Poems from Students … to Politicians

Welcome to the Poems from Students, Educators (and anyone else)* to Politicians program, which went live on November 30, 2018. We  intend to keep this program running indefinitely, regardless of who wins what in subsequent U.S. elections.

Please settle in and read through the 3 sections below, and check out our group page on Facebook, which you’ll be welcome to join after you’ve participated in the program:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/248168332536777/

 

Note that you do not have to pay for or buy anything in order to participate (although buying Killing America would help me eat and pay bills). This is a free, self-paced and ongoing program, which, despite its title, is open to anyone* who would like to write and send poems to elected officials in Washington DC.

Welcome aboard.


Poems from Students, Educators (and anyone else)* to Politicians

1. Program Overview What We Did, Why It’s Important, What We’re Doing, and How You Can Participate

2. Suggested Prompts and Resources for Writing Your Poem Several Ways to Get Started Especially if Writing a Poem is New for You

3. Addresses and Links for Congress, the Supreme Court and White House

 


1. Program Overview What We Did, Why It’s Important, What We’re Doing, and How You Can Participate

 

What We Did: As you might already know, on September 4, 2018, we mailed every member of the U.S. Congress and Supreme Court, the President and Vice President a copy of Killing America: Our United States of Ignorance, Fear, Bigotry, Violence and Greed.  As of August 22, 2019 three of them have responded to receipt of the book, and of those three, Rosa L. DeLauro, from Connecticut, actually responded to the book’s content and message.

Why It’s Important: Our unprecedented and increasingly normalized national addiction to gun violence catalyzed this project, but what began, and continues, to emerge as the project unfolds is the underlying culture of ignorance, fear, bigotry, violence and greed – at home and abroad, that both feeds and is fed by this uniquely American embrace of violence. That we now have an occupant in the White House who embodies and perpetuates each of the five qualities in the book’s subtitle calls us to act. If you’re struggling with all of this right now, want to do something, and don’t know what to do, writing a relevant, authentic and honest poem and sending it to your elected officials is something you can do. 

In my experience, doing it without the expectation that you will get a response, and without the expectation that anything will change because of your poem(s) is a healthy way to approach this. This doesn’t mean that nothing will happen; it simply means that expectations can lead to our getting attached to a specific goal or result. Act without attachment to results. Act in order to own, express and share your voice. 

How You Can Participate: If you don’t yet have a copy of the book, you can learn more about it, including excerpts, videos and reviews, here on the Killing America site, so you’ll have a context for deciding whether or not to participate in the “Poems from Students, Educators (and anyone else)* to Politicians” program.

We are encouraging students, teachers, administrators, parents and anyone else* who cares about the current state of the United States to write a poem that addresses one or more of the qualities in the book’s title and subtitle (including their “opposites”) and to mail a copy of the poem to their respective Representative, Senators, the President, Vice President and each Supreme Court Justice. If fourteen letters seem a bit much, we recommend sending your poem to these four: your one Representative, two Senators and the President. Of course, you can send your poem to the local, state and national politicians of your choice – these are just suggestions.

You can do this once, or once a week or month, etc. for as long as you feel it’s important.

 

Optional Invitation: As mentioned above, once you’ve written and mailed your poems, we invite you to join our closed Facebook Group, where you can post the poems you’ve sent to your elected officials and read poems from other participants:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/248168332536777/

A Note About the Book: While this note may be unnecessary for most folks who read it, it’s essential for me to provide it. The poems in Killing America are appropriate for high school students and older, and perhaps some more mature middle school students. Whether to share any of the poems with younger children is up to each of us as responsible, loving educators and/or parents.

Since 1997 I have used versions of the prompts provided below (absent the references to Killing America)with students at every level from first grade through post-graduate professionals through wonderful folks at senior centers. The prompts can be adapted for the development and skill level of the students. Teachers who already write poetry with their students already have more approaches than I can possibly provide here. For those of you who have not previously written poems or taught poetry writing, and who would like to see additional prompts beyond what’s provided below, please scroll down to the “Selected books” under “Resources.” While I have used all of the books listed, if you’re looking for accessible exercises that can be easily adapted to your needs, I suggest starting with one of these three: Behn & Twichell’s The Practice of Poetry; Collom & Noethe’s Poetry Everywhere; and Alderson’s Talking Back to Poems.

