Yesterday, one of my students asked why we have to read poetry. Why not autobiographies, she asked, or anything else other than poetry? She noted that she had never been impressed by poetry in middle school or high school, so she would not be impressed now.
Fair enough. I started trying to offer her some reasons why this time her experience with poetry might be different and more notable, but realized and was cool with the fact that in some moments I can't win when it comes to encouraging 18-year-olds to appreciate a subject and body of works that I prefer and that they dislike. Too, students are perhaps already overwhelmed by multiple entities (friends, professors, student groups, media groups, corporations, etc) vying for their attention.
The exchange with the student did prompt me to identify a few reasons why we're reading poetry in my class. By the way, in this course, we're reading poetry by and about black women.
1. Wide Coverage --Black poetry is one of our most densely populated literary fields, and covering 40 to 50 poems this semester will give us an opportunity to consider a range of perspectives by a variety of figures, including Phillis Wheatley, Maya Angelou, Elizabeth Alexander, Allison Joseph, Evie Shockley, and several others.
2. Brief yet diverse exposure -- We're covering several relatively short pieces that will expose us to multiple issues that generations of black women have addressed.
3. A special opportunity. This experience will be the first and unfortunately last time that the majority of the students in this class will get the chance to cover a large number of works by and about black women.
4. Diverse interests -- Given our own diverse
interests, we'll like some poems more than others, and paying attention
to reasons behind people's preferences will assist us in expanding our
abilities to appreciate perspectives other than our own.
5. Critical and creative language awareness -- Discussing and analyzing the ways the poets use words, phrases, sentences, stanzas, layouts, and poems to communicate ideas will assist us in expanding our understanding of what's possible with language and creativity.
6. Development of speaking capabilities -- Discussing and reading the poems out loud in class will give us a chance to sharpen our vocal delivery skills.
7. Hearing the voices of black women (another special opportunity) -- Every class meeting, we'll have the good fortune of hearing at least 2 to 3, and sometimes 10 to 12 different black women reading poems out loud in class.
• Poems by and about Black Women for a Fall 2013 course