Rhythm and Resistance book cover

Rhythm and Resistance

Teaching Poetry for Social Justice

Edited by Linda Christensen and Dyan Watson

Available in:

Paperback: $24.95

Publication Date: April 9, 2015

ISBN: 9780942961614

Offering practical lessons about how to teach poetry to build community, understand literature and history, talk back to injustice, and construct stronger literacy skills across content areas and grade levelsfrom elementary school to graduate school. Rhythm and Resistance reclaims poetry as a necessary part of a larger vision of what it means to teach for justice.

“At a time when teachers feel under attack from policymakers searching for ways to raise student achievement and insure school safety, the authors of Rhythm and Resistance show us how easily both objectives can be pursued if we simply open up opportunities for students to write about their lives and share their stories with each other. This powerful and practical collection of essays shows educators how to engage and empower their students through strategies that inspire them to develop a love of learning. Teachers who can do that will experience the joy and power of teaching even during these trying times in education.”
Pedro A. Noguera, Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education; Executive Director, Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools, New York University

“There are far too few books written on teaching by people that have actually earned the right to write about teaching. In Rhythm and Resistance we have just such a book, striking a powerful balance between theory and practice, edging the two ever closer together in ways that will profoundly impact the day-to-day work of countless teachers. This book has me wondering aloud, again, about why the voices of our nation’s most gifted classroom educators are so muted in policy and practice discussions about the direction of our field.”
Jeff Duncan-Andrade, Associate Professor of Raza Studies and Education, San Francisco State University

“The power of poetry has never been so eloquently revealed as in this powerful collection of writing from poets both famous and unknown. Add to this the stirring words of Linda Christensen and Dyan Watson and we have a book that will move teachers and their students to speak their truths and to know that their words, their thoughts, and their lives matter.”
Sonia Nieto, Professor Emerita, Language, Literacy, and Culture, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Chapter 1 – Roots: Where we’re from

“You Reading This, Be Ready” by William Stafford
Where I’m From by Linda Christensen
> “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon
> “Where I’m From” by Renée Watson
Name Poem by by Linda Christensen
Weaving Poetry Through the Elementary Classroom by Bob Peterson
“Raised by Women” by Linda Christensen
> “Raised by Women” by Kelly Norman Ellis
Teaching the ‘I Am’ Poem by Bob Peterson
Inner and Outer Worlds by Ann Truax
For My People by Linda Christensen
> “A Pure Medley” by Adeline Nieto
Talking Back to the World by Renée Watson

Chapter 2 – Celebrations: Lift every voice and sing

“Gurl” by Mary Blalock
Praise Poems by Linda Christensen
Odes by Linda Christensen
Aquí y Allá by Elizabeth Schlessman-Barbian
> “Wonders of the City/Las maravillas de la ciudad” by Jorge Argueta
The Age Poem by Linda Christensen
Celebrating Skin Tone by Katharine Johnson
Celebrating Student Voice by Linda Christensen
> “Rayford’s Song” by Lawson Fusao Inada
Remember Me by Linda Christensen

Chapter 3 – Poetry of the People: Breathing life into literary and historical characters

“Becoming American” by Khalilah Joseph
Other People’s Lives by Linda Christensen
Poetic Storytelling by Linda Christensen
> “Molly Craig” by Linda Christensen
> “Write that I…” (A Frederick Douglass Narrative) by Alyss Dixson
Learning About Inequality by Linda Christensen
> “Two Women” by Unknown Author
Brown Doll, White Doll by Shwayla James and Heidi Tolentino
> “A Woman of Color” by Shwayla James and Heidi Tolentino
Why I Use Poetry in Social Studies by Dyan Watson
Singing Up Our Ancestors by Linda Christensen
> “Ritchie Valens” by Myrlin Hepworth
> “Bill Bigelow” by Linda Christensen
> “Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones” by Carrie Strecker
Integrating Poetry into the Elementary Curriculum by Bob Peterson
The Metaphor Poem by Linda Christensen

Chapter 4 – Standing Up in Troubled Times: Creating a culture of conscience

“Imagine the Angels of Bread” by Martín Espada
The Poetry of Protest by Linda Christensen
> “Jorge the Church Janitor Finally Quits/Por fin renuncia Jorge el conserje de la iglesia” by Martín Espada
> “Federico’s Ghost” by Martín Espada
> “Concentration Constellation” by Lawson Fusao Inada
> “Death Toll from Tulsa Race Riots Estimated Between 300 and 3,000” by Katharine Johnson
Happening Yesterday, Happened Tomorrow by Renée Watson
“Forty-One Bullets Off-Broadway” by Willie Perdomo
> “Night, for Henry Dumas” by Aracelis Girmay
What If? by Linda Christensen
Using Poetry as a Tool for Justice by Bob Peterson
Bearing Witness Through Poetry by Renée Watson
Perspective Through Poetry by Kelly J. Gomes

Chapter 5 – Turning Pain into Power

“hiraeth” by Renée Watson
Forgiveness Poems by Linda Christensen
Pain and Poetry by Tom McKenna
Knock, Knock by Linda Christensen
> “Knock, Knock” by Daniel Beaty
Black Like Me by Renée Watson
> “black like me” by Renée Watson
Keepers of the Second Throat by Patricia Smith
> “My Mother Learns English” by Patricia Smith