Brief guidelines and helpful information:

  • Remind those Senators and Representatives who were in office on September 4, 2018 and the President that they received a copy of Killing America in September, and recommend that they read it. If they are newly elected on November 6, let them know about the book, that some of their colleagues have it, and that they can buy one here: https://www.amazon.com/Killing-America-Ignorance-Bigotry-Violence/dp/0962782882)
  • Write an honest, authentic poem that comes from your heart, soul, spirit and head. Don’t worry about how “good” it is. There’s more on how to do this below.
  • Provide a brief cover letter that includes your name, age and/or grade and school if you’re a student, and whatever identifying info you choose if you’re an educator, parent or other adult. In a sentence or two, tell each recipient why you’re sending the poem, but don’t explain the poem – let it speak for itself. Include a clear return address on your envelope – your letter may be delayed or discarded without it.
  • In both your poem and your letter, be honest and authentic. If you’re scared or angry, make that clear; avoid being personally insulting or mean. We’re trying to move hearts and minds, and don’t want to become the things we’re protesting against.
  • If you’re an eligible voter, remind the recipient(s) of this.

2. Suggested Prompts and Resources for Writing Your Poem Several Ways to Get Started Especially if Writing a Poem is New for You

 

What’s below is intended for poets who have yet to write their first poem, those who have tried and convinced themselves they can’t do it, and anyone else who’d like a little help getting started. If one of those descriptions applies to you, here are several writing prompts that will help you get started, and some resources for finding more ways to approach writing a poem. If you already write, feel free to use your own approach or check out what’s below.

 

These are intended as guidelines, and not “the way” to write your poem. If helpful, use one prompt; perhaps combine several prompts; perhaps ignore them all; read some poems to see what other poets do. Trust yourself.

 

If you’re a primary grade teacher who would like to engage your students with this program, but you’re not sure how to get started, see the final prompts below, just before the addresses for our elected officials.

General getting-started strategies (to use or ignore):

  • Once you begin to write your poem, show us how you feel; don’t just tell us. “Show” your emotions with images:
    • rather than telling us, “I am scared,” show us something like, “heart pounding, hair on my neck standing at attention”; that is, what happens with your body and mind when you’re scared?
    • rather than telling us, “I am angry,” show us something like, “fists clenched, I leaned in nose to nose”; that is, what happens with your body and mind when you’re angry?
    • rather than telling us, “I love her,” show us something like, “hand in hand in that moment, everything felt possible.”
      • Showing uses language that engages one or more of the 5 senses, giving the reader something to see, hear, feel, taste or smell.
  • Give yourself the time to write, reread what you’ve written (preferably after a day or more), revise, and proofread. If you’re not confident in your use of language, ask a family member or friend to proofread for or with you.
  • Read your poem aloud so you (and others) can hear it. Hearing your words has a different impact than seeing them on the page. Maybe revise again (re-vision = to see (or hear) again).
  • Write your cover letter and mail your poem. If you begin to doubt yourself, and aren’t sure you can or should do this, see the next bullet.
  • Write your cover letter and mail your poem. Remember to include a clear return address. Read this bullet as many times as it takes, and mail your poem!
  • If you want to learn more about writing a poem, see resources below the prompts.

Prompts – a prompt is a writing exercise that helps you get started. These prompts focus on the themes in Killing America: Our United States of Ignorance, Fear, Bigotry, Violence and Greed. For additional prompts, please see the selected books on writing / poems and online resources below.

Prompt #1: Write about what the title, Killing America, means to you. Show us with words and images how you feel when you experience – read, hear or think about, the two words in the title.

Prompt #2: Write about any one, or several, or all 5 of the “states” in the subtitle: as a citizen of the United States of America:

• How does ignorance impact you and others?

• How does fear impact you and others?

• How does bigotry impact you and others?

• How does violence impact you and others?

• How does greed impact you and others?

You can, of course, use the opposite of any of these states or qualities as well.

Prompt #3: If you have a copy of the book, or if you’ve read some of the poems from the book online at https://killing-america.com/poems/, select one poem that speaks to or resonates with you, and respond to it. You can do this by selecting a word, image, metaphor, line, stanza, sound, or the poem as a whole – anything at all, and begin your poem by responding to what you’ve selected. Then just follow your poem wherever it takes you. You don’t have to try to make your poem look or sound like the one to which you’re responding.

