Since a person’s cultural experiences in life will undoubtedly affect what he brings to his writing and the manner in which he does so, I am offering students the opportunity to observe the influence a person’s experience, as part of a culture, has on his writing. Although there will be singular viewpoints within a culture, a culture as a whole moves together striving to reveal its human condition. In particular, the students will compare and contrast the viewpoints of Twentieth Century Black American Poetry, as represented by various poets from two different eras. I’ve chosen the periods of 1930-1955 and 1955-80 for a number of reasons; there is a significant difference in the social status of blacks in America in the two periods; and there is a shift in the attitude from passive victim, to a fighter for social change. Since each era has unique characteristics in and of itself, the students will be able to explain why a particular poem was written with the sentiments its owns. Since there is a current of unity within each era, the students will be able to recognize that unity. For example, the tone in poems concerning segregation may change from the period of 1930-55 to the period of 1955-80.
In order for students to have a complete understanding of Twentieth Century Black American Poetry it is important and vital that they understand the social and cultural issues of the times. Questions, such as Where did he get that idea from?, Why does he feel that way?, and What kind of life has he had? can only be answered after students recognize that the black culture, has been experiencing during the time the poetry was written. By understanding the history of the black culture the students will then be aware of poetry as a mirror of a particular era. A study of each era includes an overview of the current social issues affecting the black community, as well as the population in general. I will gear the unit’s focus towards important documents, political figures, educational and occupational standings, as well as civil rights, freedom and the many issues which surround the black culture within each time period. In addition to a history of each era, we will look at poems which resound the morals, feelings, movements, struggles and attitudes of the times. Through examining each time period, the students will have a general basis for analyzing, identifying and understanding the coinciding poetry. This examination will allow the students to see a vivid difference between the vocabulary, attitude, writing style and general themes/issues within and between each era. Although the social situation of the times will affect a poet’s writing, students will also note an agreement of themes between the eras since a person does not lose his history with the passage of time. Through studying some current poetry, the student will be able to express verbally and written what social messages are being relayed via poetry. The relevance of history plays an important role in the sequence of Twentieth Century Black American Poets. Students will observe the development of the poetry through the history of its culture. It is important for students to see that issues from past eras can continue to be unresolved for some poets, and therefore can affect, cause or change the poet’s point of view. It is both this continuance yet vast individuality of each era that I hope the students will grasp.
The challenge here is to break down the material into understandable units without deleting any major or important events which, in turn, would cheat our students of their access to a more sophisticated material. In my teaching I have found that if the material is too advanced for a student he will either give up immediately, or politely pay lip service to my teaching without understanding a single word. By breaking down the material and relating it to the student so that he can conclude that what he personally feels, experiences and learns in his life will be reflected in his writing, then the student will personally benefit. It is my goal that the student feel successful in examining the poetry and gain confidence in his ability to express himself through poetry.