Critical Thinking: Poetry and Spoken Word

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  • Session B: July 24 - August 5, 2017


  • 1:30 p.m. - 4 p.m.


  • English and Writing


  • Amber Rose Johnson

This module explores written poetry and performance poetry, or spoken word, as mediums for critical thinking. We read works by authors whose communities have been historically marginalized or subject to discrimination—particularly Black, and Latina/o writers, women writers and LGBTQ writers—to explore how their writing is used to resist silencing and injustice in the United States in the last century.

In class sessions, we discuss the critical themes poets are writing about, the nature of their work and explore the ways performance or writing style can help communicate the meaning of the poem. What is the difference between spoken word and written poetry? How do those differences change the way we receive their messages?

Students also learn about historical and contemporary poets, read critical scholarship on the relationship between poetry and critical thinking, and have the opportunity to create and share their own writing.

The first section of the module engages with poems produced in the early 20th century as historical context. It is also an exploration of Gil Scott-Heron and the Last Poets in the 1960’s and 70’s as the vanguards of the spoken word movement. The next section of the module allows students to engage with spoken word and written poetry produced by artists in the last five years through various media including printed chapbooks and video recordings of performance poetry. We explore the ways spoken word artists are using their work to create counter-narratives today.

Throughout the module, students have opportunities to write their own poem or spoken word piece and the course concludes with a voluntary open mic. By using multiple media and activity styles, this course hopes to be interactive and an accessible space for all students.

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