Friday, May 13, 2016
May 13, 2016: Semester Reflections: Poetry in ALFA
[This week marks the final classes of the Spring 2016 semester, so this week on the blog I’ll offer some semester reflections, focusing on new texts or ideas I tried in my courses. I’d love to hear your spring reflections and any other pedagogical or personal perspectives you’d share!]
On three poems which complemented the historical subjects of my latest Adult Learning in the Fitchurg Area course.
1) Annis Stockton’s “Response”: For my first class, I worked to expand our Revolutionary period histories, focusing on loyalists, African Americans, and women during that foundational American era. In my prior historically focused ALFA courses (compared to the more explicitly literature-focused ones), I would have presented and had us discuss historical documents or sources for such topics. But for this course I decided to share and discuss poetry instead, and Annis Stockton’s witty, pointed, and boldly progressive “A Sarcasm Against the Ladies; An Impromptu Response” (the full text of which I included in this article) offered a perfect first illustration of how poetic texts can both engage with such historical themes and provide an additional, alternative voice and perspective through which to expand those histories.
2) Emily Dickinson’s Civil War poetry: The Civil War exemplified my overall topic for the course: histories with which we’re all familiar in some key ways, but about which there’s still so much more to learn. A perfect example of the latter is the fact that Emily Dickinson, long believed both to be thoroughly isolated from the outside world and to have declined to publish any of her poems in her lifetime, published a few poems anonymously in Drum Beat, a Brooklyn newspaper focused on supporting the war efforts. And starting with those poems can help us consider how many other Dickinson poems written during the war years can also connect to and be enriched by those historical contexts, including “It feels a shame to be alive,” the nuanced and powerful poem I shared with the ALFA class.
3) Sonia Sanchez’s “Homecoming”: The Civil Rights movement is another one of those histories on which so many of our collective memories focus, but within our memories of which there are still many elisions or blind spots. The role of women within and in relationship to the movement is certainly one of them, and in the ALFA course I used not only exemplary histories (such as the female activists who began the Montgomery bus boycott) but also poems like Sanchez’s (unfortunately not available online, but well worth the effort to seek out) to engage with that vital Civil Rights community. I also played Nina Simone’s “Backlash Blues” (a musical rendition of a Langston Hughes poem), because, well, the more amazing art to complement and amplify our histories, the better, right?
Fall preview this weekend,
PS. What do you think? Responses to this idea or others you’d share?