Wednesday, December 2, 2015

African American Poetry Workshop: "The Danger of a Single Story" Paired with "When You See Water"

First, I'd like to return to Angelou's "Still I Rise" for just a moment and examine the diction (choice of words) in the first four lines a bit deeper:

You may write me down in history  (first word is "you," addresses someone overseeing speaker)
With your bitter, twisted lies,   (the authority figure's lying voice/writing has speaker captured)
You may trod me in the very dirt   (even though dominator may step on speaker in the bare ground)
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.  (notice shift word "but" and change in verb tense--may write, may trod--> will rise; also, notice the rhyme at the end of lines 2 and 4)

There's a lot more we could say about "Still I Rise," but I wanted to start by showing you how paraphrasing poems line-by-line can help you notice subtle shifts in pronouns, verb tense, and sounds. These are the small details that make a poem work.

Week 2's workshop features another pairing: writers Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Alice Walker.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

First, learn who Adichie is at the link in her name and then watch her TED Talk (or read the transcript) "The Danger of a Single Story" at this link.

Next, free write for ten minutes about a story you bought into about a group of people different than you. What exactly made that group different than people you identify with? What did you believe about that group? How were those assumptions challenged later when you learned more?

Alice Walker

Third, read Alice Walker's short poem, "When You See Water":

When you see water in a stream
you say: oh, this is stream
When you see water in the river
you say: oh, this is water
of the river;
When you see ocean
you say: This is the ocean's
But actually water is always
only itself
and does not belong
to any of these containers
though it creates them.
And so it is with you.

Click here to learn who Alice Walker is. Here are three questions to consider about Walker's poem:

1. What are its formal features? Buy this, I mean how many lines does the poem have, does it rhyme, if so what is the rhyming pattern, are there any related words, and how many stressed syllables are there per line? (There are more formal features to list, but those are some good basics to begin with.)

To identify stressed syllables, you can look up each multisyllabic word in the dictionary and see which syllable is marked as stressed, you can read the poem aloud holding your hand a half-inch under your chin and marking syllables you say as your chin drops to your hand, OR you can pay attention to the vowel sounds in the words (stressed syllables usually have fully pronounced vowel sounds, not just the schwa or "uh" sound). For example, my first name is Sara. The stressed syllable is the first syllable "Sa." The second syllable is unstressed. You can confirm this yourself by trying the three tests above.

2. What parallels do you see evident between Adichie's ideas and the speaker's in the poem? Use evidence (quotes) from the speech and poem to support your claim.

3. In Walker's poem, why did she compare the listener's identity to liquid rather than, say, solid or gas?

Happy Reading and Writing!