Teachers Act Up!

Thoughts on Teaching, Language, and Social Change from Melisa "Misha" Cahnmann-Taylor

More than fun & games: theatre & #Blacklivesmatter

I am grading my online course materials and preparing for my two theatre classes this afternoon and evening.  The first was designed for first year students to study “improv comedy” and apply it to public education and self awareness.  The second is to add performance tools to the language educator’s “toolbox”–applied and theoretical.  Here is a link to one such improv game, “Yes, Let’s!”

I taught my language teachers about the concept of speaker-listener economy–a fundamental human trait is to want to do the least amount of labor for any given result.  So we compress language to its most essential parts–“Do you want to go to the movies?” While the answer could be: “Yes, let’s go to the movies.”  One common way to shorten the response might be “Yes, let’s [go; go to the movies]” or “Sure, this afternoon?”
So we play this game over and over and draw students attention to this concept while having fun imagining the craziest “invitations” one might give to another and to teach a fundamental improv rule: Yes, and.  That is, improv actors learn to accept another actor’s suggestions in order to build a scene up rather than knock it down.
Q: Do you want to go to the movies?
A: No.
Q: Do you want to go to the movies? (spoken in a heavily accented English)
A: What? (expressed in frustration, disdain)
Answering “no,” or “what?” above, is a punch to the gut.  It stops the invitation in real life; it stops the scene on stage in an improv show.  What about:
Q: Do you want to go to the movies (spoken with a heavy accent)?
A: Still tuning my ear to your music and I didn’t catch what you said–can you ask me again?
Q: I know it’s sometimes hard to understand me (pause, speaking slowly), ‘would you like to see a movie with me?’
A: Yes!
Sometimes what is “economical” (the short way to say something) is not always the best choice!
Improvisation on stage may seem to be “just fun” but in real life we can make great use of these skills–seeing all human actors as connected to bubbles of influence that inform what they say, how they say it, to whom, for what purpose and to what end.  What if we taught ourselves that we always had choices in each lived conversational moment? What if we could see all the bubbles informing what a speaker says and be better able to speak to that “side” of any given human actor?
This article I recently published is a way to “take a knee” in solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement and with a call for greater human dignity and care.  I am happy to see this article in print and hoping it gives me more courage to practice that which I write about with students in my courses and with real people in everyday living.
Take one.  Take two. Take three.  Every day is a rehearsal for learning how to perform as a more compassionate and considerate human being.

Rosh Ha Shana Poem for Secular Jews

Before moving to Athens, GA I had lived in cities with major Jewish American populations–I didn’t have to remember the high holidays or worry about finding Chanukah decorations or connecting culturally–stores were fully stocked to serve large Jewish populations and non-Jewish community members were well familiar with Jewish holidays and traditions. I remember Rabbi Marcia in Philadelphia asking us, “What hurts about being Jewish?” I never imagined then that I’d live 16 years in the Southeast where Judaism was so much more a minority (invisible and by some, detested) identity, where you’d have to buy the round challah in their first hour of sale on Rosh Ha Shana or you’d be out of luck.

My town of Athens, GA is prosperous and growing, attracting more and more residents from the new Jewish diaspora–so running out of round challah at the bakery is a good thing–they are making it!

Few of my secular and/or intermarried Jewish peers are observant or involved enough in synagogue life (now there is one reform synagogue and one chabad house, and one conservative minyan for worship) to remember and plan for the many Lunar calendar holidays in our tradition and most of us are all too happy to eat Cheeseburgers and take holidays on Christmas and Easter like everyone else.  Last night we laughed at moments of guilt, but I am still uneasy about this, still meditating on what it means to “fully” identify with one’s origin religion and culture and what it means to revise oneself, to reconnect with “homies” in order to once again stretch out into diverse surroundings.

Here’s a draft poem for my wonderful Jewish neighbors with whom it was easy to gather and laugh, share favorite foods and sing a few familiar prayers (almost all the way through).  This is likely unfinished but I wonder if it will resonate with others who want to forgive themselves for doing what humans do and changing.


Secular Jewish New Year

Gathered last minute in a weeknight kitchen,

no commitment, arriving late


to not-enough forks or chairs, forgotten

traditions, mismatched plates,


no one knowing the full, Hebrew prayers.

