Poetry: Tell Me How You Really Feel

Sometimes when we study poetry in school, it can be easy to focus on analyzing the literary aspects of a poem. We can forget to simply delight in how a poem makes us feel.

In some of my English classes over the years, I have talked so much about rhyme schemes, metaphors, and meanings that I forget to think about the ways particular words and phrases, lines and stanzas speak to me or help me pause and notice.

One strategy I’ve found helpful when I read poetry is to focus on my mood while I’m reading a poem.  Some poems make me feel joyful and whimsical. Others make me feel sad, tired, or confused.

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” by William Wordsworth is a poem that made me feel nostalgic and at peace.

Here’s a photo I took from one of my hikes
back home!

I spent a lot of time as a kid wandering around my home in the Appalachian Mountains and running past fields of wildflowers and this poem reminds me of this.

My favorite lines are, “I gazed—and gazed—but little thought/What wealth the show to me had brought.” 

These lines summarize exactly what I felt as I read the poem. I became lost in the beautiful words and just felt like I was back in the words as I was reading. 

I also love the final lines of the poem, “And then my heart with pleasure fills,/And dances with the daffodils.”

After being outside in nature, I can take the photos or memories of trees or flowers with me in my mind. This poem reminded me that I can reflect back on the beauty of nature, even if I’m not physically there.

Now, you try! I encourage you to read or listen to “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” by William Wordsworth.

How did it make you feel? Why? Which lines or phrases stood out? Share in the comments below!

Poems Can Be Confusing! Strategies for Reading Poetry

Last week I challenged readers to choose a line from the poem “Relic” by Jennifer Foerster and reflect on the meaning of the line. Using reading strategies like this can help make poetry more accessible to readers new to poetry by breaking up the poem into more manageable parts.  

Poetry has a reputation for being confusing because of the word choice and complex meanings.

One of my favorite strategies is to read a poem out loud or listen to it being read out loud. It’s a simple strategy but it helps me better experience and make sense of the poem.

Use the following link to listen to one of my favorite poems, “Hope is the Thing with Feathers” by Emily Dickinson: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SitTvcIusz0.

Was listening to the poem helpful? What phrases stood out to you as you read? Poetry can take practice, which is why reading strategies that help you is so important.

Reading a poem out loud is just one strategy. If you are looking for more, the blog post by educator Shaelynn Farnsworth entitled “Strategies to Help Students Unlock Poetry” provides many helpful suggestions.

What are your favorite poetry reading strategies? Which ones do you want to try? Over the next months, I’ll be sharing more of my favorite strategies and my favorite poems. Stay tuned!

Celebrating Traditions and Stories Through Poetry

My name is Brooke Carbaugh and I am a current Hope College sophomore from Orbisonia, Pennsylvania. I am a newcomer to the lakeshore community, but I love the proximity to Lake Michigan, eating ice cream, and hiking through Michigan’s beautiful landscape. As the newest member of the BigRead team, I am excited to begin the month of May with some thoughts about poetry. April was poetry month, but the BigRead team wanted to continue sharing some of our favorite poems.

The first week of May brings Holland’s Tulip Time Festival with blooming flowers, street vendors, and years of tradition. This is my first year in Holland for Tulip Time and I have been reminded of the beauty of celebrating and participating in new traditions.

Poetry has a long-standing tradition of granting insight into the experiences and emotions of others. Even though the language is sometimes confusing, the images and stories within literature create understanding between the author and reader. There are many ways to connect with and appreciate poetry when the meaning of the poem may be difficult to understand. I challenge you to choose a favorite line or lines after reading the selected poem and reflect on why those lines speak to you.

Relic by Jennifer Foerster 

An atlas

on the underside of my dream.

My half-shut eyelid—

a black wing.

I dipped sharp quills

in the night’s mouth—

moths swarmed

from my throat.

I pulled a feather blanket

over my skeleton

and woke—

a map of America

flapping in the dark.

Once I dreamt

of inheriting this—

my mother

who still follows crows

through the field,

my sister’s small hand

tucked inside hers,

me on her breast

in a burial quilt.

Foerster, Jennifer. “Relic.” Poets.org, 2015. https://poets.org/poem/relic. 

As I was reading this poem, the phrase “I pulled a feather blanket/ over my skeleton/ and woke-” stood out to me. These lines reminded me of the countless times I crawled into bed with a blanket and slowly drifted to sleep. Additionally, the decision to use “skeleton” instead of “body” grabbed my attention. I could clearly see this image in my mind and admired the simplicity of these lines. This poem contains many vibrant images and appreciating a poem can be as simple as choosing a few lines that speak to you as the reader.

