full class periods to work on the poetry. Having a vast amount of papers to use words/themes from was very helpful.  Small groups allowed for different angles to come out in the poetry.
    • Collaborating with other students and sharing our writing processes. Having so many different responses to the same questions.  Sharing other peoples’ experiences.
    • It was fun. Had plenty of material to work off of.
    • The group aspect – individually would be too much.
    • The way we found words/phrases worked well…the sifting through papers and highlighting, etc.
    • Having so many prompts to work with and working in small groups to create the new poems.
    • The actual group work went along nicely. Great discussions and critical thinking led to great outcomes.
  1. Do you have any suggestions for what we could do differently?
    • Possibly figure out what class did what prompts to give us more insight.
    • Maybe a little more time.
    • I enjoyed the entire project.
    • Maybe not do it? Maybe new topics.
    • Less controversial prompt as some of the answers did leave me mortified. Also slightly smaller groups – so 3 instead of 4.
    • Hmm I don’t think so? Not off the top of my head. Thank you!
    • More time to make the poem.
    • Picking our groups.
    • Spend more time on it. Analyzing so many different responses and forming poems was not easy with only two days.
    • Plan to need an extra day to complete the poems. They took a lot longer than we had time for.  Try to branch out to different subjects.
    • Require responses meet certain criteria so they provide more material to work with. Half the responses were easy/immediate “no”.
    • I think we could have been “put” into groups better…I think some people chose a certain table just because the one they wanted filled up…It might spike more interest from individuals.
    • Make sure that the students who respond to the prompts actually use specific language as well as maybe some unique thoughts to give more free reign for those who are creating the poems.
    • Maybe give more time for putting the poems together/finding lines.

Near the end of the semester after reading the poems at StarScapes (also anonymous responses):

  1. What impact did this project have on you?
    • I think it was interesting seeing people’s processes when putting these poems together. The different methods and interpretations were cool to watch.
    • It was nice to read other students’ responses to fairly serious questions. After making a poem with real responses in mind, my respect for poetry increased.
    • It helped me look outside the box & gain new perspectives on topics. Also writing a poem is one thing, sharing ideas a creating something as a collective is harder but fun.
    • Figuring out how to write/think with & alongside others was very impactful as a self-induced hermit. Hearing ideas & differing perspectives was very eye-opening & valuable.
    • This project allowed me to see how others work with poetry, which was interesting.
    • Nothing just for the fact the topic I write a lot about on my own.
    • It was cool to see how people think and how some related to some thoughts I had. Some things people said had me think differently.
    • The Project made me realize the many viewpoints people at LCC have.
    • Working with others and understanding where people are coming from with their opinions.
    • This poem helped enhance my interest in poetry especially since I wrote my own poem.
    • It allowed me to see others’ point of view and practice working with others.
    • Made me think about things a bit deeper.
    • This opened me up to writing from different perspectives than my own for poetry.
  1. What did you discover that surprised you?
    • I discovered the many different opinions of other students These were surprising in their variety and yet, sameness.
    • I was surprised that I really enjoyed the activity. Overall it was a valuable group-centered, fun, thing to do in class.
    • There are tons of things you can pull from someone’s random thoughts. Teamwork is hard with poetry – outcome was great.
    • My classmates think much deeper than I initially thought they did. I thought I was alone in caring about poetry, but soon found that I was (happily) wrong.
    • It surprised me that I ended up being okay with the poem my group created; usually I am a very independent worker, especially when it comes to creative work.
    • How creative people can be when given a touchy topic like this.
    • What surprised me was how honest people were with the prompt questions. Some people got really deep.
    • How open and honest people were and how honest the responses were.
    • How well complete strangers can work together towards a final product.
    • I think it surprised me how we ultimately managed to make a poem out of all that we had.
    • That I actually really like hearing others’ ideas and opinions. I always thought I would prefer working alone.
    • Our slap-together lines actually made a poem. I guess it’s true that if you write a poem in a poem format and call it a poem nobody will fight you on it.
    • When it comes to assignments like this, it is fun with groups of people.

In their (non-anonymous) semester-end reflections a couple of students mentioned the Poetry Project in response to a question listing memorable activities:

    • The poetry project because we had to pick from other writing and make a poem but also the point of views people had – some you agreed with and others you hated. My group almost missed the whole point of the project because we got into such a deep discussion
    • I loved the poetry project as well, it was so much fun. I would love to do that again.

What did I learn/What did I change?:

The reflection comments from the ENGL 201 poets were particularly helpful for clarifying what was powerful about this Poetry Project in conjunction with LCC’s 2018-2019 One Book The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.  The novel explored challenging topics like racism, racial profiling, privilege, police shootings, identity, code-switching and family that can be difficult to discuss despite the imperative need to do so.  Trusting in the students – both the responders and the poets – as well as trusting the process – especially the anonymous nature of the responses that create the raw material for the poems – served this iteration of the Poetry Project well.

Beyond the broad experience of this Poetry Project and the novel at the center of it, The Hate U Give, this project included moments that are hard to categorize but felt significant.  At the end of the two days of poetry collaging and writing in their groups, one student, who had just legally changed their name, was overwhelmed and expressed gratitude that they could sign their newly legal name to the poem their group had created.  The whole class, in general, felt moved when they signed their names to the large pads of paper displaying the handwritten poems.  I have made sure to have the poets sign their poems in this way for all subsequent Poetry Projects and activities.

Poem on large easel papge
“Hidden Beneath my Skin is a Soul that Nobody will See” signed by the poets

Another ENGL 201 student knew his brother had responded to the prompts in another class. He ended up finding his brother’s words in the random pile of responses he had in front of him and incorporated them, to strong effect, into his group’s poem. Upon hearing my student read the poem in public, his brother heard and recognized his own words.

Part of the power in this process is that the Poetry Project is simultaneously as small and intimate as the somewhat surprised realization for one of my ENGL 201 students that LCC students, in general, were “deep” to as expansive as getting to one of the hardest things to accomplish for our whole student body: broadening perspectives.  In its paradoxical intimacy and expansiveness, the LCC Community-Generated Poetry Project is particularly suited to exploring, sharing and beginning to better understand sticky, difficult, complex societal concepts, realities, and lived experiences.


Spring 2019: One Book Wrap-Up Event: The Hate U Give

Barb Clauer reading some of the original poems before the groups got to work on their own.