All we know is that the broom doesn’t worry


if it’s broom enough to sweep apple cake crumbs;

wine glasses don’t apologize, sorry


they’re only “half” a glass or that they never attended

wine school. Even silver nutcracker prongs


retired in their velvet cushioned drawer

might have forgotten, gone


to work on the holidays, as always,

in the walnut bowl.



Finding Your Voice & Writing the “Not Me”: Rigorous Wonder in Creative Qualitative Inquiry [ICQI Workshop May 2018]

Workshop with Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor <www.teachersactup.com>

830-1130am Morning Session

International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry [ICQI]



As a scholartist who works with ethnography, poetry, and theatre, I will guide our group’s review of the affordances, risks, and ethics of both writing in the “not me” and finding one’s own voice in creative, qualitative writing. Participants will become acquainted with a small tribe of poetic anthropologists who form part of the movement for “humanistic anthropology.” Inspired by the work of “antropoetas” such as Kusserow (“Hunting Down the Monk,” 2002; “Refuge,” 2013), Stone (“Stranger’s Notebook,” 2008), Rosaldo (“The Day of Shelly’s Death: The poetry and ethnography of grief,” 2013), and Faizullah (“Seam,” 2014), we consider the affordances of socially informed art and artfully informed social science. Sharing examples of “flash (ethnographic) fiction,” “persona poems” and “dramatic monologues,” we discuss how writing in forms may shape greater connections to the diversity of what it means to be human as well as connections to animal, vegetable, and mineral worlds. Participants will consider aesthetics to be illuminated through ethnographic tools and techniques of participant observation, taking fieldnotes, designing and recording interviews, and selective transcription, as well as strategies to ground “deep theory” in sensory images and resonant detail.


The practice of rigorous wonder in creative qualitative inquiry affords new opportunities for gaining access to others’ stories, in ways that subscribe to public, ethical, aesthetic, and scientific “goodness.” Participants will review contents in the forthcoming second edition of Arts-Based Research in Education (Cahnmann-Taylor & Siegesmund, 2008; In Press), stirring one another with resonant knowing as we discuss four principles when engaging in creative inquiry (Cahnmann-Taylor, In Press).


  • The Principle of Social Commitment and Public Good
  • The Principle of Attribution, Subjectivity and Ethical Good
  • The Principle of Impact and Aesthetic Good
  • The Principle of Translation to Scientific Good



Participants are encouraged to bring one page of writing to share with others in the workshop to apply our principles to best practice with humility, creativity, and care.

For those who may study or teach Spanish grammar

For those who may study or teach Spanish grammar,please read this fantastic post:

I am more than convinced of the effectiveness of TPRS approaches to L2 instruction. This examination of outdated grammar teaching helps explain why we need new world language practices and books for learners, especially beginners.

Visual Broadsides – Maggie Zurawski’s “Companion Animal”

I usually just assign my students to convey an understanding of craft visually accompanied by word–but I seldom do this assignment myself.  This time I joined my students in an “ekphrastic” exercise in reverse–visual art in response to poetry.  “Ekphrastic” refers to a form of poetry where the poet responds to another work of art, usually visual, rendering its symbolism and impact through words.   I require students to also add a short statement about the choices they made to capture the tone, craft, and impact of the poem they are considering and to consider ways the visual medium can render more than words can say.  “Broadsides” are artfully rendered letter press printings of a poem.  So I refer to these class works as “visual broadsides”–an idea stolen/borrowed/gifted from the great poet/teacher Dorianne Laux.  Read Zurawski’s book, view our interpretations, make your own!  Having now experienced this assignment first hand, I can attest that it deepened my relationship to the poem, to the book as a whole, and to the power of visual meaning-making.  I believe this would be a super exercise in K-12 classrooms as well.

Chelsea Ward’s youtube video visual broadside: https://youtu.be/t869hPwPON8

book: http://www.litmuspress.org/books/companion-animal/

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see previous examples from former students here: https://teachersactup.com/2011/11/04/visual-broadsides-of-anne-waldmans-poems/


Predatory Journals: Academics Beware

Dear Peers, Students, and Academics far and wide,

Beware.  I have increasingly received emails inviting me to “submit” my article or books to journals or presses that sound legitimate but are actually scams in clever disguise. Preying on those who don’t yet know, these publishing opportunities come with a price–often asking scholars (or creative writers or others seeking publication) to pay a fee to publish their work.  Sometimes this fee can be quite large.

