Last week while working with high school students from East St. Louis, Cahokia, and Madison, Illinois, we took some time to work on remixes of poems by Gwendolyn Brooks, Amiri Baraka, and Adrian Matejka. At this point, I shouldn't be surprised that the students were really fascinated by the closing of Baraka's poem "RhythmBlues":
Slaveboy, leroy, from Newark HillOver the years, high school students have been intrigued when I explain that Baraka was once named Leroy and then LeRoi. They are also curious about how capitalism can kill someone.
If capitalism dont kill me, racism will.
I presented the students with lines from Baraka's poem and added blanks in places. So I re-presented those above lines as:
____________, ______________ from ________________ Hill.And from there, I invited students to create their own ending.
If __________________ dont kill me, ___________________ will.
One student wrote:
Funny girl, Tay, from Cahokia Hill.Another wrote:
If food dont kill me, starving will.
Otaku, KeKe, from Arkansas Hill.And another wrote:
If living dont kill me, boredom will.
Sleepy girl, D. R, from Centreville
If nuisance dont kill me, over-activity will.
• Language arts activities with high school students
• Black poetry, high school students, and audio recordings
Note that in contrast to Baraka, who situated his persona in historical processes, the students chose to locate theirs in the personal or self-centered.
J. W. Ward, Jr.
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