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
Make out of that?
Working in the
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