Introducing Poetry in ENWR 106

Not everyone likes poetry.  For me, someone who loves poetry deeply, this can be a hard reality to accept.  In fact, rather than accept it, I have tried my best in my years of teaching to transform even my most reluctant students into individuals who can appreciate the genre, and maybe even like it.

I begin the semester with a poem that challenges students’ assumptions about poetry and sets us up for a semester of active analysis.  That poem is Langston Hughes’ short 1925 poem “Johannesburg Mines”:

In the Johannesburg mines
There are 240,000
Native Africans working.
What kind of poem
Would you
Make out of that?
240,000 natives
Working in the
Johannesburg mines.

On a practical level, the poem is short enough that I can provide hard copies for the students, which is an added perk at the start of the semester.  Though it may be short, there is nothing simple about this poem.  I introduce the poem by giving background information on Hughes and his role in the Harlem Renaissance, and the way in which his poetry works to advocate for the rights of African Americans.  We also talk briefly about the history of mining in South Africa and apartheid. Continue reading

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Naked Co-ed Composition

By Nancy Méndez-Booth

Of all the things I taught my ENWR105 students this semester, the lesson they embraced most enthusiastically was how to get naked. Please let me explain before you alert the First-Year Writing Program and Campus Security.

It began when I read my nonfiction essay “Tilted Naked Weirdo” at the October 10 Live Lit! event. My students were in the audience, and I worried that my selection revealed too much about my own challenges as a writer. They heard about my anxiety each time I face a blank page because I know that to fill it well requires taking risks and getting naked, i.e., digging in the don’t-go-there places for truths I’d rather leave untouched and hidden. I was mortified when they asked questions during the Q&A (why had I encouraged them to be so participatory?) and I had to answer that yes, it is tempting to write “safe, nice” stories that don’t ruffle feathers (particularly mine), and also tempting to not take risks that could end in failure. But, I reinforced, solid writing requires being bold with style, subject matter, and structure.

I didn’t give the reading further thought, but it seems my class did. It began with the semicolon that appeared with increased frequency after mid-October. They were not always placed properly, but I was impressed that my students dared press the key of the punctuation mark they most dreaded. I was more impressed when during class discussions and workshops, they shared with each other their tips on how they made sense of the semicolon’s proper usage. Continue reading