Cross-Disciplinary Lessons
Poetry, deeply rooted in human culture, is intricately connected to many disciplines, such as visual art, music, history and religious and social studies. The Favorite Poem Project shows a great deal in particular about American culture at the end of the twentieth century—through the poems people choose, which span ages and cultures, and through the stories they tell, which are often connected to other art forms, social and cultural questions, politics and war and other aspects of contemporary life.

Teachers have found many ways to incorporate poetry into areas of studies other than Language Arts. Below are some of their ideas, including many which make us use of specific Favorite Poem video segments.

History Through Poetry

Liz Stinger, a teacher of mechanical drafting/CADD at Mount Joy Career and Technology Center wrote to us about her daughter's success in combining two disciplines in one paper:

I learned to love and appreciate poetry from an exceptional high school English teacher. I have never missed an opportunity to use poetry in everyday life.

This "lesson" gave my daughter an appreciation for poetry and earned her an "A" by combining a literature and a history assignment during her senior year in high school. Her English assignment was to select a topic and develop a research paper. Her history assignment was to write a paper on World War I. With both teachers' permission, she selected the weapons of WWI as her topic and used the poetry of WWI, along with other resources, to develop the paper. The poetry helped the information become alive. The names of the weapons and the words used in describing them, their sounds, gave a dimension to the research that factual prose could not. She titled the paper "The Weapons of WWI through Its Poetry."

The Favorite Poem Videos

Below, we've organized just some of the ways Favorite Poem videos cross disciplines:


History and Social Studies | Visual Arts | Foreign Language


HISTORY AND SOCIAL STUDIES

 

Facing It
     by Yusef Komunyakaa (American, b. 1947)


     Michael Lythgoe
     Foundation Director
     Washington, DC

Michael Lythgoe
Watch the Video

Yusef Komunyakaa is a living African-American poet, who, in addition to his literary accolades (including the Pulitzer Prize) received the Bronze Star for his service in Vietnam. "Facing It" gives a moving account of a visit to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC. The reader, also a Vietnam veteran, recites the poem in front of the "sea of names" on the memorial wall. He says, "Until I found this poem, I couldn't face the wall."

 

Merry Go Round
     by Langston Hughes (American, 1902-1967)


     Howard Michael Henderson
     Public Affairs Specialist
     Chamblee, GA

Howard Michael Henderson
Watch the Video

The poem "Merry Go Round" by Langston Hughes, arguably the most powerful voice of the Harlem Renaissance, ends with the lines "Where's the horse/ for a kid that's black?" The poem addresses, from a child's perspective, the injustice of the Jim Crow laws that, for the first half of the twentieth century, legislated (by their "separate but equal" dictum) division of whites and blacks in Southern society and public spaces. The poem speaks deeply to the reader, who explains: "I was born in Atlanta in 1943, so I remember drinking from the colored water fountains; I remember sitting on the back of the bus because of my color; and I remember getting up to let a white person sit in my seat."

 

We Real Cool
     by Gwendolyn Brooks (American, 1917-2000)


     John Ulrich
     Student
     South Boston, MA

John Ulrich
Watch the Video

This brief and now famous poem, published in 1960 in Gwendolyn Brooks' book The Bean Eaters, gives a rhythmic list of the "cool" ways a group of young, black pool-players whittle away Chicago afternoons. The final line, "We die soon," darkens the jazzy tone. In the video, the reader, a student from South Boston, tells his neighborhood's recent story: a rash of suicides and heroin overdoses that has left several of his friends dead. The poem, he says, is a strong reminder of his experience, "how things started out so innocent and got so drastic so quick."

 

Politics
     by William Butler Yeats (Irish, 1865-1939)


     Steve Conteagüero
     United States Marine
     Miami, FL

Steve Conteaguero
Watch the Video

In 1922, the poet William Butler Yeats was elected senator of the Irish Free Republic. He was, in his later life, a noted public figure—but his interest in politics had not been life-long. The short lyric poem "Politics" puts the immediacy of human love over the institutions of politics. In the video, the reader, Steve Conteagüero, speaks of growing up surrounded by the politics of his father, who fled Cuba for Miami and became a strong voice for exiled Cubans. Seeking his own way, Steve eventually joined the U.S. Marines. When he returned from his tour as an infantryman in the Gulf War, he says, he had a new sense of his small role in history and a revived interest in the political debate surrounding his own country's attitude toward his father's country. "But nothing," he says, "compared to the flood of emotions that came with leaving and returning to the woman I love, my wife."

 

Nick and the Candlestick
     by Sylvia Plath (American, 1932-1963)


     Seph Rodney
     Photographer
     Long Beach, CA

Seph Rodney
Watch the Video

Sylvia Plath is one of the most widely read and anthologized female poets of the twentieth century. Her struggle with mental illness and her tragic young suicide have contributed to a public fascination with her journals and her autobiographical novel The Bell Jar, but her masterful and emotionally charged poems are her greatest gift to American literature. In the video, the reader, a California photographer, says of Plath's work: "I looked at this stuff and I could not believe it; it was light-years beyond anything I'd ever read; it was powerful, it was rough, it was bitter, it was caustic; and at the same time it was still very urgent about a need for love. I was amazed that here's a woman who's from a very well-heeled New England existence and the stuff that she wrote really spoke to me—a man, a Jamaican immigrant. You could hardly get two people in the world more distant in terms of social, economic, intellectual and religious realities. But she spoke to me; she spoke, it seems directly to my life."