The Asian American Community is too, America

In light of news reports of increased anti-Asian American violence, our Big Read team can’t help but reflect back on our 2017 Big Read program with Julia Otsuka’s When the Emperor Was Divine and the powerful discussions we had about prejudice and discrimination both in our nation’s past and present.

Along with Otsuka’s book and our conversations around the history of Asian Americans in the United States, we thought of this poem and wanted to share it with you:

I, Too by Langston Hughes.

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”

They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

Hughes, Langston. “I, Too.” Poetry Foundation, 2002, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47558/i-too. Accessed 18 03 2021.

Documentary Recommendations you Should Listen to During Black History Month

Previously this month we released a list of books and podcasts you should read during Black History Month, but maybe books and podcasts aren’t your thing. If they are not, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Check out these documentary recommendations provided by Hope College’s Black Student Union.


Filmmaker Ava DuVernay explores the history of racial inequality in the United States, focusing on the fact that the nation’s prisons are disproportionately filled with African-Americans. 13th is available to stream on Netflix.

Dark Girls

Dark Girls is a fascinating and controversial documentary film that goes underneath the surface to explore the prejudices that dark-skinned women face throughout the world. It explores the roots of classism, racism, and the lack of self-esteem within a segment of cultures that span from America to the most remote corners of the globe. Women share their personal stories, touching on deeply ingrained beliefs and attitudes of society while allowing generations to heal as they learn to love themselves for who they are. Black Girls is available to stream on Sling TV, Amazon Prime premium, and available to rent on Youtube and Amazon.

We hope you enjoy viewing these documentaries as we are preparing for the Kwame Alexander event taking place on Thursday February 26th at 2:00 pm EST. Kwame Alexander will discuss how he became an author, about his lastest book on race and hope, why he writes poetry, and why he writes the books he does. You will not want to miss this event.

See you there!

Podcast Recommendations you Should Listen to During Black History Month

Since coming to college, I have driven back and forth from Chicago and Hope countless times. After hours of listening to music, the words eventually blend together and the music becomes as monotonous as the road ahead of me. Lately, when my music becomes background noise, I switch over to podcasts. Not only can you expand your knowledge, but there are a plethora of options.

Take your multitasking to a new level this month and listen to these Black Student Union recommended podcasts.

Brené with Austin Channing Brown on
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness

Austin Channing Brown’s anti-racism work is critical to changing our world, and her ability to talk about what is good and true about love, about our faith, and about loving each other is transformative. She is a writer, a speaker, and a media producer providing inspired leadership on racial justice in America. In this episode, we connect on her book I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, and talk about her online television show, The Next Question.

Ibram X. Kendi: The Difference Between Being “Not Racist” and Antiracist

There is no such thing as being “not racist,” says author and historian Ibram X. Kendi. In this vital conversation, he defines the transformative concept of antiracism to help us more clearly recognize, take responsibility for, and reject prejudices in our public policies, workplaces, and personal beliefs. Learn how you can actively use this awareness to uproot injustice and inequality in the world — and replace it with love.

Therapy for Black Girls

The Therapy for Black Girls Podcast is a weekly conversation with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia, about all things mental health, personal development, and all the small decisions we can make to become the best possible version of ourselves.

I Think This is Love

From dating and dealing with friendship break-ups to going home for the holidays– the love(or hate) between people has a way of bringing out our best and worst sides. But we all come to the table with different ideas about what exactly love is. Every week Sharee and a guest host will be sharing their most embarrassing, hilarious, and sometimes heartbreaking stories of this mysterious force in all of our lives. Whether you love love or think love sucks, this podcast is for you.

Pass the Mic (The Witness)

Pass The Mic is the premier podcast of The Witness – A Black Christian Collective. Tune in every week for engaging discussions and high profile interviews addressing the core concerns of African Americans biblically.

Happy listening!  

More Books you should read during Black History Month

As we prepare for Kwame Alexander’s virtual visit to Hope College at the end of the month, I encourage you to continue to read our AARI recommended texts.

Today, we’re thrilled to share even more book recommendations from our friends in the Black Student Union at Hope College. 

The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect?

