Packet 7 Readings & Exercises

“The Colonel,” Carolyn Forche

“To live in the borderlands means…” Gloria Anzaldua

“On a Highway East of Selma…” Gregory Orr

“Reading the Living Archive,” Carolyn Forche

“Waterlily Fire,” Muriel Rukeyser

“The Disease,” Muriel Rukeyser

Note: I don’t own the rights to any of these poems. I couldn’t find “Sea of Cabbages” by Gloria Anzaldua, so I included a link to another poem featured in her book Borderlands. The link to “The Disease” is incomplete; the contents of the poem are there, but the formatting is missing, so proceed with caution.


For five minutes, please respond to any of the following questions:

What do you care about? What do you hope to achieve through your writing?

Exercise 1: Us/Them persona poems

What do you think about when you hear the word “we”? Who is/are “we”? Whom do you stand with? Next, who is/are “they”? Who don’t you see eye-to-eye with? Is it by disagreement or different concerns, needs, and ideologies? Perhaps is a matter of separation, of distance or distancing. Perhaps you’ve never considered this “they.” Write a poem in your own voice or a persona poem in the voice of someone within that “we” of yours. Let it be a stanza or two. Next, write a persona poem in the voice of someone unlike you, someone who falls into the category of “they.” This can be a stanza or two as well. How do we see the world? How do they see the world? Why does/should any of this matter? Recall Patricia Smith’s “Skinhead” as an example. Take five to ten minutes depending on class time.

Exercise 2: Occasional poem

As we’ve read, an occasional poem is a poem written to mark or commemorate an event. Elena Georgiou’s “Immigrant #6: Incantation by Phone” is an occasional poem, set on 9/11. The twenty-first century has seen innumerable tragedies, travesties, and occasions for celebration—Hurricane Katrina, the wars in the Middle East, the rescue of Chilean miners, etc. Each occasion has a time and place, and there are witnesses, victims, and oppressors. However, we need not experience the actual event to write about it. Just as we use our imagination to write from another’s perspective, so too may we use our imagination to visualize and memorialize an occurrence.

For a minute or two, jot down some important events that come to mind. They may be personal or distant. Just name them. Next, choose one of those events; feel free to use the event’s name as the title. Write about what happened, where, and when. Consider the context surrounding the event, the reasons for its occurrence and people’s reactions to it. What was/is your reaction? How does your reaction empathize with others? Take five to ten minutes depending on class time.

Exercise 3: A portable poem of witness

On your own time, read the news. Copy out or cut and paste together an article you find. Record someone’s experience. Watch a documentary. Consider a moment of crisis, of injustice, and/or of silence which you yourself have experienced. Inspiration for writing can take any form, it can come from anywhere—inspiration can come even from silence. What extremities have you suffered or endured through? Name those conditions, respond them, dissect them, and translate them for your reader. Bear witness to your life as well as the lives of others. Write.


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