To someone who doesn’t know the difference, the titles of these publications and presses may look and sound legitimate and may indeed appear so on a C.V. to someone who isn’t aware of these types of scams.  Below is a thoughtful guide from the anthropology association about how to tell a scam from the real thing.

“Peer review” is  rigorous, subjective, and time consuming process that is often done as unrecognized and unremunerated “service” by other faculty in similar fields across the world.  I am not against paying reviewers and editors and submissions that bear a cost to compensate what is a process that is often paid for by faculty members in the organization or universities.    But paying modest costs for consideration is different from most scams that aim to make a small business out of academic needs to “publish or perish”–who unwittingly submit to a fee-based publication opportunity only later to learn that this publication will reflect poorly on the scholar/author.  Below is a link with some guidelines for how to avoid such scams.  When in doubt, don’t submit until you’ve had a more experienced academic help you to review the publication or press.



Afternote: My colleague Dr. Trena Paulus adds this helpful addition:

TP: Where this becomes especially confusing is the move towards an open-access model – where the author (or their university) *does* legitimately pay a fee up front, so that they can freely share their work with others, rather than letting publishers charge those same universities ridiculously high subscription fees in order to gain access to that same work.

-er or White Flight Justification Song [draft]


moreover bigger or oversizer, formerly earnest earner,

under arrest him ate him, e-race him, tear-er asunder commuter,

all burrs and tsk-tsk-ers, ergonomic errors in words, perverse

universes of his-es and hers-es, funeral service’s hesitant

compute or pardon me sir, er, murmurs preceding er, Mister?

used in place of a name we name or rename, a game of er not:

poorer, browner, blacker marker of either/or er? burned

by your-er voracious more-ers, not veracous turners

to universes of verses to aver, to declare spring, rooting

for truths, veracity digger to ver, Spanish infinitive “to see”

as in see, er, what I mean?

(thanks to my running partner this morning for airing these ers out)

Dear Republican and Your Boyfriend Who Sat with Us at the Comedy Show in D.C.

Thank you for laughing at the same jokes.

Thank you for confiding you ran your high school’s canned food drive when the comic accused us: an audience of nerds.

Thank you for your handsome face.

Thank you for assuring me that “90% of all the Republican men” you work with on the Capitol are gay, that the religious freedom laws are “blown out of proportion” by the left.

Thank you for being so sure that what our President is doing is largely just what the last president has done and the president before him.

Thank you for telling me you’re 25 but not telling me your name.

Thank you for not helping me look you up after I watch you crowd into an oversized taxi with your buddies, wondering when you will run for office in your home state, North Carolina.

Thank you for pointing out just how many gay Republicans under 30 were in the audience tonight, all of us laughing about the 43 year old comic’s body, what he told us of his smug grocery cart full of peppers and kale.

Thank you for spilling your drink, for having two of them.

Thank you for the light touch to your lover’s knee, your lover from Georgia like I am from Georgia.

Thank you for your handsome knit sweater and your spikey blonde hair.

Thank you for asking why we can’t just respect the president three minutes before the room went dark.

Thank you for listening to my question about your flawed messenger.

Thank you for your grinning agreement, that he could have done “the rollout” better.

Thank you for not using words like chain migration or sin.

Thank you for telling me you are “out” on the hill with “of course” eyebrow body language.

Thank you for telling me the administration will uphold Obama’s order against anti-LGBT workplace discrimination.

Thank you for laughing, as if this were all a big joke, as if we’re all reading fake news, as if the comics are where we must turn to clink drinks, touch whomever wants to be touched under the table, shake hands and help each other take pictures, even feel each other’s young and older hearts beating with the rush of our after-show destinies out of the dark bar, onto the cold street.

Thank you for asking about my name tag, for learning that I’m a writer.

Thank you for letting my friend take my picture with you, to remember your face, that brief respite from grief.



