Sometimes you read a person’s title or a position they held and you know exactly what it entails (like a nurse or painter) but other times you may have no clue. I was well aware that Rita Dove was of Poet Laureate but to be truthful I had no idea what that really meant. So I consulted my Google and learned that, “The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress serves as the nation’s official lightning rod for the poetic impulse of Americans. During his or her term, the Poet Laureate seeks to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry.” Poet and essayist, Rita Dove, served as Poet Laureate of the United States and Consultant to the Library of Congress from 1993 to 1995. Ms. Dove was only the second African American to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1987.
Imagine that it is your job to raise the national consciousness and appreciation for poetry, sounds pretty daunting right? In a nation like ours the challenge even more real. In our current political atmosphere where there is appreciation for truth let alone artistic expression, makes the work of a Poet Laureate seem impossible. Nonetheless, Ms. Dove’s poems are made for these times and for necessary consciousness about our so-called shared values as Americans. During her tenure as Poet Laureate she focused on promoting the importance of literature and most importantly bringing together writers of the African Diaspora.
Dove’s poem, Exit, addresses the immigrant experience, a subject that continues to highlight racism and exclusion in America. This is an experience that many of our students and their families may grapple with themselves. Poetry is not just artful expression but powerful use of the word to shed light, debunk myths and lies and bring forth new consciousness.
Just when hope withers, the visa is granted.
The door opens to a street like in the movies,
clean of people, of cats; except it is your street
you are leaving. A visa has been granted,
‘provisionally’-a fretful word.
The windows you have closed behind
you are turning pink, doing what they do
every dawn. Here it’s gray. The door
to the taxicab waits. This suitcase,
the saddest object in the world.
Well, the world’s open. And now through
the windshield the sky begins to blush
as you did when your mother told you
what it took to be a woman in this life.
In our classrooms there is a poet, the rapper or spoken word artist that maybe taking on the task of speaking truth to the realities of what it means to be and live in America. Poetry can be engage and appeal to our students when we create space for them to see its power and their own power in it. Whether or not our students have the honor of being Poet Laureate, let us make sure they still have the ability and opportunity to raise their own consciousness and the consciousness of others with the power of their words and expression.
Peace and love good people.
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