Inspiration Story Problem:

The inspiration for this project was initially panic, which happily led to spontaneity, creativity, and resilience.  At the last minute, The Hate U Give author Angie Thomas was unable to come to campus for her keynote talk and other events connected to her planned visit 4/17/19 to wrap-up the 2018-2019 One Book year.  Mindy Barbarskis and Melissa Kaplan asked if I would be able to do a poetry activity as part of the wrap-up, which they quickly planned for those who still wanted to come or who hadn’t gotten the information that Angie Thomas was unable to attend.  Sure! Around 35 people showed up to a wrap-up session held in LCC’s Michigan Room to discuss the book, share feedback and, unbeknownst to them before it happened, participate in a community-generated poetry activity.

What it came to be/Project specifics:

I quickly developed an activity using the poems produced by my ENGL 201 Introduction to Poetry students from language produced by classes who read The Hate U Give (link to post) inspired by the activity I have used for the Creating Poetry/Creative Resistance Black History Awareness events (link to post) in that we used the first lines from my students’ poems to inspire new poems from the wrap-up attendees.

Magically, this allowed me to address a loop that I had been feeling I had not been able to close in previous projects regarding reflecting on the actual poems produced and their content.  With the groups at the wrap-up hearing and looking closely at the student-written poems from the Spring Poetry Project, they ended up reflecting on the content of the poems and then building on them to write their own. Reflecting on the poems produced is something I would like to build into future Poetry Projects.

First, the wrap-up day participants heard the original poems written by my ENGL 201 students – I read a couple and one of the ENGL 201 poets, Victor Verhill, also read a couple.

ENGL 201 student, Victor Verhill, reading one of the original student poems

Then, grouped at large tables, they were given one of the following prompts:

As a group, using the first line of the student poem inspired by The Hate U Give, “Hidden Beneath My Skin Is A Soul That Nobody Will See”, as line one, construct a community-generated poem – each person contributes one or two lines. Decide on the order of the lines and write it on the sheet provided. No pressure! Have fun 🙂

You can also use the prompts that inspired the poem:

What’s it like to feel like you have to code-switch (for those of you who don’t)? What would happen if you didn’t code switch?  Code-switching: brief/loose definition = consciously or unconsciously switching among dialects and speaking styles, as well as other markers of identity, depending on the specific situation.

What aspects of our identity do we get to decide and what aspects does society dictate? Why?

“This is not me, nor do I want it to be”

As a group, using the first line of the student poem inspired by The Hate U Give, “Identity”, as line one, construct a community-generated poem – each person contributes one or two lines. Decide on the order of the lines and write it on the sheet provided. No pressure! Have fun 🙂

You can also use the prompts that inspired the poem:

What’s it like to feel like you have to code-switch (for those of you who don’t)? What would happen if you didn’t code switch?  Code-switching: brief/loose definition = consciously or unconsciously switching among dialects and speaking styles, as well as other markers of identity, depending on the specific situation.

What aspects of our identity do we get to decide and what aspects does society dictate? Why?

“I can never be myself. Blank canvas.”

Groups working on the prompts and their poems

As a group, using the title or first line of the student poem inspired by The Hate U Give, “Read Me”, as line one, construct a community-generated poem – each person contributes one or two lines. Decide on the order of the lines and write it on the sheet provided. No pressure! Have fun 🙂

You can also use the prompts that inspired the poem:

What does the cover of The Hate U Give say to you? What does the phrase “the hate u give” mean to you?

What’s it like to explain racism (to those who don’t regularly experience it)…

“Read Me”

As a group, using the first line of the student poem inspired by The Hate U Give, “It’s a Luxury”, as line one, construct a community-generated poem – each person contributes one or two lines. Decide on the order of the lines and write it on the sheet provided. No pressure! Have fun 🙂

You can also use the prompts that inspired the poem:

What’s it like to not be afraid of the police (for those of you who are)…

What’s it like to realize you benefit from some type of privilege (especially if you don’t feel “privileged”)…

“I can’t help but feel upset.”

The groups set to work writing their own lines, sharing them with the larger group at the table, and then ordering the lines into their groups’ poem.

Participants working on the poetry activity
Poetry in progress

The Poems:

This poem, written by Suzanne Bernsten, Sierra Bouyer, Curlada Eure-Harris, Julie Linderleaf, Jeanettia Green, Marah Jones, and Robert Moore was inspired by the poem “Hidden Beneath My Skin Is A Soul That Nobody Will See” written by LCC students Emmerson Myhre, Lauren Nugent, Kurstina Simmons, and Tucker Tatroe. Both poems were inspired by prompts concerning identity and feeling pressure to code-switch.

Participants working on a poem
“The Life From Which You Choose” poets at work
The life from which you choose

This is not me, nor do I want it to be
Who am I if I am not only myself?
Why is there a secret that I cannot share with everyone?
The person who others feel I should be.
Angry, angry at society.
Made to feel I am less…
Like a superpower that can be summoned on demand.
It can be exhausting.
I feel trapped beneath a false face.
If I hide, I feel it is not the real me.
But if I don’t, I fear you won’t like what you see.
I wonder what it’s like to always be yourself
What is it like to be unaware?
Some people may not be themselves living their lives as a lie
Feeling as if they chose to be themselves
That person wouldn’t exist anymore
Because they haven’t been themselves in a long time.
Who gets to see the real me?
Who am I with?
What will I show?
I am unique 100%
A complex identity is a high, life right!
We are human genomes 99% shared.

This poem, written by Yolanda Crim, Jahmallia Forde, Patti Goggins, Alex Gradilla, Prisca Mtemavalye, Leticia Navarro, Ronnie Oliver Jr., Curtis Pratt, Jonathan Rosewood, and Kimberly Skorna was inspired by the poem “Identity” written by LCC students Levi Lantz, Taylor Matlock, Sam Nichols, and Jake Sinnaeve.  Both poems were inspired by prompts concerning identity and feeling pressure to code-switch.

Participants working on their poem
“I Can Never Be Myself” poets at work
I can never be myself. Blank canvas.

Trapped between two walls of communication
I’m on a journey to discover and grow into a future of self.
Please don’t judge each other or what we see today.
Why do we need to put a label on ourselves?
Am I not good enough? Are you better than me?
Am I not human? Let me be me.
Brown, red, white, blue.
Born here, went there,
told I’m everywhere.
To be myself in this environment, would I be outcasted?
White supremacy plus poverty suppresses me.
My ultimate wish is to express me,
and to JUST let be.
It feels like energy gets depleted at a very fast rate.
I accept myself for who I am,
If you don’t feel free…just leave.

