Chapter 3: Power and Poetry

magnetic poetry
“magnetic poetry” by surrealmuse is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

A. Warm up

Think about the questions below to prepare you for the topic. Talk about your ideas with your classmate(s).

  1. Do you like poetry? Why/Why not?
  2. Who are some famous poets or poems that you know about?
  3. Have you ever written a poem?

B. Vocabulary Preview

Search for definitions and/or translations of the words. Review the new terms with your instructor and classmates.

  • capture (verb)
  • accessible (adjective)
  • ancestors (noun)
  • contributed (verb)
  • themes (noun)

C. Read all about it!

Power and Poetry

Poetry has a power to capture and communicate a message like no other form of art. A poem can speak to important issues that all human beings care about: love, loss, inspiration, and so much more. It is also a form of art that is accessible to everyone. We all use words, we all want to communicate, we all have the power to do so. Maya Angelou and Amanda Gorman are two outstanding poets who have contributed the power of their poetic voices to our communities.

Amanda Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet (this is the name of a person who reads a poem at the inauguration of a new president) in U.S. history. In a TED Talk (an educational video) titled “Using your voice is a political choice”, Gorman asks her audience: “Whose shoulders do you stand on?” and “ What do you stand for?” She explains that poetry is alive for us. She says that it is a way for everyday people to stand up for and honor our ancestors. Gorman has used poetry as a way to break the silence and use all her strength to speak when it is necessary. She insists that anyone can create poetry and explains how poetry can be a bridge to connection. Poetry is for all of us. We have a choice to be heard. She adds that we can choose which stories we tell, when and how to tell them, and even if we tell them. In fact, the poems and poets that are read in school tell us about which stories have political power and which do not. Gorman encourages us to use our power, our voice, and to write our own poetry to talk about what we stand for and whose voices we honor.

Maya Angelou was an incredible writer and activist. She is best known for her book “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” an autobiographical novel. She is also well known for her contributions to the Civil Rights Movement alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She has written on themes of Black beauty, the strength of the human spirit and about womanhood. In an interview, Angelou talks about the power of words and writing, about translating what we feel into words. She says “words cannot contain all that I mean.” Many of us, who speak more than one language, can certainly relate to this feeling, of trying to explain the sound and taste of words. Angelou talks about the hard work of writing and says there is no such thing as being a “natural writer.” Everyone uses words, so we have to work hard to use them in the way we want, to make feelings come alive in them.

Gorman and Angelou show that poetry has power to change the things that need to be changed in our world. Imagine writing your own poetry. What words, messages, and themes would you have the power to communicate? What do you need  to say?

D. Discussion

Talk to your partner(s) about the following questions. Consider choosing roles for the discussion:

  • note-taker (write down key ideas that come up)
  • time-keeper (make sure you are on track with time)
  • facilitator (make sure everyone gets a chance to share)
  • speaker (share the key ideas from the discussion with the larger class)
  1. What does Amanda Gorman say about the poems and poets we traditionally read in school?
  2. Gorman states the poetry is alive for us. What do you think this means?
  3. What are some of the themes that Maya Angelou writes about?
  4. How does Maya Angelou talk about words?

E. Topics for Writing

Choose a topic to write about. Be sure to practice the five steps in “Getting Ready to Write” to get started with the topic(s) you choose.

  1. In the TED Talk: “Using your voice is a political choice”, Amanda Gorman asks the question: “Whose shoulders do you stand on?” Write  about your ancestors, your elders that came before you and that made it possible for you to be who and where you are now. Tell your reader about the important elders in your family.
  2. In the TED Talk: “Using your voice is a political choice”, Amanda Gorman asks the question: “What do you stand for?” Write about the things that you care about and stand for most. Explain why those things matter to you.
  3. We’ve read about two outstanding poets, Amanda Gorman and Maya Angelou. Their contributions focus on bringing social change. They show poetry belongs to all people and that words have power.  Write about a poet (or writer) that you find inspiration from. Explain why you admire this poet (or writer).
  4. Maya Angelou says “words cannot contain all that I mean.” As a multilingual speaker, do you agree with this statement? Sometimes, trying to translate a word from one language to another doesn’t quite serve to explain the meaning fully. Think about a word that doesn’t translate well into English from your other spoken languages. Write about this word and try to explain what it means and why it is hard to translate.

F. Project!

Write your own poem in which, as Maya Angelou describes, you try to explain the sound and taste of words. Write about what you know. Use the power of your words. If you feel comfortable doing so, share it with your classmates and instructor!

G. Additional Resources