Changing Locations, Translations, and Micro-validations for a More Public Poetry Pedagogy

Author: Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor

Paper to be presented at the annual meeting of American Writing Programs (AWP), Washington D.C. February 9, 2017

*Cite fully, but please do not cite without first alerting the author*


Published online at http://www.teachersactup.com

Once a public educator and now a poet and teacher educator in the field of language and literacy education at the University of Georgia, I’ve heard some unkind academic attitudes toward public audiences: ignorant until proven otherwise. “They don’t read,” “they can’t write,” “they don’t buy books,” and “they’re so busy texting, they’ve forgotten how to spell!”–these and other dismissive comments assume that a wide section of the public isn’t prepared or even interested to enter the world of great literature. We groan, we bemoan–the public isn’t attending our poetry readings, ordering our books, or even browsing our shelves at the library. Our response? We wouldn’t want “that” public reading our fine literature anyhow! But to dismiss a public that is actively resistant to literature alongside those who may not feel compelled by it or welcomed, is a costly mistake. As the famous educator, Paulo Freire, reminds us, “No one is born fully-formed: it is through self-experience in the world that we become what we are.” To become a reader, much less a writer of poetry is a process of becoming, one in which I believe poets must actively nurture as part of a public poetry pedagogy. We can and do worry about a disinterested public. The question is: what are we writers going to do about it? What have we been doing or not doing as poets and writers to invite larger, more diverse audiences to literature’s small “fine dining” table?

As a poet, I’ve been told to just accept small audiences: after all, poetry “doesn’t sell.” Before publication of my first book, I met with a noted professor and poetry critic who warned I’d be lucky, like most poets, if I sold more than 50 copies of my first book to anyone other than friends and family. We engage the public with our work, grateful to have a few seats filled, maybe a lady in a blue sweater taking a snooze in our front row (yes, this did happen during my own reading at the Writers’ House in Philadelphia). Wislaw Szymborska’s opening stanza of “Poetry Reading” conveys it best:

To be a boxer, or not to be there
at all. O Muse, where are our teeming crowds?
Twelve people in the room, eight seats to spare
it’s time to start this cultural affair.
Half came inside because it started raining,
the rest are relatives. O Muse.

complete Szymborska poem

Should we poets content ourselves with slender audiences, tiny book sections in the few remaining bookstores, an occasional poem at a wedding or funeral? Do we politely laugh or nod when a friend or neighbor tells us they “don’t get poetry” or that it intimidates them–so they don’t read it? Shall we continue to shrug our shoulders and dismiss findings from the National Endowment for the Arts’ Participation Survey that reported in 2012 that fewer than half of all U.S. adults surveyed (47.0 percent, or 110.5 million), had read a novel, short story, poem, or play that year; of those only 7% said they’d read poetry (SPPA, 2012, p.24). Poets and writers, if we want our work to matter to readers, we have to think more creatively. What might we do differently? What lessons can be learned from public school teachers about how to consider the act of producing literature also an act of public education?

A public poetry pedagogy not only means we can’t assume an audience for our work, but also that it is incumbent upon the poets themselves to make our craft relevant, accessible, and meaningful for new and continuing readers. Some might read this statement, and worry that I propose to “dumb down” complicated verse or create “Hallmark card” appeal to the masses. Poets should pen all the experimental, dense poetry we like, that we’re trained to do–but lacking official curators for our readings and books, I believe we share the responsibility to help a lay public to feel more welcomed and less intimated; more footholds and less dangling. How might we transform those we presume to be “adverse” to literature, to verse?

In 2016 the National Endowment for the Arts celebrated the tenth anniversary of the “Big Read,” a federally-funded program designed to help communities read and discuss a single book of literary merit. I have been fortunate to receive two of these grants and learned a great deal through constructing community-wide events to celebrate two of the four American poets who had made it to the list: Robinson Jeffers and Edgar Allan Poe. For the anniversary, the NEA launched a new, radically wonderful new list with three vibrant living poets –Joy Harjo, Kevin Young, and Claudia Rankine. Although I was sad that Jeffers and Poe had left the list, I was thrilled to read a list of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction books that included more poets and writers representing tremendous linguistic, racial, and national diversity. While the list is newly contemporary and diverse, public readers may still fail to live up to our hopes and expectations.

