chapter  8
10 Pages

To Shatter Innocence: Teaching African American Poetry

Teaching African American poetry in public schools, particularly in those exceptionally conscious of "multiculturalism" and "political cor­ rectness," may prove a difficult task. Imagine that you are in a tenthgrade classroom, teaching American literature to a group of students who come from diverse ethnic backgrounds. In the poetry unit, you have been discussing the sonnet. It has been an uphill struggle to get these students interested in form, imagery, and figurative language. You begin the unit with Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." Thanks to John Ciardi's formal explanation of what that poem means (or another commentary on aesthetic distance you excavated from your college notes), you have succeeded in deflecting some questions about Frost's message. Indeed, you boldly informed these lively stu­ dents of the MTV/ hip-hop/ crossover generation that a poem may have no message at all. It is sufficient unto itself. The purpose of litera­ ture is to provide intellectual delight, not pragmatic directions.