Alexander fully captures Josh’s athletic finesse and coming-of-age angst in a mix of free verse and hip-hop poetry that will have broad appeal. . . . This will inspire budding players and poets alike.” —Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, starred review

Reach includes forty first-person accounts from well-known men like the Rev. Al Sharpton, John Legend, Isiah Thomas, Bill T. Jones, Louis Gossett, Jr., and Talib Kweli. These remarkable individuals are living proof that black men are as committed as ever to ensuring a better world for themselves and for others. Powerful and indispensable to our ongoing cultural dialogue, Reach explodes myths about black men by providing rare, candid, and deeply personal insights into their lives. It’s a blueprint for better community engagement. It’s an essential resource for communities everywhere.

Alix Chamberlain is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living, with her confidence-driven brand. So she is shocked when her babysitter, Emira Tucker, is confronted while watching her toddler one night, walking the aisles of their local supermarket. The store’s security guard saw a young black woman out late with a white child and accuses Emira of kidnapping Briar. A crowd gathers, a bystander films everything, and Emira is furious and humiliated. Alix resolves to make things right. But Emira is wary of Alix’s desire to help. Such a Fun Age explores the stickiness of transactional relationships, what it means to make someone “family,” and the complicated reality of being a grown-up.

In September 1969, a fumbling, cranky old church deacon known as Sportcoat shuffles into the courtyard of the Cause Houses housing project in south Brooklyn, pulls a .38 from his pocket, and in front of everybody shoots the project’s drug dealer at point-blank range. The reasons for this desperate burst of violence and the consequences that spring from it lie at the heart of Deacon King Kong, James McBride’s funny and moving novel. McBride brings to vivid life the people affected by the shooting: the victim, the African-American and Latinx residents who witnessed it, the white neighbors, the local cops assigned to investigate, the members of the Five Ends Baptist Church where Sportcoat was a deacon, the neighborhood’s Italian mobsters, and Sportcoat himself. 

Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central, shares his remarkable story of growing up in South Africa with a black South African mother and a white European father at a time when it was against the law for a mixed-race child to exist. But he did exist–and from the beginning, the often-misbehaved Trevor used his keen smarts and humor to navigate a harsh life under a racist government. In a country where racism barred blacks from social, educational, and economic opportunity, Trevor surmounted staggering obstacles and created a promising future for himself thanks to his mom’s unwavering love and indomitable will.

Happy Reading!

Book Recommendations you Should Read During Black History Month

As an English Education professor, I’m involved in an organization called the National Council of Teachers of English. This organization is dedicated to “improving the teaching and learning of English and the language arts at all levels of education”. Over the past 20 years, I’ve attended its conferences, subscribed to its publications, and used the many resources and networking opportunities that NCTE offers. Simply put, NCTE is my professional home and I’m a much better professor and researcher because of it.

One of NCTE’s initiatives is the National African American Read-In, a groundbreaking effort to encourage communities to read together, centering African American books and authors. Established in 1990 by the Black Caucus of NCTE to make literacy a significant part of Black History Month. Today, this initiative has reached more than 6 million participants around the world.

As the director of Hope College’s NEA Big Read Lakeshore, an annual community-wide reading program that involves over 10,000 participants, I’m excited about anything that encourages people to read together and to read books and authors that they might not otherwise encounter.

To this end, I invite you to center African American books and authors with me during Black History Month. As we prepare for Kwame Alexander’s virtual visit to Hope College at the end of the month, I encourage you to read our AARI recommended texts. In the weeks to come, we’ll be featuring recommended books and authors from our partner organizations as well as some of our own.

Today, we’re thrilled to share some book recommendations from our friends in the Black Student Union at Hope College. 

In this book, Emmanuel Acho creates a dialogue that is honest, straightforward, and accessible to those seeking answers. This is a conversation that needs to happen to mend the racial divide in our world.

In her searing collection of essays, Mikki Kendall takes aim at the legitimacy of the modern feminist movement arguing that it has chronically failed to address the needs of all but a few women. Drawing on her own experiences with hunger, violence, and hypertextualization, along with incisive commentary on politics, pop culture, the stigma of mental health, and more, Hood Feminism delivers an irrefutable indictment of a movement in flux. Kendall has written a ferocious clarion call to all would-be feminists to live out the true mandate of the movement in thought and in deed.

This micro- and macro-analysis of economic conditions in the black community explores why African Americans earn only 61 percent of white American income, why many African Americans prefer to maintain a “good job” rather than own and operate their own businesses, and why African American consumers only spend 3 percent of their $600 billion in African American businesses. Topics covered include present and historical analysis, foreign economic success, the global economy, obstacles to development, and black consumers and entrepreneurs.

I’m Judging You dissects our cultural obsessions and calls out bad behavior in our increasingly digital, connected lives. With a lighthearted, rapier wit and a unique perspective, it’s the handbook the world needs now, doling out the hard truths and a road map for bringing some “act right” to our popular culture, social media, and our lives.