Chapter 6 – The Craft of Poetry
“Ode to Writing” by Jessica Rawlins
Image Craft Lesson by Linda Christensen
Verb Craft Lesson by Linda Christensen
The List and Repetition by Linda Christensen
> “Brown Dreams” by Paul S. Flores
Line Breaks Revision by Linda Christensen
Remixing Revision by Renée Watson
Elements of Poetry by Linda Christensen
The Read-Around by Linda Christensen
An Autobiographical Resource List by Linda Christensen
About the Editors

Introduction to Rhythm and Resistance: Teaching Poetry for Social Justice

Edited by Linda Christensen and Dyan Watson

Most people understand creating a poetry book with the word rhythm in its title, but resistance? Some folks might think we mean students resisting poetry, but we don’t. Students resist when poetry rustles in dusty tomes, when they are asked to bow before sacred texts, and memorize terms and spit them back on multiple-choice exams. But when students dive headlong into writing poetry, when they share the living, beating heart of their own words, when they hear the pulse of joy and rage from their classmates, they are hooked.

The opening chapters of Rhythm and Resistance demonstrate how poetry can build classroom community and develop students’ confidence in their writing. In order for students to feel like they belong, they have to feel both visible and valued. As Alejandro, one of Linda’s former students wrote, “It wasn’t until we began to write poetry that I started to feel comfortable with writing. Poetry provided me the freedom to start in the middle of my thoughts and finish wherever I wanted. It was circular and allowed me to express myself. After I nervously read a poem in front of the whole school, I finally understood the power and influence of words. The compliments that I received from other students also challenged my definition of what I believed was the only way to get respect.”

For us, the resistance in the title means defiance. We encourage teachers to resist making essays the pinnacle of all writing. Yes, essay writing is important and necessary and can be exciting, but the essay is only one genre of writing. Focusing almost exclusively on essay, as many districts encourage teachers to do, limits student ability to write with passionand skillacross the genres. Even if the goal is to improve essay writing, we need to teach narrative and poetry. They provide the toolsstory, sentence cadence, active verbsthat move students to write passionate persuasive/argumentative essays about issues in the world that trouble them.

We also encourage resistance to the narrowing of curriculum to serve the job market or college; we resist the focus of “drilling down” on facts and on what’s testable. Certainly, students should leave school prepared to enter the real worldthe real world where hunger and poverty exist alongside immense profits snuffing out opportunities for family-wage jobs, the real world where wars continue year after year, where governments promise glory to soldiers, but return broken humans. Part of an education for the “real world” must teach empathy, must call attention to policies and actions that harm society’s most vulnerable.

Rhythm and Resistance encourages students to reflect on their own lives as well as the lives of others who people newspapers, literature, and history. We want them to cheer the triumph of Celie at the dinner scene in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple or to care about Central American children as they brave “The Beast,” or “The Death Train” as it is called by these migrants searching for parents and hope. Through poetry, young people can breathe life into the voices of those who usually don’t find ways into classrooms or textbooks, including their own. This kind of education prepares them to meet the real world with a sense of humanity.

And by resistance, we also mean teaching students to talk back to injustice. When we open our classrooms for students to discuss contemporary issues, we encourage commitment to active engagement as citizens of the world by introducing them to poets like Martín Espada and Patricia Smith, Paul Flores and William Stafford, Katharine Johnson and Renée Watson, Lucille Clifton and Lawson Fusao Inada. We build a culture of conscience by offering students both a context and a vehicle for standing up and talking back when they witness injustice, encouraging them to add their voices to the choir of people who link arms and march in solidarity for a better world. Whether they recite their poetry on a stage framed by dusty blue curtains, as Alejandro did, or a makeshift bandstand at a protest in the park against budget cuts or police brutality, students need opportunities to voice their outrage, to spill their odes and hymns, sonnets and sonatas about the ways society needs to change.

As June Jordan wrote in June Jordan’s Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint:

Poetry is a political action undertaken for the sake of information, the faith, the exorcism, and the lyrical invention, that telling the truth makes possible. Poetry means taking control of the language of your life. Good poems can interdict a suicide, rescue a love affair, and build a revolution in which speaking and listening to somebody becomes the first and last purpose to every social encounter. I would hope that folks throughout the U.S.A. would consider the creation of poems as a foundation for true community: a fearless democratic society.

Our title is an invitationasking teachers to join in and resist along with us, to help build this “fearless democratic society” that our students deserve.

Why Poetry? Why Now?

by Linda Christensen

You ask, “Why a book on poetry? Why now?”

Because we stand at the brink of public
education’s demise;
because funds from billionaires
control the mouths of bureaucrats,
who have sold students, teachers,
and their families for a pittance;

because curriculum slanted to serve the “job market”
carves away history and humanity,
poetry and narrative,
student lives and teacher art;

because teaching students to write an essay
without teaching them to write
narratives and poetry is like
teaching someone to swim
using only one arm;

because poets are truth tellers and lie breakers
wordsmiths and visionaries
who sling metaphors in classrooms,
in the narrow slices of school hallways,
on the bricks of public courtyards,
and cafŽs with blinking neon signs
without laying out a dime to corporations;

because new poets are rising up,
pressing poems against windows on Wall Street,
spilling odes down the spines of textbooks,
posting protest hymns on telephone poles,
bubbling lyrics on the pages of tests
designed to confine their imaginations;

because poems hover under the breath
of the boy in a baseball cap,
the girl with a ring in her nose,
the boy with his mom’s name inked on his neck,
and the silent ones in the back:
she’s the next Lucille Clifton
and he sounds like Roque Dalton, saying:

“poetry, like bread,
is for everyone.”