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.


Spring 2019: “Creating Poetry/Creative Resistance” Black History Month Sessions

The poems ready to be read at the end of the session

Spring 2019 Black History Month “Creating Poetry/Creative Resistance” sessions March 19th and March 20th, 2019: These two, one-day sessions repeated many of the activities from the 2018 “Creating Poetry/Creative Resistance” sessions (link to post) but with a specific focus on the 2019 Black History Month theme of “Migrations”. Professor Ravon Keith began the session with some background on the Harlem Renaissance, and then I led the participants in poetry-related readings and activities.  Participants formed three groups and were then given one of three Langston Hughes’ poems. Inspired by and incorporating the first lines of Langston Hughes’ poems “Harlem”, “I, Too”, and “Let America Be America Again”, about 40 attendees overall wrote lines of poetry on their own and then collaborated in groups to use those lines to compose four poems.

The Poems:

Poems from 3.19.19 session

What happens to a dream deferred?
Is it swept like dirt under a rug?
Or does it spread like an invasive bug?
Or is it never really forgotten like a lost loved one?
Is it built like a tank, yet hard to hit?
Or does it shrivel,
like a plant without water?
Does it vanish,
like freedom that has perished?
Does it follow like a shadow,
or wash away on a rainy day?
Does it wash away because of life events?
or do you let your peers deter you away from it?
Or are you free to be as everybody else?
Does it disappear to the back of your mind,
reappearing randomly just to be pushed away again?
Or is it just simply that a dream so long deferred
becomes a dream no longer?

by: Zion Chisolm, Emily Castle, Cy Church, Charlese DuMond, 
Morris Luckett, Quan Tran, Kalyn VanWormer, Sydney Green
I, too, sing America
Although I am different.
I sing to millions and billions.
Tell that girl to get her own style
because I am unique.
You may not think –
But I already do
My occupation does not define me.
I laugh, cry, and hurt just as much as they do.
I forge ahead, my path, my own.
We are blessed by our heavenly God.
He has given us a new way to live,
A healing comfort of pain and mind.

by: Christopher Marral, Oscar William Navichoc, Tionne Heard,
 Alaina Dempsey, Retha Moore, Jalen Steele, Brand Bekke, 
Courtney Bryan, Skye Keeslar, Grace Thelen
Let America be America again.
Let our voices be heard
Let the judgements stop
Allow us to be 100% ourselves all the time
Let it be a place of joy
And not a place of pain
Back to a time with no discrimination
A place with no stereotypes
Where you can run around freely
No matter the color of your skin
Let America be America Again
Let it be a place where indigenous people
Are once again treated with respect
Let it be the true “melting pot” it claims to be
That gives everybody equality
Let America be America again

When did America officially lose itself?
Who’s not letting America be America?
But what was America?
Looking back in time, why would we want this?
Who does the repetition benefit?
Let American shape itself.

by: Ruby Edsall-Parr, Caleb Harrison, Ethan Mongean, 
Caleb Friddle, Rose Fox-Long, Emily VanElls, Serena Boak, 
Juhyun Lee, Marquis Jeffries, Kelsey Connor


The 2nd session poem inspired by “Let American Be America Again”

Poem from 3.20.19 (it was a small group and they chose to start with the line from “Let America Be America Again”)

Let America be American again
Let open-mindedness spark opportunity,
Let colonizers be free from strain
Inputting diversity and producing creativity.

(America is still trying to be America to me.)

Dreams have been dreamed
Love expanded from the land
Never kings wear fake crowns
And dares the destruction of someone’s hand

(America is something America will never be.)

“Let America be America again
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed
Let it be that great strong land of love.”

Let America be America again
When walls come down and bridges are embraced,
Where undocumented immigrants are
Connected with family rather than separated

Cold dreams, thoughts and tears
Washed away like dirty water,
The sweetness of my heart
fade into the darkness of my own loneliness

Let America be America Again
Without the violence, the pain, and the suffering.
Let America be awesome.
If I had a choice, I would take the flag and
Burn it, because it has so much bloodshed,
And create something new: a flag that’s clean.
Let America be great again.

by: Gary Cox, James Henson, Daniel Morgan, Prisca Mtimavalye,
Leticia Naverro

Feedback:  Responses from the feedback forms provided at the two sessions:

What did you like most about this event?

    • Reading the poems (x3)
    • Working on our own poems
    • Brownies were awesome, writing poetry was fun
    • Watching videos of 1900’s African American culture
    • The videos and the info given
    • The creative poetry
    • Community Poem (x2)
    • Feeding off other’s creativity
    • Incorporated subjects currently being taught
    • Creating poetry and watching videos
    • Learning history of black people
    • The combination of Black history and creating literature
    • Others opinions about America and how they live
    • Working with other to create art
    • The prompts and how they challenged my thoughts
    • The videos and poems
    • Enjoying with other people
    • All the unique things I learned
    • Opened my mind, got me thinking about how I could spread awareness about topics and writings

What I learned:

After the groups shared their poems, I read a couple of the poems created at the 2018 Creating Poetry/Creative Resistance event.  Participants seemed to enjoy the ways in which their poems, which used the same inspiration poems and first lines, were different but also echoed many of the same ideas.  If we continue to do this event, I want to remember to share previous poems in that same way and possibly leave time for the poets to talk about the connections and differences between the poems.