poem index

Incredible Bridges: Poets Creating Community

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To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the National Endowment for the Humanities, we partnered with EDSITEment, the NEH's educational website for K-12 teachers, students, and librarians, to develop a monthly series of lesson plans—Incredible Bridges: Poets Creating Community. Funded by the NEH, Incredible Bridges responds to the NEH's initiative The Common Good: The Humanities in the Public Square, which seeks to demonstrate and enhance the role of the humanities in public life.

Incredible Bridges: “Remember” by Joy Harjo

The foundation of a twenty-first-century American community is shared respect among individuals who come from different backgrounds, places, and experiences. Native Americans take that concept even further by valuing all the inhabitants of the earth and sky—animal, vegetable, mineral, and spirit. As first inhabitants of our land, they set a model for inclusiveness in light of diversity. In this lesson plan, 2015 Wallace Stevens Award winner Joy Harjo, who is a member of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation, reads “Remember," a poem that reminds us to pay attention to who we are and how we’re connected to the world around us. 

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Joy Harjo Reads Remember

Incredible Bridges: “Translation for Mamá” by Richard Blanco

In this lesson plan inaugural poet Richard Blanco reads his poem “Translation for Mamá," which tells the story of how the poet's mother came to the United States from Cuba to create a new life for herself and her family. In both English and Spanish translation, Blanco honors the bridge between his mother’s new identity and the losses she faced. Students whose native language is not Spanish, but is other than English, will experience a model for writing from their own complex identities in two languages.

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Richard Blanco reads his poem "Translation for Mama"

Incredible Bridges: “Praise Song for the Day" by Elizabeth Alexander

In this lesson plan, featuring a video of Elizabeth Alexander reading her work, students examine the similarities between the 1860 poem “I Hear America Singing” by Walt Whitman and “Praise Song for the Day” written by Alexander for the occasion of President Barack Obama's inauguration.

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Elizabeth Alexander reads "Praise Song for the Day"

Incredible Bridges: “Peaches” by Adrienne Su

This lesson plan features the poem “Peaches” by Adrienne Su along with an audio recording of the poet reading her poem. Through Su's poem, students may reflect upon the complex identities many Americans grapple with—a critical factor to consider as our nation continues to evolve into a twenty-first-century American community characterized by wide diversity. The activities also help students think about the connections between food and identity that Su evokes in her poem. 

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Incredible Bridges: "The Great Migration" by Minnie Bruce Pratt

This lesson plan features the poem "The Great Migration" by Minnie Bruce Pratt along with an audio recording of the poet reading her poem. Through a series of activities students explore the subjection of migrations within—and to and from—the United States, and their consequences.

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Incredible Bridges: "Cotton Candy" by Edward Hirsch

This lesson plan, featuring a video of Edward Hirsch reading his poem “Cotton Candy," reminds us all of the special place older people hold in our lives. Students will explore how poetry can serve as a bridge between people of different ages and as a bridge between the past and the present.

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Edward Hirsch Reads "Cotton Candy"

Incredible Bridges: “Every Day We Get More Illegal” by Juan Felipe Herrera

Immigration, both legal and illegal, is one of the most debated topics in the United States (and around the world) today. In his poem “Every Day We Get More Illegal,” U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera gives voice to the feelings of those “in-between the light,” who have ambiguous immigration status and work in the United States. The following lesson plan, featuring a video of the poet reading his poem, shows how the humanities provide a lens through which we can explore issues central to maintaining a civil society.

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Juan Felipe Herrera reads "Everyday We Get More Illegal"

Incredible Bridges: "from Citizen, VI [On the train the woman standing]” by Claudia Rankine

In her poem from the book Citizen: An American Lyric, Claudia Rankine recounts a situation in which racism is evident in our society. This lesson plan, which includes a video of the poet reading her work, encourages students to enter the poem with a visceral understanding of the situation, helps them understand the poem and its structure, and leads them into reasoned discussion about ways to make all members of the American community equal, not only in the eyes of the law, but in the eyes of one another.

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Claudia Rankine reads from Citizen

Incredible Bridges: "Gate A-4" by Naomi Shihab Nye

This lesson plan, featuring a video of Naomi Shihab Nye reading her poem "Gate A-4," explores how the poet creates the idea of a community where compassion, food, tradition, and commonality are shared. Students will create tableaux as a means to understand complex emotions expressed in the narrative of a poem and explore poetry as a way to develop empathy.

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Naomi Shihab Nye reads "Gate A-4"