Well, I don’t know about zero fear.
As I did at the beginning of the intro to lit class, we did what I might call “bitching session.” This is where students get to say – honestly – how they feel about poetry. Much of the complaint is based on “there is no clear meaning” or “I just don’t get it” or “it’s frustrating” or “it’s so open-ended” (as if this were a bad thing!) and so on. My approach on the first day of poetry was to just expose them to some poems that I personally love. We started with George Carlin’s “performance poem” called “Modern Man” – just because it’s just so much fun.
After that I introduced them to some poems by African America poets/artists. First up was Lauryn Hill’s “Motives and Thoughts” (performed on Def Poetry Jam).
After that we listened to Terrance Hayes read from Lighthead.
After that I read to them Lucille Clifton’s “White Lady.”
After that we read together Langston Hughes’ “Harlem.”
Then, we ended with Claude McKay’s “America”.
You’ll have to ask the students, I guess, but I thought it was a pretty good introduction to poetry. In the weeks to come, we’ll read some classics as well as some world poetry. In particular, I’m very much looking forward to studying Martin Espada with them. They’ll be reading “The Republic of Poetry” along with his commencement speech given at Hampshire College, which talks about this “Republic of Poetry”. We’ll also read “Litany at the Tomb of Frederick Douglass”. Why Martin Espada? We’ll have the honor of having him on our campus for a reading, and I’m preparing my students for his visit. I know how powerful such experiences can be – I know that seeing Maya Angelou when I was in college changed my life. Having dinner with Derek Walcott – along with my fellow graduate students – will be one of those things I never forget. Hearing Lucille Clifton read her own poems made not just poetry but life come to life.
Poetry can change lives… but first we must get over the fear.