Prompt #4: Write from a point of view other than your own. “Become” something (or someone) that you’re not. Write from that thing’s (or person’s) experience and perspective. The possibilities here are endless. One of my favorite point-of-view poems came from a 5th-grader (whose name I’ve forgotten) over a decade ago in Mary Ann McAndrew’s classroom in South Windsor, CT. He “became” his toothbrush and wrote something like this (from my memory, so not verbatim, but the last two lines are close). The slash “/” indicates the end of a line:

I hate my life / I hang from my neck all night / and most of the day / then he grabs me, sticks my head under the water / tries to drown me and puts goo in my hair. / It gets worse. / He sticks me in his dark, wet, smelly mouth / what will it be? / Eggs? Cereal? Spinach? / Dead chicken or cow?  He mashes my hair against his teeth / tries to drown me again and again / and as he prepares to hang me again from my neck / I notice the toilet paper roll / and realize maybe I don’t have it so bad.

Bring the thing or person to life and speak in first person. In the context of Killing America, you might become one  of the following: killing, America, ignorance, fear, bigotry, violence, greed, a bullet, a dollar bill, a health insurance policy, the American flag, the Bill of Rights; the Statue of Liberty; a first- responder to a tragedy; blood… What would it be like to write as if you were one of these things or people?

Prompt #5: Expanding on Prompt #3 above, respond to any poem you’ve read that feels appropriate for this “Poems…to Politicians” program. Most of the online resources below provide free, abundant access to poems, as do the anthologies, which are worth exploring. “Simply” find a poem and follow the steps in Prompt #3.

For Primary Grades TeachersThese two prompts have worked with students in grades 1-3 (and beyond):

  1. Guide students through writing an acrostic poem, in which the first (or other) letter in each line spells out a word. For this program, words like peace, freedom, justice, love, fear, etc. might work. E.g. here’s a simple acrostic for peace:

Powerful feelings of love for

Everyone 

Allow beautiful

Communities to 

Exist everywhere.

There is more you can do with acrostics; this is one way to begin.

2. Group Poem: Develop an agreed upon theme with your students and invite each student to write one line or sentence. There are many ways to do this. The simplest is to have them write their lines at the same time, and then combine them. A more challenging and time-consuming approach is to have one student write a line, and then have the next student write a line that has something to do with the immediately preceding line (not all the preceding lines). Either way, when done, students have created a poem in which each of their voices serves the common theme.

For additional ideas for younger students, Ken Koch’s Wishes, Lies and Dreams (below) continues to work after 40+ years.

 


Resources

Selected books on writing / poems (there are many more):

Addonizio, Kim, and Dorianne Laux.  The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry.  New York: Norton, 1997.

Alderson, Daniel.  Talking Back to Poems: A Working Guide for the Aspiring Poet.

Berkeley: Celestial Arts, 1996.

Boisseau, Michelle, and Robert Wallace.  Writing Poems.  6th ed.  New York: Pearson

Longman, 2004.

 

Behn, Robin and Chase Twichell, ed.  The Practice of Poetry.  New York:

HarperCollins, 1992.

Collom, Jack, and Sheryl Noethe.  Poetry Everywhere: Teaching Poetry Writing in

School and the Community. New York: Teachers and Writers, 1994.

Goldberg, Natalie.  Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life.  New York: Bantam, 1990.

—.Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within.  Boston: Shambhala, 1986.

Kinzie, Mary.  A Poet’s Guide to Poetry.  Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1999.

Koch, Kenneth. Wishes, Lies ad Dreams: Teaching Children to Write Poetry. New York: Chelsea House, 1970 / Perennial Library, 1980.

Kowit, Steve.  In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop.  Gardiner,

Maine: Tilbury House, 1995. 

Padgett, Ron, ed.  The Teachers & Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms. New York:

Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 1987. [more recent edition available].

Selected anthologies that are thematically similar to Killing America:

Clements, Brian, Alexandra Teague, and Dean Rader, eds. Bullets Into Bells: Poets &

Citizens Respond to Gun Violence. Boston: Beacon, 2017.

Espada, Martín, ed. Poetry Like Bread: Poets of the Political Imagination. Willimantic

CT: Curbstone, 1994.

Forché, Carolyn, ed. Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness. New

York: Norton, 1993.

Forché, Carolyn, and Duncan Wu, eds. Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English,

1500 – 2001. New York: Norton, 2014.

Gillan, Maria Mazziotti, and Jennifer Gillan, eds. Unsettling America: An Anthology of

Contemporary Multicultural Poetry. New York: Penguin, 1994.