This poem, written by Tonya Bailey, Monica Hemingway, Nan Jackson, Melissa Kaplan, Aida Rochid, and Sirpenia Stewart was inspired by the poem “Read Me” written by LCC students Killian Burcham, Madison David, Audrey Spitzfaden, and Chloe Teunis. Both poems were inspired by prompts concerning the cover of The Hate U Give and racism.

participants working on the poem
“Read Me” poets at work
Read Me,
Don’t judge me,
Don’t overlook me
Don’t exclude me
Maximize Experiencing
  Who I am
  I am Human
I have no words to tell you
What you don’t know about me
So ready to brush off
Push away
Mom said “no that’s a hairstyle for black girls”
It’s like a brick wall
Dad said, “I don’t want you dating black men. They’re no good.”
A blank stare
And my brother overheard.
Every day is like they think they understand,
but do they really?
Why is there still
hate in this modern day?
Why hasn’t it
gone away?
Where have we
gone astray?
Maybe we’re hiding
The Hate We Give
How about loving, caring, and sharing
with others
because we are all
and important.

This poem, written by Mindy Barbarskis, Greg Berry, Joshua Braswell, Alma Cameron, Ellie Darnell, Mia Misner, and Dr. Pamela Smith was inspired by the poem “It’s a Luxury” written by LCC students Robert Glew, Raymond Latchaw, Victor Verhil, and Keaton Woods. Both poems were inspired by prompts concerning recognizing one’s privilege and fearing the police.

Participants working on the poem
“I Can’t Help But Feel Upset” poets at work
I can’t help but feel upset
With the rise in racism
When I feel our American court system is not fair
to all our Citizens
When someone does not hear or see me
When I am not seen for myself
I feel like a broken record saying “I’m sorry”
The rich white people protect their perfect world
I can’t help but feel upset
When I am split between both sides
That most black men fear the police
How do I separate myself from white hands
on a loaded gun?
I can’t help but feel upset
My parents won’t acknowledge their white
skin safety
White privilege not being recognized.

After the poems were written, one person from each group took the mic and shared their poems with everyone.  Snaps and clapping followed 🙂

What did I learn?:

“This isn’t what we had planned but here goes” sort of day: Barb Clauer introducing the poetry activity.

I learned that, due to the inherent flexibility and spontaneity of the Poetry Project, something meaningful can come from a community-generated approach even with very little time to prep an activity or plan at all! In addition, this activity provided an opportunity to reflect on the poems created during the semester-long project, which is something I wanted to figure out how to do.

And, as always, I was amazed and inspired by how open people are to trying something like this.  From an e-mail with the One Book committee chairs and others later the same day of the wrap-up:

Hello One Book Committee superheroes!!! 

(…)Everyone totally amazed me with how game they were to jump into the exercise and what came together in these poems in that short time of “speed poetry”.  Thank you for asking me be a part of what turned out to be a really meaningful day. (…)

Fall 2019: Community-Generated Poetry Activity for the September 20th Inaugural LCC Student Summit on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Picture of a table card reading "I, too, have a voice"
Ready to use our voices

Inspiration Story Problem:

At the end of the Student Summit on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, 28 poets, including college students attending the summit as well as several of the summit’s presenters, facilitators and organizers, participated in a community-generated poetry activity I designed around Langston Hughes’ poem “I, Too” connected to the Summit themes: Your Voice Matters, Let Your Voice be Heard, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The various groups produced and shared five poems.  In addition, about a dozen participants not involved in writing the poems, including LCC Trustee Angela Mathews, observed the process and were part of the audience listening to the poets read their community-generated poetry.

How it came about:

August 2019, right before my Fall 2019 sabbatical to work on all things Poetry Project was to begin, I was asked by LCC’s Diversity Project Coordinator, Jonathan Rosewood, on behalf of the 400 Year Committee of African American History, to be part of the Student Summit they were putting on in September.  Much like with the One Book Wrap-up session, without pause, I said “Sure!”.

Barb Clauer checking in with a group

My part of the Summit ended up being a community-generated poetry activity I designed, which took place at the end of the summit, for the college students and others remaining after the high school student attendees were done for the day.

Information on the Student Summit can be found here and a video titled “Highlights from the 400 Years Diversity Summit Event” containing some of the day’s highlights – including some footage from the poetry activity 🙂 – can be found here . In addition LCC’s Newsletter The Star, from 9/26/19, included an article regarding the Summit (which included a picture from the poetry activity!):

College hosts 300 students for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Summit
The Student Summit on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion was held Friday, Sept. 20, at the Downtown Campus. More than 300 students attended the day-long event, including college students from LCC, Michigan State University and Davenport University, as well as a select group from area high schools.

photo from the 9/26/19 edition of LCC's The Star

State Rep. Sarah Anthony kicked off the event, followed by LCC faculty, staff and local professionals presenting workshops on financial literacy, diversity and inclusion, mental health, and more. Lunch in the Commons included tables for college departments to share information with attendees as well as service projects to be completed by participants. The lunch hour also included a keynote address from motivational speaker Shon Hart.

The day concluded with a community poetry project led by Professor Barbara Clauer and poetry performances from student Ferris Blackwell and Professor Ravon Keith. LCC Chief Diversity Officer Tonya Bailey gave the closing keynote. The planning committee was pleased with the success of the day and hopes to continue it annually.

Activity specifics:

Image of one participant writing out the group poem -- the words "I, too, am America..." and others are visible
One poem, taking shape using Hughes’ line “I, too, am America” as inspiration

For the activity itself, I used the last line of Hughes’ poem “I, Too” – “I too, am America” – as inspiration for other prompt lines from which participants could choose according to their own interests.  I was going to play audio of Hughes reading the poem but by happy accident, Professor Ravon Keith had already planned to read the same poem to begin the session.  Each of the tables had the essential materials:  sticky notes, markers, paper, and a big tablet for gathering the final poem.  In addition, one of the following prompts sat in the middle of the table, and as participants entered the room I asked them to sit at the table with the phrase that spoke to them.  They chose from:

        • I, too, am America
        • I, too, have a voice
        • I, too, am a Citizen
        • I, too, am powerful
        • I, too, am equal
Image of participants gathered in The Michigan Room
Groups at work on their poems

Ultimately, participants were all drawn to the prompts that had the words “America”, “Voice” or , “Powerful” in them.  I introduced myself and gave a quick “no poetry experience necessary” pep talk along with reiterating the main theme of the summit: your voice matters.  Then we turned to the hand out and I explained the activity.