In this universally accessible New York Times bestseller named for her wildly popular web series, Issa Rae—“a singular voice with the verve and vivacity of uncorked champagne” (Kirkus Reviews)—waxes humorously on what it’s like to be unabashedly awkward in a world that regards introverts as hapless misfits and black as cool.

Being a black woman in America means contending with old prejudices and fresh absurdities every day. Comedian Phoebe Robinson has experienced her fair share over the years. Now, she’s ready to take these topics to the page—and she’s going to make you laugh as she’s doing it. As personal as it is political, You Can’t Touch My Hair examines our cultural climate and skewers our biases with humor and heart, announcing Robinson as a writer on the rise.

Womanist Midrash is an in-depth and creative exploration of the well- and lesser-known women of the Hebrew Scriptures. Using her own translations, Gafney offers a midrashic interpretation of the biblical text that is rooted in the African American preaching tradition to tell the stories of a variety of female characters, many of whom are often overlooked and nameless. Gafney employs a solid understanding of womanist and feminist approaches to biblical interpretation and the sociohistorical culture of the ancient Near East. This unique and imaginative work is grounded in serious scholarship and will expand conversations about feminist and womanist biblical interpretation.

Ever since she got pregnant freshman year, Emoni Santiago’s life has been about making the tough decisions—doing what has to be done for her daughter and her abuela. The one place she can let all that go is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into straight-up goodness. Even though she dreams of working as a chef after she graduates, Emoni knows that it’s not worth her time to pursue the impossible. Yet despite the rules she thinks she has to play by, once Emoni starts cooking, her only choice is to let her talent break free.

Happy Readings!

Poetry all around us: Inauguration poem

Poetry is all around us. We see it in television shows, greeting cards, and every four years at the Presidential Inauguration. This year Amanda Gorman, youth poet laureate, read her poem at the Inauguration ceremony held earlier this month.

Don’t forget Kwame Alexander’s event: “Light for the World to See” coming up on February 26 at 2:00 (EST). Kwame Alexander is a distinguished poet, educator and author, known for his works bringing attention to the experiences of Black lives in America. This event will take place as part of a Black History Month initiative at Hope College. Alexander will discuss a variety of topics including his newest book Light for the World to See: A Thousand Words on Race and Hope.

Amanda Gorman,

When day comes we ask ourselves,
where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry,
a sea we must wade
We’ve braved the belly of the beast
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace
And the norms and notions
of what just is
Isn’t always just-ice
And yet the dawn is ours
before we knew it
Somehow we do it
Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed
a nation that isn’t broken
but simply unfinished
We the successors of a country and a time
Where a skinny Black girl
descended from slaves and raised by a single mother
can dream of becoming president
only to find herself reciting for one
And yes we are far from polished
far from pristine
but that doesn’t mean we are
striving to form a union that is perfect
We are striving to forge a union with purpose
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and
conditions of man
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us
but what stands before us
We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,
we must first put our differences aside
We lay down our arms
so we can reach out our arms
to one another
We seek harm to none and harmony for all
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew
That even as we hurt, we hoped
That even as we tired, we tried
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious
Not because we will never again know defeat
but because we will never again sow division
Scripture tells us to envision
that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree
And no one shall make them afraid
If we’re to live up to our own time
Then victory won’t lie in the blade
But in all the bridges we’ve made
That is the promised glade
The hill we climb
If only we dare
It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit,
it’s the past we step into
and how we repair it
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation
rather than share it
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy
And this effort very nearly succeeded
But while democracy can be periodically delayed
it can never be permanently defeated
In this truth
in this faith we trust
For while we have our eyes on the future
history has its eyes on us
This is the era of just redemption
We feared at its inception
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs
of such a terrifying hour
but within it we found the power
to author a new chapter
To offer hope and laughter to ourselves
So while once we asked,
how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?
Now we assert
How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was
but move to what shall be
A country that is bruised but whole,
benevolent but bold,
fierce and free
We will not be turned around
or interrupted by intimidation
because we know our inaction and inertia
will be the inheritance of the next generation
Our blunders become their burdens
But one thing is certain:
If we merge mercy with might,
and might with right,
then love becomes our legacy
and change our children’s birthright
So let us leave behind a country
better than the one we were left with
Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest,
we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one
We will rise from the gold-limbed hills of the west,
we will rise from the windswept northeast
where our forefathers first realized revolution
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states,
we will rise from the sunbaked south
We will rebuild, reconcile and recover
and every known nook of our nation and
every corner called our country,
our people diverse and beautiful will emerge,
battered and beautiful
When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it

Gorman, Amanda. “The Hill We Climb.” 2021. https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/20/politics/amanda-gorman-inaugural-poem-transcript/index.html. Accessed 25 January 2021.

