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.
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.
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
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:
- Would you like the prompts via e-mail or hardcopy?
- If you would like hardcopies delivered, please let me know how many you need and where I should send them
- 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).
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)”.
- 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)…
- 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.)
- What’s it like to be afraid of the police (for those of you who aren’t )…
- 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”)…
- 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 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.
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.
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
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 Exhausted Feeling trapped gets tiring Changing for others instead of ourselves Obligated 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
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. Frustrating, Overwhelmed by the hate Oppressors give: HATE Brings out something within us We do not recognize. Karma 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 Change. We can’t spark change if we Show no change. Heartbreaking, I feel less than human.
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
Identity 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.
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 deserved. 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”.
“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.
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
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:
- 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.
- 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):
- 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.
- 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.
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.