From the activity sheet I created to give to each participant

Themes for the summit = Your Voice Matters, Let Your Voice be Heard, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Purpose: Our community-generated poetry activity is a way to wrap up, reflect, be creative, and end the day feeling connected to each other and to the larger themes of this summit. A community-generated activity like this depends on your input: your voice matters and is powerful.

Getting ready:

        • Listen to and read Langston Hughes’ poem “I, Too” published in 1926 during the Harlem Renaissance. It continues to resonate with some of today’s themes: inclusion, diversity, equity, and raising one’s voice. Hughes wrote “I, Too” responding to Walt Whitman’s 1860 poem “I Hear America Singing”.
        • We’ll be using versions of the last line of Hughes’ poem, “I, too, am America” as inspiration for community-generated poems each table will create.

Creating the poems:

        • Choose your table and its inspiration line quickly10 people max at each table please!
        • Reflect on the poem (below) and the inspiration line. Here is where you let your voice be heard: What does the inspiration line make you think of? Or feel? What do you want to add? How do you want to say it?
        • Then, on the sticky note provided, write your own line or two. Be ready to share with the table.
        • Go around the table listening to everyone read their lines.
        • Then, as a group, decide on the best order of the lines to follow the inspiration line (which is line one). The easiest way to see and hear the poem come together is to experiment with putting the sticky notes in the order your table has decided on, using one of the big sheets provided.
        • Once your group has put the sticky note lines in order, have someone with neat handwriting write your table’s “I, Too” poem on one of the big tablet sheets provided.
        • Sign your names – you are poets!
        • Decide on a reader for your table – practice reading it once or twice to the table.
        • Share your community-generated poem with us all and be appreciated 🙂
I, Too

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.


I’ll be at the table

When company comes.

Nobody’ll dare

Say to me,

“Eat in the kitchen,”



They’ll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

 -- Langston Hughes 1926
Image of a participant writing out a group poem
One poem taking shape
Image of a pile of scattered large tablets with the group poems written on them
A pile of voices

Output/The Poems:

All within the space of about 45 minutes, the groups were introduced to the activity, wrote their own lines, worked to weave those lines together into poems, and then wrote out their poems on the large sheets of paper to which they then signed their names as the poets. And finally, each group came to the podium to read their community-generated poems for the audience.  They did an amazing job, not only weaving their lines together with the inspiration prompt, but also connecting to and amplifying the themes for the day in their own words, and sharing the poems with an appreciative crowd. Snaps and applause abounded.

Poem by Areli Espinosa, Courtney Kidder, Joe Martin, and Bridget Denise Webb, inspired by the line “I, too, have a voice”:

Areli Espinosa, Courtney Kidder, Joe Martin, and Bridget Denise Webb working on their poem
I, too, have a voice

I can speak.

Let me speak

      Speak up

      Speak out

Activism, Advocacy

I, too, can make a difference

What happened to We are Americans?

I, too, can represent,

because we all represent beauty.

And that beauty makes the picture.

I, too, have importance

I, too, contribute to the picture

The picture does not have to be perfect

There is no right way to be me

There is no right way to be beautiful.

Does race matter in America?

Let the haters eat in the kitchen.

The group sharing their poem

Poem by Mahima Biswa, Gary Cox, Kenneth Franklin (MSU BSA), Esmerelda, Prisca Mtimavalye, and Richard Winston inspired by the line “I, too, have a voice”:

Gary Cox, Kenneth Franklin, Prisca Mtimavalye, and Richard Winston working on their group’s poem
I, too, have a voice.

I feel pain; I feel lost.

I, too, cry in the late night.

I, too, have feelings.

I am hurt, so why did you leave?

I, too, have a voice.

It is just as important as others.

It is filled with confidence and hope.

I will use it without regret.

I, too, will shout until I am heard.

I, too, pay attention.
The group sharing their poem

Poem by Dina Abdulamir, Kyle Atwood, Hadel Essa, and Terrell Nelson inspired by the line “I, too, am America”:

Terrell Nelson, Dina Abdulamir, Kyle Atwood, and Hadel Essa working on their poem
I, too, am America

I am the last one

I, too, is proud of what I am.

I am not free as a black man

I, too, am a survivor of hatred.

Poem by Madison Buckholz, Maria del Mar Osma Potes, Jahmallia Forde, Brandon Lawler, Lisa Morgan, Angela Patrick, and Katrina Zimmermann inspired by the line “I, too, am America”:

Madison Buckholz, Maria del Mar Osma Potes, Jahmallia Forde, Brandon Lawler, Lisa Morgan, Angela Patrick, and Katrina Zimmermann working on their poem
I, too, am America…

      I am able to use my voice to say

I, too am America…

      I live, work, learn, socialize.

      I pay taxes and help make

            America great again.

We, too, are America…

      Although we were born

            near and far.

I, too, am America…

      I chafe under your expectations

            of home and hearth.

I, too, am America…

      Oppressed and marginalized.

      Poor and ostracized.

I, too, am America…

      Where there is freedom.

      But, is it really free?
The group sharing their poem

Poem by Cortney Browning ,Carl Browning, Jr., Keonte Campbell,  Alex Rivera Cordero, Marisa Elzy, Basil Oli, and Alyeea Turner, inspired by the line “I, too, am powerful”:

Cortney Browning ,Carl Browning, Jr., Keonte Campbell, Alex Rivera Cordero, Marisa Elzy, Basil Oli, and Alyeea Turner working on their poem
I, too, am powerful.

I, too, am important, I, too, possess value.

My resistance is my display of power,

God gave me power! My presence is strong.

My thoughts are valuable,

I bring a different flavor of strength to the team

to make the team powerful.

I am strong. They speak, like I am young.

I am not. My mind is clear, and I wait patiently.

One day they will look at me and realize, I, too, am 


I, too, am a black woman,

I have a voice that is more than just noise.

I, too, am powerful.

Embracing my uniqueness

and how it shows up in how I talk, how I walk, and carry 


Feudal lords look down on the scrambling serfs, that are we

Except you refuse to be that lowly figure.

