Lila wrote that Celie, from The Color Purple, was a “record/on your shelf/the one/dressed/in dust and age/…the one/your liquor-heavy fingers/find/on days/your red water eyes/don’t know the difference…” Don wrote that she was the “cold hard black floor/everyone walked on.” Both students capture the essence of Celie through their poetry.
Over the years, I have learned that sometimes writing a poem or interior monologue from history or literature can create a space in the classroom for a different way of knowing, a different way of expressing knowledge about a fictional character or a historical decision. My skin, my blood, my bones understand events before my mind catches up and processes the information. Too often, learning becomes recitation, the dull retelling of facts, but writing poetry helps unleash sorrow or joy, the human understanding of loss and creation across cultures, centuries, and continents, so I try to create opportunities for students to demonstrate their knowledge through poetry and interior monologues as well as essays. Because my units extend for five to 10 weeks, poetry also provides new venues for students to explore their understanding of the unit. Writing poetry creates breaks for us to review concepts, materials, and re-engage in our studies with new sensibilities.
This lesson was published by Rethinking Schools in Teaching for Joy and Justice: Re-imagining the Language Arts Classroom. For more lessons like “Unleashing Sorrow and Joy: Writing Poetry from History and Literature,” order Teaching for Joy and Justice with two dozen lessons and articles for language arts and social studies classrooms by Linda Christensen. See Table of Contents.