With all the recent exclusionary political rhetoric of this past election season and with the 50th anniversary of AWP celebrated at the annual 2017 meeting, I propose these three small and larger considerations of action we can take to promote such a public poetry agenda: changing locations, translations, and micro-validations.

  1. Location, location, location: From Bookshops to Bus Stops.

Many writers plan literature events to take place in libraries, bookstores, or on university campuses. These spaces make sense–they are often low-cost or free, welcoming, and easy for planners to arrange, attractive to audiences of continuing readers. However, if we want to take literature and place it into the hands of a wider and more diverse audience we need to think about locating literature in ever more public spaces. Mark Smith and Bob Holman’s Poetry Slam movement in Chicago and New York are great examples of bringing Spoken word verse into popular bars and nightclubs; The MTA debuted the Poetry in Motion program in 1992, placing poems on public transit; poet activists and laureates alike have helped more poems appear in parks, platforms, local radio shows, popular broadcast media, and in local papers. I think when poets plan our own readings, we might follow these good leads and consider alternative venues for sharing our work and to ask ourselves: for whom it will or will not be comfortable to attend? How might a subtle shift in “where” also affect the “who,” “how many,” and “to what end” regarding relevance to potential readers.

The first NEA Big Read project we had focused on the poetry of Robinson Jeffers. In a university town with a majority African American population, I wanted the keynote event to focus on poetry in response to ecology but I worried about audiences looking too much like Robinson Jeffers himself, attractive to a majority of older, white men (and women). Having invited Camille Dungy, author of several volumes of stirring poetry and editor of the Georgia Press anthology, Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, it became even more important to me that the event be a comfortable place for African American attendance. We asked the historic African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church leaders if they would become partners and host an evening event. After checking to be sure Dungy’s verse wouldn’t be too “off color” in language, the pastor and congregation agreed. After Dungy’s event, many expressed deep gratitude for a writer who was able to speak with them in the languages “of home.”

While anecdotally it may appear to have been a simple switch from library or bookshop to A.M.E. church venue, but the creative relocation of poetry to this new space, involved numerous meetings, email exchanges and phone conversations to establish trust and organize the logistics. The changes weren’t simple, but the results were extremely rewarding, and have since lead to more dynamic invitations and open doors to future collaborative events. One cannot assume that diverse communities will immediately hop on board with new hosting responsibilities, but with persistence and care, great differences may come.

Translation: Keepin’ it Real

We think of translation as only necessary from one language to another yet the “language of literature”–whether it’s the modestly archaic English of Shakespeare or even Edgar Allan Poe to the experimental opacity of some contemporary verse, we who love this literature must think of ourselves also as translators from esoteric jargon, what may be perceived as high falutin words and experiences, into a public conversation. I have seen one too many poets learn they had 10, 15, or 20 minutes to read and fill that space entirely with poems themselves, overlooking or afraid of opportunities to tell an intimate story about any given poem’s trigger or composition. Audiences benefit when we “translate” the “inside story” shine–the things you couldn’t put in the book or didn’t put in the book, the funny anecdotes you accumulate by reading from the book–all of these are small gifts to your audience, ones which translate relevance and connection. I worry when poets expect their audience “to get” their work and/or feel they dumb it down if they were to comment upon the poems. Great art may be able to speak for itself, but if we want to break the perception Griswold (2001) described, that literature is reserved for those who possess educated, upper middle class status, then it’s incumbent upon writers, too, to take small actions toward change.

What does translation (as invitation) look like in practice? Ironically, one of the most startling moments of translation for inclusivity I have observed was at a reading of Ilya Kaminsky’s book Dancing in Odessa. Deaf since the age of four, Kaminsky has a strong accent to his spoken language. In order to facilitate the audience’s ability to fully understand the poems, he lent out copies of his then-new book so we could follow along with his reading. This small action modeled good “bilingual and disability citizenship,” giving access to listeners who might have a hard time comprehending his oral performance. What might it look like if more hearing or monolingual-English poets were able to bring written copies of their poems along with them as supports for audience members for whom English poetry may be a second and/or unfamiliar tongue? I don’t believe this dumbs down the experience of the art, but expands and enhances it.

