Spring 2021 Visiting History Scholar Series: Community-Generated Poetry Activity (Virtual)

 

The 2020-2021 Visiting History Scholar series invited Dr. Kevin Gannon, virtually, to LCC’s campus Fall 2021 to engage with his work on race, public policy, and history including his keynote “Baked into the Cake: Race and Policy in American History”.  Dr. Gannon was also a part of the May 2021 PA days in connection with his book Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto.  The last session of the Visiting History Scholar series included reflecting on the ideas and themes in Dr. Gannon’s work through the lens of an historical range of poetry/poets.  The following poems were created by participants in the Visiting History Scholar Poetry Reflection session via a community-generated poetry activity using the following steps/process:

  1. We discussed two poems in connection with the larger themes of Gannon’s work: Langston Hughes’ 1926 poem “I, Too”, and Patricia Smith’s 1991 poem “What It’s Like to be a Black Girl (for Those of You Who Aren’t)”
  2. For the poetry writing activity, I then read and posted in the chat two “inspiration” quotes – one from a poem and one connected to Dr. Gannon’s work. Overall the group engaged with 4 pairs of inspiration quotes.
  3. For each pair, I then asked the participants to take a few minutes and write a couple of lines in response to the inspiration lines.
  4. Then the poets shared their lines in chat while I copied/pasted to another document, trying to see themes and connections and group the lines together in some way.
  5. I then read the lines to the group. Somehow that worked and ta-da, poems!  🙂
  6. I have only slightly revised these poems from what I shared with the group 4/14 where line breaks and adding/or modifying punctuation helped with flow/sense. I’ve also given each poem a title that marries concepts from the two inspiration quotes with what emerged in the poem.

The poets who contributed lines to the poems are: Barb Clauer, Annescia Dillard, Anne Heutsche, Jeff Janowick, and Jim Luke

Poem 1: People not Problems

“But Prisons do not disappear problems, they disappear human beings.” (from Angela Davis’ “Masked Racism: Reflections on the Prison Industrial Complex”) AND“I call for you cultivation of strength in the dark/Dark gardening/…I call for you/cultivation of strength to heal and enhance” (from “To Prisoners” 1981 poem by Gwendolyn Brooks)

 

Prisons do not disappear problems,

they disappear human beings.

But human beings do not really disappear.

None of us is truly solitary.

 

I hear you history

I am you history

those imprisoned, those who accused

those harmed, those denied their freedom.

 

The emptiness is felt; we lose our men

courtesy of a system designed to collect them.

The problems remain the people do not.

They return, but without their full minds

 

I call for you

cultivation of strength in the dark: dark gardening

Where do we find solace?

Where do we conjure our strength?

 

Dark soil represents possibilities

for things to grow big with strong, deep roots.

Roots provide strength and connection to the past

But…strong roots can wreak destruction

Make us prisoner to the story told

and gardeners of our pain.

What are the roots of our humanity?

 

They want us to disappear, they want to bury us,

but hope blooms.

Tiller of my own strength,

pushing tendrils through concrete

toward the light

fruits growing out of oppression.

 

by: Barb Clauer, Annescia Dillard, Anne Heutsche, Jeff Janowick, and Jim Luke

Poem 2: Choice not Accident

“History is not just stuff that happens by accident. If we are White, we are products of our ancestors’ choice. If we are Black, we are products of the history that our ancestors most likely did not choose.” (Gannon quote from the documentary 13th) AND “If we must die, let it not be like hogs/ Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,/ While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,/ Making their mock at our accursèd lot.” (Claude McKay 1919 poem “If We Must Die”.)

If we must choose

let it not be in ignorance,

puppets of history.

If we can choose –

choose to know.

 

I choose the choice made for me,

the accident of history,

I reject the choice made for me,

but not by accident.

 

How does the telling of American history change

If we are Black or White?

If we are Female or Male?

If we are Young or Old?

If we live in the West or East or North and South

 

Unaware is the way most choose;

let us all choose aware and conscious

and choose a path of growth and life

lest we be hunted or hunter

 

We are history, erased, not happening to me

If we choose a delightfully horrible (truthful) history of America

Must we die to being the “good” nation?

Must we die to our ignorance?

Must we die to our willful innocence

Does history continue to mock the ones who are silenced, forgotten, omitted?

 

We are strength, endurance.

We are history, although erased, we will remember.

standing up, back straight,

eyes front, soul calm.

No more accidents.

 

by: Barb Clauer, Annescia Dillard, Anne Heutsche, Jeff Janowick, and Jim Luke

Poem 3: Who Gets to Be an American?

“What does it mean to be an American and who gets to answer that question?” (from Gannon Keynote “Baked into the Cake: Race and Policy in American History”) AND “I, too, sing America/…They’ll see how beautiful I am/ and be ashamed – / I, too, am America.” (from Langston Hughes’ 1926 poem “I, Too” lines 1 and 16-18

 

What does it mean to be an American?

The American melting pot

forges something homogenous

while deleting individual ingredients.

 

Ashamed to live in a nation where

we exclude, we hate

we chose denial

we refuse to recognize

the humanity in the other

What does it mean to be an American?

Resist melting into complacency.

 

I, too, imagine an America anew;

To live in a nation that

nurtures, includes

seeks truth, answers the call of justice,

that creates and builds a “beloved” community

 

American land is my home

in all of its beauty and tragedy,

in its hopes and dreams to be better.

It belongs to those who seek refuge.

It belongs to all of us and none of us.

We must acknowledge we occupy

this land that was loved once before us.

I am here on this land. To love this land.

I am american.

 

Who sings America?

Who gets to answer that question?

America is the cacophony

I, too, am America.

 

by: Barb Clauer, Annescia Dillard, Anne Heutsche

Poem 4: Seeds of Hope

“As teachers we are in the seed planting business” Radical Hope – A Teaching Manifesto by Dr. Kevin Gannon.  AND What are your radical hopes for the seeds you plant?

 

My radical hope is

for young girls to find self-love

for unshaved legs and happy hearts

for reflective moments and small joys

for memories of a life well lived;

a hope that we can all achieve that

 

I am a seed gatherer;

I gather knowledge and facts.

I am a seed sower;

I sow curiosity, kindness, and truths

I will turn into a seed of radical hope

that will be sown by the next generation.

 

Radical connectedness is my hope;

that our seeds’ fragile roots seek

and entwine with others’ roots

to pull knowledge and nutrients

from history’s soil.

 

by: Barb Clauer, Annescia Dillard, Anne Heutsche

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