Light for the World to See: A Conversation with Kwame Alexander

We are thrilled to announce that Kwame Alexander will virtually visit Hope College as a result of a collaborative effort of several Hope organizations. The NEA Big Read Lakeshore, Black Student Union, Center for Diversity and Inclusion, Tensen Writing Fund, Cultural Affairs Committee, Education Department and Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series are thrilled to announce this partnership for Black History Month. Alexander is a distinguished poet, educator and author, known for his works bringing attention to the experiences of Black lives in America. His works are powerful and provocative, cultivating important thought and discussion. This event will take place as part of a Black History Month initiative at Hope College. 

“Light and Hope for the World To See: A Conversation with Kwame Alexander” will occur on February 26, 2021 from 2-3pm ET and is intended for readers of all ages. Due to COVID-19, this event will be hosted virtually. More information along with registration can be found on bigreadlakeshore.com. Community members and K-12 students and teachers are encouraged to attend.

During the event, Alexander will discuss a variety of topics including his newest book Light for the World to See: A Thousand Words on Race and Hope. Written in verse, this collection cuts to the heart of the entrenched racism and oppression in America, eloquently exploring ongoing events and experiences. It has been called a “rap session on race” and is a lyrical response to the struggles of Black lives in our world. Alexander honors the centuries of loss, endless resilience and unstoppable hope.  

Kwame Alexander is a poet, educator, and the New York Times Bestselling author of 32 books, including Swing, Rebound, which was shortlisted for prestigious Carnegie Medal, The Undefeated, How to Read a Book and, his Newberry medal-winning middle grade novel, The Crossover

A regular contributor to NPR’s Morning Edition, Kwame is the recipient of numerous awards, including The Coretta Scott King Author Honor, Three NAACP Image Award Nominations, and the 2017 Inaugural Pat Conroy Legacy Award. In partnership with Follett Book Fairs, he created the #AllBooksForAllKids initiative to bring more diverse books into school libraries. 

In 2018, he opened the Barbara E. Alexander Memorial Library and Health Clinic in Ghana, as a part of LEAP for Ghana, an international literacy program he co-founded. Kwame is the Founding Editor of VERSIFY, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt that aims to Change the World One Word at a Time.

Hope College’s NEA Big Read Lakeshore program began in 2014 with the goal to create and foster a culture where reading matters. By bringing the Lakeshore community together around a common book, Big Read Lakeshore uses the shared experience of reading, discussing and exploring the themes of the book as a springboard to listen from and learn from each other. 

The NEA Big Read Lakeshore program is made possible in part by a grant from the NEA Big Read, a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest. 

Hope’s BSU has played a key role in the planning of this event and others during Black History Month. BSU facilitates interaction and heightens awareness of African American history and culture within the Hope College and Holland communities. They work to unite our community by providing educational experiences through speakers, dialogues and social functions.

“Books contain some of the greatest stories ever told, and Black Student Union is excited to partner with several great organizations around the Hope/Holland community to help highlight some of those stories and the black creators that inspire us. Kwame Alexander is one of those creators, and we are thrilled to have him come and share with us!” Kworweinski Lafontant, president of BSU, said.

The Center for Diversity and Inclusion is another organization involved in the event. The Center for Diversity and Inclusion empowers students to excel academically and flourish as socially responsible members in a diverse world. They provide opportunities, resources and advocacy in partnership with the greater Hope College community to promote a Christ-centered culture of equity and inclusion.

“The Center for Diversity and Inclusion is excited to collaborate on our celebration of Black History Month and African American writers with many Hope College departments and groups. We commemorate Black History in February and throughout the year.  [We are] looking forward to virtually welcoming Kwame Alexander to our campus,” Margo Walters, Program Coordinator for the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, said.

This event is also being hosted in partnership with Hope College’s Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series, a student-run, faculty-organized series committed to hosting free events that are open to the public. Their events offer opportunities for our local and student communities to interact with the visiting writers and discuss their craft  through panels, readings, classes and workshops. The program’s goal is to provide the community with diverse and rich literary experiences.

This event is also made possible through support from Hope College’s Education Department, the Ruth Tensen Creative Writing Fund and the Cultural Affairs Committee. More information about them can be found at hope.edu.