Literature, and poetry in particular, is often a venue for exploring social issues.
List the literature that you have read in previous courses that deal with themes such as the
How can poetry speak about these themes?
Objective: As a class you will explore several poems in terms of their expression of
various pressing social and political issues.
Public School 190, Brooklyn 1963 - By Roque Dalton
The inkwells had no ink.
The flag had 48 stars, four years
after Alaska and Hawaii.
There were vandalized blackboards
and chairs with three legs,
taped windows, retarded boys penned
in the basement.
Some of us stared in Spanish.
We windmilled punches
or hid in the closet to steal from coats
as the teacher drowsed, head bobbing.
We had the Dick and Jane books,
but someone filled in their faces
with a brown crayon.
When Kennedy was shot,
they hurried us onto buses,
not saying why,
saying only that
something bad had happened.
But we knew
something bad had happened,
knew that before
November 22, 1963.
“The Colonel” by Carolyn Forche
What you have heard is true. I was in his house. His wife carried a tray of coffee and
sugar. His daughter filed her nails, his son went out for the night. There were daily
papers, pet dogs, a pistol on the cushion beside him. The moon swung bare on its black
cord over the house. On the television was a cop show. It was in English. Broken bottles
were embedded in the walls around the house to scoop the kneecaps from a man's legs or
cut his hands to lace. On the windows there were gratings like those in liquor stores. We
had dinner, rack of lamb, good wine, a gold bell was on the table for calling the maid.
The maid brought green mangoes, salt, a type of bread. I was asked how I enjoyed the
country. There was a brief commercial in Spanish. His wife took everything away. There
was some talk then of how difficult it had become to govern. The parrot said hello on the
terrace. The colonel told it to shut up, and pushed himself from the table. My friend said
to me with his eyes: say nothing. The colonel returned with a sack used to bring groceries
home. He spilled many human ears on the table. They were like dried peach halves.
There is no other way to say this. He took one of them in his hands, shook it in our faces,
dropped it into a water glass. It came alive there. I am tired of fooling around he said. As
for the rights of anyone, tell your people they can go fuck themselves. He swept the ears
to the floor with his arm and held the last of the wine in the air. Something for your
poetry, no? he said. Some of the ears on the floor caught this scrap of his voice. Some of
the ears on the floor were pressed to the ground.
To the Pay Toilet – Marge Piercy
You strop my anger, especially
when I find you in restaurant or bar
and pay for the same liquid, coming and going.
In bus depots and airports and turnpike plazas
some woman is dragging in with three kids hung off her
shrieking their simple urgency like gulls.
She's supposed to pay for each of them
and the privilege of not dirtying the corporate floor.
Sometimes a woman in a uniform's on duty
black or whatever the prevailing bottom is
getting thirty cents an hour to make sure
no woman sneaks her full bladder under a door.
Most blatantly you shout that waste of resources
for the greatest good of the smallest number
where twenty pay toilets line up glinty clean
and at the end of the row one free toilet
oozes from under its crooked door,
while a row of weary women carrying packages and babies
wait and wait and wait to do
what only the dead find unnecessary.
By Langston Hughes
The instructor said,
Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you--Then, it will be true.
I wonder if it's that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:
It's not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I'm what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me---we two---you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York too.) Me---who?
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records---Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn't make me NOT like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white--yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That's American.
Sometimes perhaps you don't want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that's true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me--although you're older---and white--and somewhat more free.
This is my page for English B.