Silverstein, Murray, Gerald Fleming, Lynne Knight, et. al., eds. America, We Call Your

Name: Poems of Resistance and Resilience. San Francisco: Sixteen Rivers, 2018.

Selected Online Resources and Organizations

Academy of American Poets: https://www.poets.org/

Cave Canem: http://cavecanempoets.org/

Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Program: http://www.dodgepoetry.org/

Poetry Foundation: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/

Poetry Society of America: https://www.poetrysociety.org/psa/

Teachers & Writers Collaborative: https://www.twc.org/


3. Addresses and Links for Congress, the Supreme Court and White House

To make the mailing easier for you, here is some general information about where to send your poem(s). Note that you can contact your Senators and Representatives at both their local state offices and in Washington DC. Visit their individual websites for local addresses in your state.

Keep in mind that many Congressional seats will be occupied by newly elected (on November 6, 2018) Representatives and Senators when Congress convenes on January 3, 2019.

  • For the President and Vice President:
    • The White HouseOffice of the President1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.Washington, DC 20500
    • The White HouseOffice of the Vice President1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.Washington, DC 20500
  • Find your Senators’ names here: https://www.senate.gov/senators/contactThe address will be their name, office# and one of these building addresses:
    • Russell Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
    • Dirksen Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
    • Hart Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510

For example:

Senator Christopher Murphy

136 Hart Senate Office Building

Washington DC 20510

  • Find your Representative’s name, office# and building here: https://www.house.gov/representatives.The address will be name, office# and one of these building addresses:
    • Longworth House Office Building [abbreviated as LHOB on the website]Washington, DC 20515
    • Rayburn House Office Building [abbreviated as RHOB]Washington, DC20515
    • Cannon House Office Building [abbreviated as CHOB]Washington, DC 20515

For example: 

Representative Rosa L. DeLauro

2413 Rayburn House Office Bldg

Washington, DC 20515

  • For the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court:
    • The Chief Justice of the United States One First Street N.E.Washington, D.C., 20543
  • For the Associate Justices:
    • Justice [surname]The Supreme Court of the United StatesOne First Street N.E.Washington, D.C. 20543

For example:

 

Justice Kagan

The Supreme Court of the United States

One First Street N.E.

Washington, D.C. 20543

 


*We really do mean “and anyone else” above, but simply don’t have the time to create a separate program and website for the nurses, plumbers, law enforcement officers, people without health insurance, accountants, postal workers, truck drivers, physicians, attorneys, local politicians, therapists, carpenters, software designers, engineers, IT techs, firefighters, paramedics, lumberjacks, assembly line workers, economists, receptionists, secretaries, pilots, members of the armed forces, veterans, cab drivers, bus drivers, professional athletes, entertainers, scientists, farmers, architects, coaches, retail employees, sales people, executives, sanitation workers, etc. etc. etc. who may also be opposed to ignorance, fear, bigotry, violence and greed.

Please share this program with folks you know in these (and any other) professions, and express our invitation, and extend our apology for not including them specifically.

 


cropped-r-marra-ka-cover_high-res-2.jpg

Publication Date: September 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-0627828-8-6

6×9 Paper $17.87 | Kindle $3.99

Cover Art: Whose Heaven? by Ray DiCapua

Charcoal and ink on paper | 48” x 72”

Copyright © 2003 by Ray DiCapua

https://raydicapua.com/

We regret that review copies are no longer available, and appreciate your supporting poetry, poets and the arts at large by purchasing this book, if you’re so inclined. 

For information on volume discounts, please visit https://killing-america.com/volume-discounts/.


REGGIE MARRA is the author of four books of poetry and four of nonfiction. He has conducted poetry-writing and adult development and healing workshops since 1997, including work with the NEA’s Poetry Out Loud program, the National Association for Poetry Therapy, the Connecticut Higher Order Thinking (HOT) Schools program, the Transformative Language Arts Network, Teleosis Institute, the Arts Alliance of Northern New Hampshire, HealingNewtown, the National Speakers Association and in schools throughout the northeastern United States. Reggie is an Integral Master Coach,™ a Voice Dialogue practitioner through Bridgit Dengel Gaspard, and Nature Based Soulcraft® practitioner through Bill Plotkin and Animas Valley Institute. Prior to 1997 he spent 21 years as a teacher, basketball coach and administrator in secondary and higher education.


Copyright © 2018, 2019 by Reggie Marra

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