You are the overpass

Whose level I aspire to meet.
The group sharing their poem


At the end of the session, many of the participants said how much they enjoyed the activity, and there was a feeling of elation in the room at what we all had created in a such a short amount of time.  From my follow-up e-mail sharing the poems (both the picture of the signed copies on my office floor and the electronic versions with all the poets’ names and contact information) with Summit organizers, Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Tonya Bailey, and Diversity Project Coordinator Jonathan Rosewood:

Image of the five poems on large sheets of paper

From Barb:  Thank you so much for the wonderful opportunity to help participants reflect, connect, and create poetry at the end of the amazing Student Summit on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.  As with all previous iterations, I’m so awed and encouraged by the ways students/participants keep stepping into the invitation to connect that I get to make to them with this crazy LCC Community-Generated Poetry Project I’m continuing to develop.  An event like the Student Summit continues to expand my hopes and dreams for all its variations and possibilities.  Please keep me and the Poetry Project in mind for future events connected to the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

I am attaching a document that includes the directions for the activity I developed for the Summit, as well as the poems the five different groups created. Under each poem I’ve listed the names and e-mail addresses of the poets for if/when we would like to share this work with them. I also have the original poster sized poems with the poets’ signatures on them — pic of them attached…covering the floor of my home office 🙂  I remember that at the end of the day, 9/20, we briefly discussed ways to preserve/display those originals.  What would we like to do with them? I have lots of similar sheets all around my office from previous poetry projects so I’m happy to hang on to them until a decision is made.

Please let me know if you have questions or need anything else from me from the event.  Thanks again for a great experience.

From Jonathan: Your workshop on last Friday gave me chills and made me excited to see participants using their voices. Thank you for that experience. I will get together with Melissa and Dr. Bailey to see how we can display these poems.

Looking forward to working with you in the future and thankful for everything that you do.

What did I learn?:

That it’s very cool to have a DJ present during, what I joked with Jonathan, was an amazing round of “speed poetry”.

Image of the DJ all set up and ready for the session

Additionally — and does it count extra if I keep learning the same things? 🙂 — I learned again that participants always amaze me with what they create, that the process is powerful and fruitful, AND that I can’t wait to see what else can happen with the LCC Community-Generated Poetry Project as I continue to dream of other variations and seek collaborations across the campus community.

Spring 2020: The Vote and Your Voice Poetry Project


SPRING 2020 ENGL 201 Poetry Project Poems: The Vote and Your Voice

ENGL 201 students contributed lines to the 15th, 19th and Youth Discussion boards after reading/highlighting the responses/raw material from hundreds of LCC students responding to the prompts in their own classes. I took the rough lines written by my 201 students, and wove together poems for each of the groups. Then I shared the rough poems and got their feedback for final revisions…which made me an author with the students 🙂  Here are the final poems – truly a work of community-generation.


Voting is…

Voting is a responsibility.

I have a say in who I am.

I’m here. I’m gonna tell you about me.

It is hard to vote, even when you know how

you want things changed in your world.


Voting is in everyone’s capability.

I have a say in our world.

It’s easy to know what you want but hard to know if you’ll end up with it.

Voting is difficult if you’re doing it right.

Anyone can vote for anyone


Voting is for the good of the Nation

I have a say in my vote.

I don’t believe most politicians; a pop rally sounds good at first

but there’s no message behind it.

I can vote and make a change.


Voting demands your participation.

I have a say in who we will be led by.

I have a voice and a right to use it,

to choose someone who might inevitably be corrupted

(gaining power is never good).


Do you remember that time not so long ago?

There was a time where only a select few could vote,

but things have changed.

We get the opportunity to decide

what our future will be like.


I have the right to make a change.

US citizens can make a change.

I have a say, a right to be represented, to be acknowledged.

I am not a number. Equality.  Every vote is valuable…?

I can voice my opinion.


Do you remember a time not so long ago?

The rich, elite, the white man controlled who voted,

but that is a time long past.

I am a part of that big decision.



We can all vote now, but there was a time…

Do you remember that time not so long ago?

Voting is important for our nation.

If I can vote, I will vote

Voting is…


by Christian Heuhs, Brenden Hutchins, Juliette Lanz, Celeste Montalvo, Andrew Schneider, Quinn Sheppard, Cameron Vann, and Barb Clauer (written in response to prompts re: the 15th Amendment)

Vote Or the Enemy Rises – Lines on the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment (Women’s Suffrage)

100 years ago, we made a difference.

Do you remember the struggle, the fight, the triumph?

Voting today is the way it should have been.

Women deserve an opinion.

Voting isn’t a privilege; voting is a right,

your voice is heard.


I want to try and make a difference,

to be the voice of the empowered republic.

I wish I could turn off biases

so that this vote will truly be mine.


Voters overcome the evolving resistance

and are no longer bystanders, but participants.

The rights that women achieved help all people.

Voting gives equal opportunities.


When I vote, my vote becomes a sword

and then it puts the elite on edge.

My vote becomes a speck of dust and then,

with all the other votes, a sandstorm.

My vote becomes a bird and then it flocks.

It has power and is servant to the people


Voting is a part of something bigger

When representation expands, we all succeed.

Stand for what you believe in before

you must stand behind something you don’t.

100 years ago is the blink of an eye.

Vote or the enemy rises.


by Kayla Hall, Brooke Hill, Andrew Schneider, Quinn Sheppard, and Barb Clauer (written in response to prompts re: the 19th Amendment)

the future in our hands

voting is like…

um I don’t know

it affects my future

and something needs to change

why take the voice I have for granted?


there is no such thing as a wasted vote

today’s world is filled with the people of tomorrow

every citizen counts, voting is our right

but if voting makes such a difference

why do we feel that it doesn’t?


the world has and will continue to evolve and change

but if voting makes such a difference

then every citizen counts; it is their right

there is no such thing as a wasted vote,

but why do we feel that there is?


voting is like…

adding an ingredient to a soup

or a grain of rice, tipping a scale

deciding the degree of hell that we live in

hopefully I’ll make a change.


by Juliette Lanz, Sam McQuaid, Andrew Schneider, Quinn Sheppard, and Barb Clauer (written in response to prompts re: youth/first time voters)

These poems were included in the Fall 2020 Black History Awareness Event of the same name: The Vote and Your Voice.  Link to event video

2020-2021 Poetry Project in collaboration with LCC’s “We Shall Overcome: Raising Our Voices Together” Multi-Genre Event

2020-2021 Poetry Project: “We Shall Overcome”                                        Community-Generated Poems:  8 prompts, 80+ student responders, 8 poets

Below is the text from the Poetry Project Invitation and Prompts (around 80 students from ENGL and HIST courses responded  late Fall 2020 semester):


Dear LCC Students: 2020 has been a challenging year.  As a way to reflect on and learn from challenges past, present and future, the Music Program at LCC is inviting students to lend their voices to a community-building project related to the song “We Shall Overcome” and its messages of unity, determination, racial justice, hope, and overcoming adversity. (If you’re interested in adding your singing voice as part of the virtual choir portion of the project, please contact Dr. Ten Brink tenbrinj@star.lcc.edu).  Please take some time to respond, in writing, to the following prompts.  There are no right or wrong ways to respond, although the more specific language you use the better.  Your anonymous responses will be used as part of the LCC Community-Generated Poetry Project, to craft one or more poems surrounding the concepts in “We Shall Overcome” (lyrics below the prompts) in order to let our voices be heard.  Thank you for taking the time to consider these prompts, share your ideas, and let your own voice be heard.


