A Poem to Pair with The Awakening

Today my classes finished reading Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, and I started class by sharing the poem “Sympathy” by Paul Laurence Dunbar. Your students might recognize this poem as the source of the title line for Maya Angelou’s book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

We only talked about the poem for a few minutes, but it led us in to our discussion of Edna and whether or not she could ever be free in her society/time period/marriage.

Sympathy

Paul Laurence Dunbar

I know what the caged bird feels, alas!

When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;   

When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,   

And the river flows like a stream of glass;

When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,   

And the faint perfume from its chalice steals—

I know what the caged bird feels!

 

I know why the caged bird beats his wing

Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;   

For he must fly back to his perch and cling   

When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;

And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars   

And they pulse again with a keener sting—

I know why he beats his wing!

 

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,

When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—

When he beats his bars and he would be free;

It is not a carol of joy or glee,

But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,   

But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings—

I know why the caged bird sings!

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A Poem to Pair with The Awakening

A Poem for Today: Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802 by William Wordsworth

Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802
William Wordsworth

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty;
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

A Poem for Today: Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802 by William Wordsworth

Talking about Tone with Two Poems

Tone is always difficult to talk about with students. First, we have to convince them the poem *has* a tone. Then, we have to ask them to give us words to describe the tone. Finally, we try to have them point to the word(s) in the poem that made them understand the tone.

Here are two poems about the same topic, which might allow those conversations to go a little smoother. By comparing the two poems, the tone of each might more easily come to light.

Just a note, I give my students a list of tone words at the beginning of the year, and it makes it much easier for these conversations at first if they can reference a list rather than have to generate tone words on their own.


Small Frogs Killed on the Highway
James Wright

Still,
I would leap too
Into the light,
If I had the chance.
It is everything, the wet green stalk of the field
On the other side of the road.
They crouch there, too, faltering in terror
And take strange wing. Many
Of the dead never moved, but many
Of the dead are alive forever in the split second
Auto headlights more sudden
Than their drivers know.
The drivers burrow backward into dank pools
Where nothing begets
Nothing.

Across the road, tadpoles are dancing
On the quarter thumbnail
Of the moon. They can’t see,
Not yet.


Birdfoot’s Grampa
Joseph Bruchac

The old man
must have stopped our car
two dozen times to climb out
and gather into his hands
the small toads blinded
by our lights and leaping,
live drops of rain.

The rain was falling,
a mist about his white hair
and I kept saying
you can’t save them all
accept it, get back in
we’ve got places to go.

But, leathery hands full
of wet brown life
knee deep in the summer
roadside grass
he just smiled and said
they have places to go
too.

 

Talking about Tone with Two Poems

Summer Reading Challenge #2: Read from a Prize List

Summer Reading Challenge #2: Read from a Prize List

A few years ago, I discovered the joys of reading from a Prize list, when I read a bunch of Pulitzer-prize winning plays (later this summer, I’ll be talking about that at the AP conference in Washington, DC). This summer, I’ve decided to dip my feet into a few lists: The Newbery Medal, The Printz Awards, and more Pulitzers.

The Newbery Medal is given annually by the American Library Association “to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” Each year one book wins the medal and a few others are named as Honor Books, ones that had been considered for the medal. Some books you might recognize on this list include The Giver (1994),  Holes (1999), The Graveyard Book (2009), and this year’s, The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill.

The Michael L. Printz Award ” exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature.” Similar to the Newbery, one book wins the medal and others are named as Honor books. This year’s winner is John Lewis’s graphic novel March, Book 3. (I’ve read the first one, and really want to read two and three). Some of the books named as honor books this year include Nicola Yoon’s The Sun is Also A Star and Neal Shusterman’s Scythe.  

The Pulitzer Prize is awarded in 21 categories, but I’m most interested in Fiction, Drama, and Poetry.  This year, Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad, Lynn Nottage’s Sweat, and Tyehimba Jess’s Olio were the winners for those categories (I’ve read the first two, working on the third now).

We all have to-be-read lists that are miles long, but looking at a prize list and reading a few off that list can give you a good place to start if you’re interested in book recommendations for a level of reading you may be unfamiliar with.–the runners up are also phenomenal.  If you’re looking to read more diverse books or expand your reading selections, these lists can be a great place to begin.

Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

Summer Reading Challenge #2: Read from a Prize List

Happy July 4! Read “America,” a poem by Claude Mckay

America

Claude McKay
Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth.
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate,
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet, as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.
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Happy July 4! Read “America,” a poem by Claude Mckay

New Poet Laureate: Tracy K. Smith

We have a new U.S. Poet Laureate: Tracy K. Smith! In 2011, her book of poetry Life on Mars won a Pulitzer. She currently teaches at Princeton.

Some things you might not know about this position:

  • The official title for this position is: Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.
  • The librarian of Congress (currently Carla Hayden) appoints the position.
  • This position started in 1937 and the stipend accompanying it is only $35,000.

Here’s a link to NPR’s article “Tracy K. Smith, New U.S. Poet Laureate, Calls Poems Her ‘Anchor'”

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picture from NPR


The Good Life

Tracy K. Smith
When some people talk about money
They speak as if it were a mysterious lover
Who went out to buy milk and never
Came back, and it makes me nostalgic
For the years I lived on coffee and bread,
Hungry all the time, walking to work on payday
Like a woman journeying for water
From a village without a well, then living
One or two nights like everyone else
On roast chicken and red wine.
New Poet Laureate: Tracy K. Smith

A Poem: “Summer at Blue Creek, North Carolina” by Jack Gilbert

Summer at Blue Creek, North Carolina
Jack Gilbert

There was no water at my grandfather’s
when I was a kid and would go for it
with two zinc buckets. Down the path,
past the cow by the foundation where
the fine people’s house was before
they arranged to have it burned down.
To the neighbor’s cool well. Would
come back with pails too heavy,
so my mouth pulled out of shape.
I see myself, but from the outside.
I keep trying to feel who I was,
and cannot. Hear clearly the sound
the bucket made hitting the sides
of the stone well going down,
but never the sound of me.

A Poem: “Summer at Blue Creek, North Carolina” by Jack Gilbert