Providing stories and intimacies, footnotes and end notes, sharing copies of the written poems or discussing the investment in craft that went with a poem’s making–these are some of the many ways in which poets can and often do assist readers and audience members in translating the complexities ad joys of making and sharing poetry.


Sue (2007) has written about a term called “microagressions” which was broken down into microassaults, microinsults and microinvalidations. Microagressions refer to small, often unintended remarks that make a person feel underestimated or stereotyped based on a person’s color, ethnicity, language, or gender. Microagressions can also occur when there are gaps, when, for example, a social media discussion requests titles of “most influential first books of poetry” and the majority of names listed are those of male writers; or when a poetry conference is planned and the presenters make minimal or no inclusion of poets of color either on the panelist list or when making references to work of importance. If poets want to pick up new readers (and keep them), we must be trained to reverse this trend and pursue what I call “micro-validations:” small, often intended actions to be inclusive and validate diverse experience and perspective. What does microvalidation look like in practice? Aside from the illustrations above, including small and larger shifts in location and translation, another form may be that of caring and critical reflection. When publishing and presenting, forming writing groups online and in person, writers might continue to ask: who’s in the room (literal and figurative) and who’s not in the room (in the anthology, on the panel, listed in the conference brochure, and so on). Writers, like our host societies, are imperfect and we often live and write in homogenous circles. By asking ourselves who is here and not here in any given poetry context, we might begin to see our inclinations and biases and slowly consider microactivities toward expansive change. Such changes may also positively influence our own writing and thinking.

We might also exercise less defensiveness and more concern when oversights and gaps are brought to our attention. I have seen one too many writers state in defense that their intentions were good or rational–there are good reasons, not racist or sexist ones, for reproducing a stereotype, for overlooking diversity on a panel, for only including writers from one nation or language group, gender or race. There are lots of good reasons why we overlook inclusion or are mistaken for being racist or stereotypical. One strong form of micro-validation in such moments is deep listening that begins with an apology. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I hurt your feelings. I’m sorry I didn’t do a better job with inclusion. I’m sorry and I thank you –for bringing this to my attention so that I might do better next time. There will be a next time and a next time.

Aside: This week we mourn the passing of Thomas Lux who through the Poetry at Tech program, always made small and larger movements in microvalidation–opening up his home to celebrate poetry with as large and diverse an audience as Atlanta could hold. He said yes to small and large invitations.

And yet, no matter what, we can always do better–even if we take the exact same action, maybe we can be more clear about our reasoning and intent and whom this might impact.

Recently, at the University of Georgia we celebrated the work of Kimiko Hahn, gorgeous poet as well as translator of Japanese verse. We were honored that the Consulate General of Japan accepted our invitation to accompany Ms. Hahn from Atlanta to our campus, to open the event. They shared a stirring video of the way poetry is honored and elevated by the Japanese Imperial Family and closed the event with special serving of Japanese tea. While our campus and community have a relatively small Asian population of less than 5%, sometimes the diversity that has the least representation “in the room” can expand everyone’s consciousness to new ways of being inclusively human in the world. All of us in the audiences benefitted from learning about the deference and public status poetry has had in Japan. However, I am still sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t do more to schedule the event at a time when even more members of our local and regional public might have been able to attend. I’m sorry I didn’t locate the event in a place that was more easily accessible to the public instead of on the university campus. I can and will do better next time.

Finally, micro-validations include micro-invitations which can vary from including diverse contributors to books and poetry events to considerations of where and how events are advertised and how novice audience members are welcomed at the door. Learning how to make an event more relevant and inclusive often begins with ground-floor planning–including mixing music with poetry and other art forms, inviting diverse participation in an event, advertising on a wide variety radio stations and public media that include the Latino and African American stations, and making accommodations for the disabled or hearing impaired. If we have ever been disappointed to arrive as poets to a half-empty, white room, micro-validation might be simply to stop and to ask ourselves what might be done differently the next time? We may already be “publisher” and “publicist” as well as poet so we might as well add “event planner” to our list. If we care enough to create literary experiences that are compelling to a busy, public audience, then we have to find small and larger ways to validate that audience, to reflect on what we are doing and what we might do better the next time.