  1. What does the title of the song “We Shall Overcome” mean to you?
  2. One verse of the song is simply “We are not afraid” repeated. Afraid of what?
  3. Imagine you are singing this song. Who is your audience? What do they hear? How does that change if you are alone or with a group?
  4. Is there a song you often return to in order to help you get through something difficult? What song? Why?
  5. When I sing with others, my voice becomes a _________ and then it ________.
  6. Protestors often adapt a song to reflect current circumstances. If you could add a verse to reflect our current time or your current truth, what would you add?
  7. What title would you give your civil rights anthem?
  8. Singing as an act of protest is powerful because_________.


We shall overcome

We shall overcome

We shall overcome some day

O deep in my heart

I do believe

We shall overcome some day.


We shall live in peace

We shall live in peace

We shall live in peace some day

O deep in my heart

I do believe

We shall overcome some day.


We’ll walk hand in hand

We’ll walk hand in hand

We’ll walk hand in hand some day

O deep in my heart

I do believe

We shall overcome some day.


We are not afraid

We are not afraid

We are not afraid today!

O deep in my heart

I do believe

We shall overcome some day.


Love will see us through

Love will see us through

Love will see us through someday.

O deep in my heart

I do believe

We shall overcome some day.

Faculty joining my PA day Poetry Writing Activity ended up being the poets 🙂  Here’s how that session went…

Rough outline for 1/7 10-11a PA day Community-generated Poetry Project – “We Shall Overcome”


  • Ok to record? (disclaimers: not a WebEx pro, worried if I share my screen I get kicked off…)
  • so…yesterday was intense; feels like both a luxury and a necessity to do creative work like we’re going to try today
  • we’ll see how it goes – this approach is brand new…I’m making it up as you watch :/
  • I have no specific hopes or goals for what we produce, I haven’t done this in this way before and I’m grateful for the push to further evolve the Poetry Project
  • a little about Jon’s project – virtual choir performance end of last semester and larger collaboration coming in Feb. (Jon?)
  • Poetry Project jumping in to be part of that really cool project
  • what is community generated poetry (perfect for this Overcome Project)
  • idea for today is to create/weave together one or more poems from the raw material; then that poem or poems might be woven into the virtual choir project
  • describe how we’d do this f2f (separate tables for the prompts, raw material hard copy, highlighters, sticky notes, big notepad)
  • describe how we’re going to try this today (connect to Sp20 Vote Poetry Project – students submitted lines to a discussion board and I wove them together)
  • Cory Booker quoted “we shall overcome” in his comments in the Senate chamber around 9p…


Let’s try this:

  • How many did the “homework” (reference the “directions” document) How did that go?
  • how many wandered in here without looking at the “homework” b/c poetry sounds like a salve today? totally fine! don’t leave! you’ll be able to contribute or even just listen if that’s what you need
  • what prompts did they cover?
  • General plan:
    • focus on one prompt at a time (just as a way to organize our work)
    • share the lines you’ve copied/noted/highlighted verbally
    • talk a bit about what we’re hearing
    • put lines that seem to connect in the chat – I’ll copy to another document and then read back
    • do we have a poem? or maybe a stanza?
    • repeat with next prompt
    • if we don’t use a line or you didn’t share it or if you find others you can always e-mail me – I will be continuing to work with the raw material and perhaps play around with more poems in the future
  • If we run out of “homework” let’s look at the Prompt 5 (when I sing my voice becomes…) together and pull out good lines/images

Each poem had a different list of poets so they are listed below each poem…


When I Sing with Others (re: Prompt #5 When I sing with others, my voice becomes a __ and then it ___)


When I sing with others, my voice becomes a

beacon of light, an anchor, an echo

and then it guides,

smooth like butter on a hot pan.


It becomes a low rumble, invoking a primal force,

and then my voice rises, growing in intensity,

gathering with others, becoming a surge

of truth and undeniable unity.

It becomes a tidal wave that washes over everyone

an earthquake that moves mountains.


When I sing with others, my voice becomes

a seed that blossoms

a part of something greater than myself,


My voice is a vibe and then a party with friends.


It’s a beacon and then it echoes.

an instrument and then it amplifies

My voice becomes a Siren

that blends as I get in tune and harmonize


When I sing with others, my voice becomes

a small ingredient in the recipe

it becomes part of a whole, growing in strength

My voice becomes a wave and then it spreads


It becomes a bird, that flocks and then soars

ensuring everyone hears the messages.

My voice becomes a thread

that pulls us together.


When I sing with others, my voice

becomes an instrument that amplifies

a chorus beyond me

We gather force, sending a message of urgency

heard by the ears that need hope


My voice becomes a carrier and then a reason

Singing together, we are more powerful and far-reaching

than the sum of each part

My voice is a part that becomes the whole,

synecdoche, cacophony, euphony

and then translucent light.


Poets: Suzanne Bernsten, Barb Clauer, Willie Davis, Jennifer Hood, Melissa Kaplan, Kali Majumdar, Chuck Page, Jon Ten Brink


New Verses (from Prompt 6: add a new verse to “We Shall Overcome” – this is the one I’m hoping others will work with to more skillfully arrange and hopefully sing it following “We Shall Overcome”)


We have come this far

We have come this far

We have come this far, today

Hope will aid us through

I know it to be true

we have come this far today


Say her name, say his name

we are not to blame

it seems they are hunters

and we are their game

We live in a world of fear, a cry for help,

for the future, for our own sake


Though others scream lies,

though others scream lies

Though others scream lies today!

O deep in my heart

I do believe

We shall speak with one voice someday.


We shall see the light,

We shall see the light

We shall see the light someday

O deep in my heart

I do believe

We shall see the light someday


We breathe the same,

We sleep the same,

We all have a heart.

We can make the world start anew.

Tangled up in Blue;

Behold the Temple of Light


Bring us together,

in any kind of weather,

to march for right, in plain sight,

bring peace to the world,

and freedom unfurl,

come back to win, again and again.


Stand with loved ones,

stand with all,

today does not determine tomorrow.

and even if I fall, I am no longer alone,

the fight will rage on,

as I am on my way home.


