Introducing “Incredible Bridges: Poets Creating Community”

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Brooklyn Bridge, Across the East River from Brooklyn to Manhattan New York
Brooklyn Bridge, Across the East River from Brooklyn to Manhattan New York

The lyric poem seeks to mesmerize time. It crosses frontiers and outwits the temporal. It can bridge the gulf between people otherwise unknown to each other.—Edward Hirsch

This April as we mark the 20th anniversary of National Poetry Month, the Academy of American Poets and EDSITEment welcome you to engage with our new online initiative to bring contemporary poetry resources to your students.

The title, “Incredible Bridges: Poets Creating Community,”  is a response to a call that Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera issued during the National Book Festival 2015, where, in an interview at the Library of Congress, he discussed the civic responsibility of poets in America today, challenging: “Let’s create incredible bridges.”

“Incredible Bridges” offers a window into the experience of people who are not exactly like ourselves, enlisting the voices of the finest contemporary American poets, each delivering a poem that has been selected in support of the National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman’s initiative, The Common Good 

The series presents a number of different perspectives that together, and with discourse guided by nine carefully-crafted companion lesson plans, help create a new idea of American community: speaking to both the unity and the differences that define us. These are American poets breaking down walls and using poetry as a means to connect us to each other.

Lesson Plans

Nine “Incredible Bridges” companion lesson plans are being written by Dr. Madeleine Fuchs Holzer, Educator-in-Residence at the Academy of American Poets, with activities in this free resource geared to secondary-level students in grades 6-12. Each lesson is built around video or audio recordings of contemporary American poets—including U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera; Elizabeth Alexander; Richard Blanco; Naomi Shihab Nye; and Claudia Rankine, who read poems that explore the changing nature of community and that contribute to building new forms of community and understanding. Each offers a sequence of activities for use with students before, during, and after reading to help them enter and experience the poem.

Aligns with CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7: Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words; CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.2: Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

Over the course of 2016, the NEH 50th anniversary year, we will be rolling out the following lesson plans. (The first two plans have been published and can be found on both EDSITEment and the Academy's websites.) Each month you can find a brand new lesson in the series highlighted on EDSITEment’s homepage billboard.

1.Gate A-4,” Naomi Shihab Nye

While waiting for a delayed plane, Arab American poet, Naomi Shihab Nye encounters an older Palestinian woman who is extremely upset. Speaking to the woman in her own language, Nye calms her, as they share homemade cookies with all the passengers.

The Common Good application: Overcoming political and cultural polarization with community and understanding.

2.From Citizen, VI [On the train the woman standing],” Claudia Rankine

Poet Claudia Rankine describes a scene where a woman on a train refuses to sit next to an African American man. In response, an African American woman “lets her have it”, and takes the seat.

The Common Good application: Overcoming political and cultural polarization with community and understanding. 

3.“Every Day We Get More Illegal,” Juan Felipe Herrera

The United States Poet Laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera, speaks to the experiences of illegal immigrants coming to America from Mexico.

The Common Good application: Addressing challenges posed by changing demographics, and overcoming political and cultural polarization with community and understanding.

4.“Cotton Candy,” Edward Hirsch 

Brooklyn poet Edward Hirsch reflects back to a moment from his boyhood in Chicago recalling his formative relationship with his grandfather—bridging the gap between generations and transcending time.

The Common Good application: Creating new forms of community and understanding 

5.“The Great Migration,”Minnie Bruce Pratt  

In a Spanish classroom, poet Minnie Bruce Pratt writes of a friendly encounter between an older white woman from the South and a younger African American woman—someone that woman would never have known back home.

The Common Good application: Addressing challenges posed by changing demographics, and overcoming political and cultural polarization with community and understanding. 

6.“Praise Song for the Day,” Elizabeth Alexander 

This poem was written and delivered on the occasion of President Obama’s first inauguration. Poet Elizabeth Alexander calls up images of many different Americans at work and going about their everyday lives and exhorts us to walk forward as a nation with a loving spirit. Along with President Obama’s inaugural address, Alexander's "Praise Song" echoes Whitman’s classic, “I Hear America Singing," which offers a democratic vision of the varied "strong melodious songs" that make up our nation. 

The Common Good application: Creating new forms of community and understanding

7.“Peaches,” Adrienne Su

Poet Adrienne Su uses peaches as a dual symbol, reflecting both her home state Georgia and her Asian cultural heritage. In it, she trys to come to terms with the difficulties immigrant families have navigating mainstream America.

The Common Good application: Creating new forms of community and understanding

8.“Translation for Mamá,” Richard Blanco  

Cuban American poet Ricard Blanco is transitioning his mother to a new place, a new sound, a new culture by helping her fashion her memories. 

The Common Good application: Creating new forms of community and understanding 

9.“Remember,”Joy Harjo 

Native American poet Joy Harjo asks us to remember that we are all a part of the same earth. 

The Common Good application: Creating new forms of community and understanding 

 

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