On Tuesday in class I asked my students whether someone would volunteer to read the poem we were working on, Jamaica Kincaid's Girl (if you haven't read this poem, follow to link and read it--it's worth it!).
I usually never have trouble finding volunteers. There are always a few students who want to read, and many students who don't. But this time no hands shot up.
"Come on!" I encouraged them. "Someone must want to read this!"
"Can we popcorn read?" a student asked.
Popcorn read? I'm not sure what rock I've been under, but I had never, ever heard this term before. My students giggled at my confusion.
"You know," one added. "When one student reads and then another starts right after her, and then another..."
Popcorn! I loved the image--kernels of words popping here and there all through the class. So I let my students popcorn read Kincaid's poem. One started, hesitantly, stumbling over the words, and then another took over, her voice rising enthusiastically with the punch of each line; then another, and she grew even more confident as she read. By the time we were done I can safely say we had a full bowl of popcorn right there in the classroom, and I'll never read Kincaid's poem again without smiling, and hearing in my mind, all the voices of my students popping around me, their voices eager, hesitant, strong, musical.
We finished our poetry unit in my class with Kincaid's poem. In honor of Black History Month, we also read through several other selections, and I'm listing a few of the favorites below. These are important poems, poems that need to be read and that are all worth reading, out loud, or to yourself.
Girl, by Jamaica Kincaid
What It's Like to Be a Black Girl (for Those of You Who Aren't), by Patricia Smith
Ballad of the Landlord, by Langston Hughes
With No Immediate Cause, by Ntozake Shange
and this one, a favorite of mine, by Rita Dove
The conspiracy's to make us thin.
Size threes are all the rage,
and skirts ballooning above
twinkling knees are every man-child's
Tabla rasa. No slate's that clean--
We've earned the navels sunk in
grief when the last child emptied us
of their brief interior light.
Our muscles say
We have been used.
Have you ever tried silk sheets?
I did, persuaded by postnatal dread
and a Macy's clerk to bargain
for more zip.
We couldn't hang on, slipped to
the floor and by morning the quilts
had slid off, too. Enough of guilt--
It's hard work staying cool.