 

Dulce et Decorum Est
     by Wilfred Owen (English, 1893-1918)


     Mary McWhorter
     Accounting Manager
     Stockton, CA

Mary McWhorter
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The poet Wilfred Owen, a soldier for the English during WWI, was killed in the war at the age of 25. In the poem, he describes a brutal gas attack. The title of the poem comes from an ode by the ancient Roman poet Horace. In the video, Mary McWhorter recalls hearing her teacher recite the poem to her 7th grade class. The horrible account, which many students laughed at, spoke to her about her father's experience as a veteran blinded in WWII.

 

Lycidas
     by John Milton (English, 1608-1674)


     Joan Thuebel
     Chatham, NJ

Joan Thuebel
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Joan Thuebel reads "Lycidas," Renaissance poet John Milton's famous elegy for his friend Edward King who was "drowned in his passage from Chester on the Irish Seas." It had always surprised the reader that her father loved the poem until, after his death, she found a letter he'd written to his father from the battlefield of WWI that seemed to explain the connection.

 

Concord Hymn
    by Ralph Waldo Emerson (American, 1803-1882)


     William Jefferson Clinton
     President of the United States
     Washington, DC

President William Jefferson Clinton
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The President reads Emerson's famous hymn, which was first sung on July 4, 1837, at the completion of the monument commemorating heroes of the Revolutionary War and the battles of Lexington and Concord (April 19, 1775).

 

Minstrel Man
    by Langston Hughes (American, 1902-1967)


     Pov Chin
     Student
     Stockton, CA

Pov Chin
Watch the Video

Under the leadership of Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge conducted a campaign of genocide in which more than one million Cambodian people were killed during its four years in power in the late 1970s. The reader shares her family's story of escape from Cambodia. Langston Hughes' poem "Minstrel Man," she feels, tells part of her story. Hughes was a crucial, indelible voice in this country's Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 30s.

 

The Sentence
    by Anna Akhmatova (Russian, 1889-1966)


     
     Nancy Nersessian
     Professor of Cognitive Science
     Atlanta, GA

Nancy Nersessian
Watch the Video

The reader recalls her brother's early years and describes the way his life was changed irrevocably by his tour of duty in the Vietnam War. "The Sentence" is by the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova who wrote and worked assiduously throughout her life despite political and personal upheaval. Her ex-husband was killed after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, their son imprisoned after the World War II. For 15 years, her work was banned under Stalinist rule.

 

For My People
    by Margaret Walker
(American, 1915-1948)

     Leah Sears
     Supreme Court Justice
     Atlanta, GA

Leah Sears
Watch the Video

Leah Sears, a Supreme Court Justice in the state of Georgia, ties "For My People" to her vocation to serve the American public on the bench of a high court. For My People was Margaret Walker's first book of poems. Published in 1942, it was only the second volume of American poetry published by a African-American woman in more than twenty years. Walker made many lasting contributions to American literature. Her award-winning slave narrative Jubilee, based on the memories of her maternal grandmother, has been translated into seven languages and has never gone out of print.

 

Ay, Ay, Ay de la Grifa Negra
    
by Julia de Burgos (Puerto Rican, 1914-1953)

     Glaisma Perez-Silva
     Bilingual Special Education Teacher
     Hartford, CT

Glaisma Perez-Silva
Watch the Video

The reader, originally from Puerto Rico, has taught in the Hartford school system for 12 years. She wrote to the project about this poem: "It is a poem that represents the evolution of the slavery process in Puerto Rico—the pain and joy of being a new entity." The poet, Julia de Burgos, is a significant and enduring figure to the Puerto Rican people. Born and educated in Puerto Rico, she spent much of her adult writing life in New York City. She died, at age 39, in the Harlem Hospital. Much of her work was published posthumously.

 

VISUAL ARTS

 

Nick and the Candlestick
    
by Sylvia Plath (American, 1932-1963)

     Seph Rodney
     Photographer
     Long Beach, CA

Seph Rodney
Watch the Video


"When I started looking at the world of visual art it was because of Plath," says the reader, Seph Rodney, who reads and speaks from his photography studio in Los Angeles.

 

Musée des Beaux Arts
    
by W.H. Auden (English, 1907-1973)

     Susan Hambleton
     Painter
     New York, NY

Susan Hambleton
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W.H. Auden's poem describes The Fall of Icarus, a painting by the 16th-century Flemish painter Pieter Brueghel. The reader, an artist, reads the poem in her New York studio, explaining her love for the painting and the poem.

 

FOREIGN LANGUAGE

Several of the Favorite Poem Project videos feature poems written in a language other than English. To hear the poem first in its original language and then in its English translation offers good insight into the sounds of poetry. The bilingual pieces are valuable not only to students of a particular language, but to students in general.

 

BURMESE

The Way of the Water Hyacinth
    
by Zawgee (Burmese, 1907-1990)

     Lyn Aye
     Anesthesiologist
     San Jose, CA

Lyn Aye
Watch the Video

 

JAPANESE

Untitled Tanka
    
by Sone No Yoshitada (Japanese, late 10th
    Century)

     Kiyoshi Houston
     Student
     Santa Monica, CA

Kiyoshi Houston
Watch the Video

 

SPANISH

Ay, Ay, Ay de la Grifa Negra
    
by Julia de Burgos (Puerto Rican, 1914-1953)

     Glaisma Perez-Silva
     Bilingual Special Education Teacher
     Hartford, CT

Glaisma Perez-Silva
Watch the Video

 

Piececitos
    
by Gabriela Mistral (Chilean, 1889-1957)

Sister Maria Christina Sanchez Escobar
Millbrook, NY

Sister Maria Christina Sanchez Escobar
Watch the Video

 

BENGALI

from Gitanjali
    
by Rabindranath Tagore (Indian, 1861-1941)

     Jayashree Chatterjee
     Librarian
     Summit, NJ

Jayashree Chatterjee
Watch the Video



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