Poets: Suzanne Bernsten, Barb Clauer, Willie Davis, Jennifer Hood, Melissa Kaplan, Kali Majumdar, Chuck Page, Jon Ten Brink


Only Titles (from Prompt 7: What title would you give your civil rights anthem?)


Together We Thrive

We Fight as One

I Release Myself to Love

The End of Divisions

We All Live Free

United with Love

The Path Is Yet to Be Walked

A Step Forward

Today is A Day

It Will Not End Here


No More

We Won’t Stop Now

Your Soul is Infinite

I Release Myself to Love

The World Needs a Change

We are One

The Justice We Deserve

Freedom Belongs to Everyone

The Future is at Stake.

Wake Up


Poets: Suzanne Bernsten, Barb Clauer, Willie Davis, Jennifer Hood, Melissa Kaplan, Kali Majumdar, Chuck Page, Jon Ten Brink


Unstoppable (from Prompt 8: Singing as an act of protest is powerful because_________.)


I once sang a Swedish protest song

covered in bruises

eyes still stinging

from the tear gas and pepper spray.

Singing is more powerful than shouting;

It’s the souls’ key and no one can silence

a song we all know.


If you sing, you will be heard

a shared act of creation, the calm power

that although seems weak,

may, in fact,

be unstoppable.


Poets: Melissa Kaplan and Barb Clauer


We Are Not Afraid

(from Prompt #2: One verse of the song is simply “We are not afraid” repeated.  Afraid of what?)


Fear will not oppress us.

Fear will not control us.

Of course we are afraid but

together we are stronger than our fear.

The cloud of uncertainty looms but

we are not afraid of losing hope,

not afraid of change,

not afraid of freedom.

Our futures are unguaranteed but

we can envision the future

and we are not afraid.


Poet:  Barb Clauer

Many of these poems were then incorporated into the Music Programs Virtual Choir Program “We Shall Overcome: Raising Our Voices Together”.  This program won a Gold Telly in the 42nd Annual Telly Awards.

We Shall Overcome


Fall 2021 Poetry Project in collaboration with LCC’s “Please Stay: A Call for Suicide and Depression Awareness” Multi-Genre Event


Dear LCC Community: Awareness about the pervasiveness of mental health struggles, especially among young people is growing.  September includes Suicide Awareness and Prevention Week and October is National Depression and Mental Health Screening Month.  The Music Program at LCC is inviting students to lend their voices to a community-building project related to the song “Please Stay” and its messages of understanding, hope, determination, and connection.  Please take some time to share your responses to the prompts in this Google Form link: (deleted) Your submissions are totally anonymous.  There are no right or wrong ways to respond, although the more specific language you use the better.  Your responses will be used as part of the LCC Community-Generated Poetry Project, to craft poems surrounding the concepts in “Please Stay” in order to let all our voices be heard.  Thank you for taking the time to share your ideas, and let your own voice be heard.


Asking someone to stay…

  1. What does the title of the song “Please Stay” mean to you? What does the song hope to do?
  2. What is the “storm” in the line “the storm is strong, but it will pass”?
  3. Imagine you are singing this song to a friend or family member struggling with depression. What do you want them to hear?
  4. Write a line or two to add to this song.
  5. When you sing this song to someone struggling with depression, your voice becomes a _________ and then it ________.


Our own mental health journeys…

  1. If depression were an animal, it would be a _______ because ______.
  2. Choosing to live can be an act of courage because_________.
  3. When I talk about my feelings with others, my feelings become…
  4. What helps you to “stay”?
  5. What might you add to the Twitter thread: #IKeptLiving?


Lyrics of “Please Stay” by Jake Runestead  (Text adapted from tweets using #IKeptLiving — expressions of hope from those who battle depression and chose to live. Link to composer’s website: jakerunestad.com/store/please-stay/)


Please Stay


No! Don’t go!

Don’t let your worst day be your last.

The storm is strong, but it will pass.

You think you can’t go on another day,

but please stay. Just stay.

Hope is real. Help is real.

You are breath, you are life,

you are beauty, you are light.

Your story is not over.

You are not a burden to anyone.

Please stay. Just stay.


“Please Stay” Poetry Project Community-Generated Poems (Fall 2021)


Original prompt: If depression were an animal it would be a ______ because _____.

Poets: James Campbell, Barb Clauer, Melissa Kaplan, Josie Sebastian, Jon TenBrink


Depression Is…


Depression is a predator:

a snake, a lion, a shark, a raptor.

It follows you everywhere

and swallows you whole;

it’s constantly circling

waiting for its opening to pounce.

Lurking in the shadows,

it sneaks up, attacks without warning.

It rises to the surface, coiling tighter and tighter

then picks you to pieces

revealing its weight left on your chest


Depression is a parasite:

a tick, a leech, a mosquito.

It’s deceptive and tricky and

doesn’t always appear threatening

but eats you from within,

quietly, telling you the things you

don’t want to hear,

slowly draining your life, while

remaining unseen and unknown to others.

Out of nowhere

it will find you, sting you, hurt you.

Eventually it moves on, but a

a scar remains so it knows where to return.


Depression is an angler fish

existing in the dark, cold, crushing, lonely depths.

It’s a polar bear, whose world is

constantly falling apart

through no fault of its own.

It’s a chameleon letting you smile

on the outside while suffering inside.

Depression is a fish in a bowl,

trapped, swimming in circles in your head.

It’s a bat: misunderstood

and more common than we know.


Depression is a phoenix:

struggling to rise from the ashes,

courageously persevering

through cycles of



& rebirth.

Original prompt: Choosing to live can be an act of courage because_________.

Poets: Judy Allen, Barb Clauer, Layne Ingram, Tami McDiarmid, Susan Murphy, Felipe Sustaita, Jon Ten Brink


The Battle and the War


Suicide Haiku: Losing the Battle


Living’s hard. Death’s not.

Life’s fucking hard all the time.

Not all win the fight.


Living as an Act of Courage: Winning the War


Living is the hardest thing to do in life.

It takes strength and stamina.

Even when you’re empty

or hopeless, your persistence can

be a light to someone suffering.


The only parts of life that are easy

are inconsequential things:

setting down a pen; walking one step more.

Perseverance is an act of courage;

refusing to give up is much harder than giving up.


It can be scary to keep fighting

as it requires a leap of faith

to believe that tomorrow,

or even the next moment, will get better.

Facing your fears and dealing with your mistakes

daily is a struggle. It’s an act of courage.


Choosing to live means battling the demons

that rise up, to take you down to the depths,

like weights tied to your feet.