As sensitive to diversity as one might be, each of us carries with us the limitations of time and our own experiences. We are bound to miss an opportunity to include everyone. Besides, including “everyone” would be impossible and exhausting. But helping everyone feel welcome and validated in the world of poetry writing is not only possible but imperative.

What Poets Can Learn from Teachers

Poets would benefit from thinking about poetry reading “at risk” in a similar manner to the ways in which critical educators address “at risk” students–the problem is not the readers or students themselves, but the systems that perpetuate poetry as an exclusive or elitist literary art. Students who struggle in school are often labeled “at risk” because the school curricula and structures themselves need changing. Rather than change the public’s perception of poetry, the focus ought to be placed on changing the locations, translations, and microvalidations that exist to help more of the public feel welcome and invited through poetry’s doors. This is already happening in the way our local elementary school hosts a “poetry picnic” for students and families; the way many poets post poems they love on social media; the way NEA literature director, Amy Stolls, initiated changes to the official “Big Read” list to encourage reading more books in translation and by writers of all colors, nations, and other forms of diversity.  A truly public poetry pedagogy is composed of a diversity of locations, translations, and micro-validations. These changes may be large and structural or as small as placing a poem above a coffee pot in a workroom. What small or larger efforts have you experienced? What might you imagine? May the next 50 years bring greater public exposure and invitation to poetry of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Derald Wing Sue, Christina M. Capodilupo, Gina C. Torino, Jennifer M. Bucceri, Aisha M. B. Holder, Kevin L. Nadal, and Marta Esquilin. “Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life Implications for Clinical Practice.” American Psychologist, May-June 2007.

Paulo Freire. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 1970.

Griswold, W. “The ideas of the reading class.” Contemporary Sociology, 30, 4-6, 2001.

Poem to Remember to Read on Thanksgiving

I’m going to assign a “thank you” poem assignment.  This one takes the cake, the pumpkin pie right off the turkey head.  This poem was published below on Perez’ website and is up for a prize from Rattle where it is written in couplets.





Thank you, instant mashed potatoes, your bland taste

makes me feel like an average American. Thank you,

incarcerated Americans, for filling the labor shortage

and packing potatoes in Idaho. Thank you, canned

cranberry sauce, for your gelatinous curves. Thank you,

Ojibwe tribe in Wisconsin, your lake is now polluted

with phosphate-laden discharge from nearby cranberry

bogs. Thank you, crisp green beans, you are my excuse

for eating apple pie ala mode later. Thank you, indigenous

migrant workers, for picking the beans in Mexico’s farm belt,

may your children survive the season. Thank you, NAFTA,

for making life dirt cheap. Thank you, Butterball Turkey,

for the word, butterball, which I repeat all day butterball,

butterball, butterball because it helps me swallow the bones

of genocide. Thank you, dark meat for being so juicy

(no offense, dry and fragile white meat, you matter too).

Thank you, 90 million factory farmed turkeys, for giving

your lives during the holidays. Thank you, factory farm

workers, for clipping turkey toes and beaks so they don’t scratch

and peck each other in overcrowded, dark sheds. Thank you,

genetic engineering and antibiotics, for accelerating

their growth. Thank you, stunning tank, for immobilizing

most of the turkeys hanging upside down by crippled legs.

Thank you, stainless steel knives, for your sharpened

edge and thirst for throat. Thank you, de-feathering

tank, for your scalding-hot water, for finally killing the last

still conscious turkeys. Thank you, turkey tails, for feeding

Pacific Islanders all year round. Thank you, empire of

slaughter, for never wasting your fatty leftovers. Thank you,

tryptophan, for the promise of an afternoon nap;

I really need it. Thank you, store bought stuffing,

for your ambiguously ethnic flavor, you remind me

that I’m not an average American. Thank you, gravy,

for being hot-off-the-boat and the most beautiful

brown. Thank you, dear readers, for joining me at the table

of this poem. Please join hands, bow your heads, and repeat

after me: “Let us bless the hands that harvest and butcher

our food, bless the hands that drive delivery trucks

and stock grocery shelves, bless the hands that cooked

and paid for this meal, bless the hands that bind

our hands and force feed our endless mouth.

May we forgive each other and be forgiven.

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