Spring 2018: “Creating Poetry/Creative Resistance” Black History Month Event

Professors Clauer and Keith reading the three poems produced at the session.


A single day workshop entitled “Creating Poetry/Creative Resistance” included in the 2018 Black History Month Committee activities.  I was asked to participate/create activity by Anne Heutche, then member of the Black History Month Committee. The committee name has since been changed to Black History Awareness Committee — I joined the committee Fall 2018.


Presenters: Professors Barb Clauer, Ravon Keith, and Jesse Draper (substituting in Anne Heutche’s African-American History class)

Attendees = open to campus and the community; Professor Heutche’s class attended and well as many students of mine and Professor Keith’s

What We Did:

For this session, I developed the following outline and activities:

Rough outline for the Creating Poetry/Creative Resistance BHM session – Monday 3.15.18 4-6p in the Centre for Engaged Inclusion

Welcome to BHM Event- Kevin Brown and Robin Moore

    1. Introductions — to the session and to moderators (Jesse, Ravon and Barb)
    2. Jesse and Ravon – Short historical intro to the Harlem Renaissance – General discussion of the concept of resistance: what do we resist? why?
        • What is it? how can it be effective?
        • Resistance now? Communal forms of resistance? (school walk outs, marches) Smaller/personal forms of resistance? Daily examples of their own?
        • Artistic avenues for resistance — transition back to discussing role of poetry in the Harlem Ren here? and then move to poetry activities
    3. Barb – Activities (leave at least 60-75 minutes for this part):
        • Watch Jamila Lysicott spoken word poem “Articulate” (4 min) — example of resistance poetry https://www.ted.com/talks/jamila_lyiscott_3_ways_to_speak_english
        • Jesse and Ravon – read four poems from Harlem Renaissance: “I, Too”, “Harlem” and “Let America be America Again” by Hughes, “America” by McKay.
        • Barb – Current resistance poetry:
          • Patricia Smith “What It’s Like to be a Black Girl (for those of you who aren’t)”  — have my former ENGL 201 student Baps Langeni read it and then her version.
          • Eve L. Ewing – “What I mean when I say I’m sharpening my oyster knife.” Written in response to a Zora Neale Hurston quote. Pull up poem- link includes picture of author and Hurston quote. https://www.poetrysociety.org/psa/poetry/crossroads/own_words/Ewing/
        • Warm-up writing activity — There is a fun warm-up exercise that might be good to do as a group exercise before the writing part.  One that always gets my students involved (and cracking up) is to have them randomly list 15-20 specific nouns (we could try to have them focus the words on the conversation we’ve just had about resistance) and then 15-20 active verbs (same thing re: our topic) then roll dice and connect nouns/verbs in surprising ways. (anyone have a 20-sided die?)
        • Split into 3 groups for 3 separate poetry writing activities; i.e. our own creative resistance – see handouts (Barb has them)
            • At each table time to respond to two prompts: “I am _____. For me, America is _____.” and “What’s it’s Like to be a _____ (for those of you who aren’t)”
            • Each of the 3 groups also get the first line of one of the poems we read and, as a group, each person contribute another line to a new poem.  “What happens to a dream deferred?” (from “Harlem”), “I, too, sing America”, and “Let America Be America again”
    4. Jesse, Ravon and Barb facilitating group work and then also available to read anything produced in the groups the students are willing to have shared (if they don’t want to read them themselves) — share plan to collect and produce something from what they’ve written.

The Poems:

Student-created poems using the first lines from “Harlem”, “I, Too” and “Let American Be America Again”:

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it feel rage over being forgotten
     Or does it not give a fuck?
Does it wait for the door to reopen?
     Or does it wither?
Does it close its eyes like a dead body?
A dream doesn’t come to a sleeper
     Or does it?
Is it all nothing and no longer holds meaning?
Do you get one chance or two?
Like a butterfly
God’s proof that you get two lives.
I, too sing but not to
I, too, sing. America is a land
of mixed genres, where it
shouldn’t be judged on the person’s
point of view.
I, too, love myself, but unlike
you, I know when I’m wrong
and love myself strong.
We all bleed the same color
but, we are all separated.
I am the broken brother, but
unlike Humpty Dumpty, I can put
myself together.

I, too, sing America for
peace all over. Put down the
guns and pick up the love.
I am successful – technologically advanced.
I am the future, the innovators
of upcoming America.
I, too, sing American; I see
the potential you can be.
Let America be America again.
When people cared more about
each other and less about defense.
When people built bridges instead
of worrying about a fence.
Pretend with your benevolence
yet black can’t equal excellence.
Let America nourish and empower
Let America be America again.
Let me be me once again
no conformity, no difference
because of a “friend”.
Let everyone love everyone
again and all of us be equal
again and everyone be a team
America lost to the sea
in the horizon without
regard to the past or the present.
Let American be America again
Let us all go back to being the melting pot,
where crime wasn’t labeled one race
and kids go outside and play on the slide
coming back home in one piece.

What Did I Learn/What Would I Change?

  • The “warm-up activity” listing nouns and verbs was too long/awkward in this setting
  • Lots of good beginnings in the warm-up prompts: “I am ___. For me America is ___.” and “What’s it like to be a _______ (for those of you who aren’t)” inspired by Patricia Smith’s poem. Should I have kept those or sent those with the writers? What will I do with them?
  • The workshop/poetry creation was filled with lots of energy and the poems produced by the groups had both immediacy and heft.
  • I learned that, if I did this activity again, I wanted to mostly focus on having the students interact with the poems of the Harlem Renaissance and create their own – i.e. short history/context set-up and longer workshop portion.


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