Fighting to swim to the surface:

that takes courage.


It’s brave to face the unknown & push through.

There’s triumph in choosing to live

because it means you have survived

100% of your bad days

on this group project that is Earth.





Original prompt: What is the “storm” in the line “the storm is strong, but it will pass”?

Poets: James Campbell, Barb Clauer, Melissa Kaplan, Josie Sebastian



The Storm


Like a storm building on the horizon,

clouds gathering into a thunderhead,

depression is despair that moves from

unremarkable to unbearable.


The storm rolls over you in waves

a chaotic, endless darkness, a sea of vast lostness.

It pulls you to the low point of a panic attack,

persists as relentless anxiety, or an eating disorder.

The turbulence of thoughts surges

into a tsunami of negative emotions

that makes it seem like life is not worth living.


But storms have purpose, and they pass.

Don’t let your worst day be your last.




Original prompt:  Imagine you are singing this song to a friend or family member struggling with depression.  What do you want them to hear?


Poets: Judy Allen, Barb Clauer, Layne Ingram, Melissa Kaplan, Tami McDiarmid, Susan Murphy, Felipe Sustaita, Jon Ten Brink




Please stay.

This moment is just a blip in time:

you are breath, you are life

you are beauty, you are light.

If you leave, you’ll never see

the brilliance you created

just by your existence.


You are enough.

You are worthy of life.

I love you. I love you. I love you.

And if that isn’t enough,

you are so much more than my love for you:

you are the wind and the ocean and the stars.


You have the strength

to swim through stormy waters,

make it to shore and

leave your footprints on the ground,

to show others your journey.


Your story is not over;

you are not a burden to anyone.

Your pain and hurt is real and raw, but

your life has infinite, irreplaceable value.

Nothing could fill the void left behind.


Hope is real; help is real.

Instead of asking why, let the anguish

wash over you and wash away.

Happiness cannot exist without pain.

The storm is strong, yet will pass;

I will help pull you through.


Your story has just begun:

I love you

I love you

I love you



Original prompt: When you sing this song to someone struggling with depression, your voice becomes a _________ and then it ________.

Poets: Judy Allen, Barb Clauer, Layne Ingram, Melissa Kaplan, Tami McDiarmid, Susan Murphy, Felipe Sustaita, Jon Ten Brink


Hear my Voice


When you are in pain, let my voice be

a haven that holds space for you,

and then a key, opening new pathways to

glimmering, whispering hope.


When you feel despair, let my voice be

a seed planted in your heart,

and the sun that shines

to sprout and germinate it with life.


When you are in shadow, let my voice be

a light in the dark that bursts into sparks,

a star that shines through the veil.

Let it echo and inspire.


When you are lost, let my voice be

a beacon on the shore, a lifeline

pulling you into a channel of emotions

flowing into a vessel that holds you safe.



Spring 2023: Writing Innovation Symposium Plenary Workshop (Trauma Informed Teaching and Learning)

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February 2023:  For Marquette University’s 2023 Writing Innovation Symposium and its theme of “Writing as….” Melissa Kaplan and I were invited to be plenary workshop presenters. Our workshop titled “Exploring Trauma-Informed Teaching and Learning through the Lansing Community College Community-Generated Poetry Project” used materials created in collaboration with Dr. Jenn Fishmann and gathered from students and educators across the country throughout Fall 2022. The project’s general theme was Trauma Informed Teaching and Learning in order to connect to the plenary talk focused on Trauma Informed Pedagogy given my Dr. Melssa Tayles.

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After honoring and sifting through anonymous student responses to various prompts (see the specific prompt below each poem) 25 poets created the following 5 poems: “What have they taught us?”, “Completely Packed”, Snakes and Foxes in the Library of Alexandria”, Too much intentional listening”


“What have they taught us?”

A sea of blank screens

A teacher wearing a cape

A professor with a mask

Smiling at a computer

Outside the monitor’s edges

PJ pants underneath.


One line pep talks

“Zoom will not defeat us.”

The years they were alive

A spiral for many

A near impossible experience.


Educating through it all

We learned new things

We’re grateful

To the people who couldn’t stop working

Hands reaching through

Backs hunched

Holding one of those ancient webcams.


Unprecedented times

For those who struggled

In spite of it all

They still taught.


Or something like that.


Poets: Maxwell Gray, Lilly Campbell, Jenna Green, Margaret Perrow, Derek Handley, Darci Thoune


Completely Packed 

The place of relaxing,

Peaceful enlightenment.



A stressful mind,

The comfort of a repeated story;

The quiet zone.


I would name it The Alchemist’s Bedroom.

Figuring it out

by trying.

The simple liquid compounds

are going to blow up.


Me typing

on my bed,

Music rising,

Return to zero.


Poets: Sara Heaser, Wendy Fall, Jennifer Kontny, Blessing Uwisike, Aleisha Balestri


Snakes and Foxes in The Library of Alexandria

A warm canyon of constant, slow wonder.

The fox rushes, falls up Mt Everest, eager and free.

Finds a bird constructing a library,

beside a screaming exhilarating snake hall,

Some snakes boxed in grinding,

Investing in this chaotic hell.

But, in a museum of devotion,

Calls “Oh, sweet and sour solemnity!”

Aggravated, the snakes respond “ Am I an exhausted

Obedient guinea pig?”

“Don’t be a trapped sloth running an obstacle course.

Though it is an occasionally dreadful monkey marathon, anticipating makes a better forest.”


Snakes and foxes in the library of Alexandria.


Poets: Grant Gosizk, Ryan Vojtisek, Nora Boxer, Nancy Nguyen, Rachel La Due


Too much intentional listening

we are a parliament of

owls on ancient twisted trees

keenly watching

to affirm a forest

with curiosity/ and awe


Individual, collaborative,

dangerous creative


harvesting hope is spoon-catching hazy



affirming forest empathy,

Heart dancing furious, tail switching

energized, hopeful

guardians, fluctuating and



Poets: Sass Denny, Kaia Simon, Jenn Fishman, Mitch R. Murray


“Remote Generation”

To those who tried, those who failed, and those who succeeded.

Behind glass.

Computer with a mask

Teachers will always have our backs

COVID viruses sticking all over them like burrs.

A ball and chain but instead of a ball it’s a laptop.

A bit of glow on their face from a computer screen.

Will you be the ones to cure us?

Light that shows the way.

The crying comes to an end–she survived.

Hands reaching.

Let the fire out.


Poets: Ryan, Claire, Cisco, Melissa T., Kerry