Friday, September 18, 2020
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We sing America through the mic of poetry

Sixteen poems written by freshmen students hang on a fourth-floor wall at the Grand Center Arts Academy in St Louis, Missouri, GCAA Today Student Media reports. Each poem expresses what it means to be an American, especially after November’s election.


(Elyse Luecke / student newspaper)

English teachers Amber Murphy and Anna Sobotka said freshman students are using their own poetry as part of a unit to express bigger ideas about the country they live in.

The unit began with students reading three poems—by Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, and Julia Alvarez—each poem being a response to the one before it. Then students responded to those poems in a similar fashion, writing about current events.

“In honor of inauguration, we in our ninth-grade classes read poems about America,” the student newspaper quoted Ms Sobotka as saying.

In staff writer Tessa Wild’s report, she quotes Ms Murphy as saying the teachers wanted to help students think about what it means to be American: the election has made people feel “like they don’t belong,” and she’s hoping students use the project as an “opportunity to express their feelings about America.”

The title on the wall—We, Too, Sing America—is a response to a poem by Hughes, published in 1945, at least 10 years before the start of the Civil Rights Movement in America. Hughes was considered by many the poet laureate of the Harlem Renaissance in New York during the 1920s and 1930s. It led to, among other things, jazz and African-American art in various media. It also came with some great poetry, including “Harlem” (a.k.a. “Dream Deferred”) and “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” both by Hughes.

Some openings to students’ poems, which were inspired by the older poems but added much original thought to the idea of being an American today:

America dabs to every beat that the government takes

The poor build the bridge from one side; but the rich burn it from the other

We flush our toilets with cleaner water than families in Flint, Michigan drink

Students have since moved on to other types of poetry, such as poems that explore praise, mental illness, and sexuality. But the wall stays up, and the message that we are all Americans persists loudly from our schools.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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