Social Justice Poetry Capstone

This video is a collection of three poems by social justice writers on the topic of race in America. The pictures connected with the audio are meant to further attach words to their images in the mind, to depict more easily the comparisons from the poet’s method to our own thoughts.

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Five Things to Know About Social Justice Poetry

To Summarize Social Justice Poetry:

  1. This genre focuses on the marginalized people in society.
  2. Major themes include freedom and identity.
  3. The Civil Rights Movement and the Harlem Renaissance are two of the most productive eras for literature, especially for social justice poetry. Notable poets from these periods include Robert Hayden and Langston Hughes.
  4. Slam is a medium for social justice poetry. Notable poets in this category include Sarah Kay and Patrick Rosal.
  5.  Social justice poetry is a pervasive catalyst for action that can change the world.

Speaking Circles: A Look at Patrick Rosal’s Poem “About the White Boys who Drove by a Second Time to Throw a Bucket of Water on Me”

ABOUT THE WHITE BOYS WHO DROVE BY A SECOND TIME TO THROW A BUCKET OF WATER ON ME
By Patrick Rosal

 

…there shall never be rest
’til the last moon droop and the last tide fall…
– Arthur Symons

 

The first time they merely spat on me and drove off
I stood there a while staring down the road
after them as if I were looking for myself
I even shouted my own name
But when they cruised past again
to toss a full bucket of water
(and who knows what else) on me
I charged–sopping wet–after their car

 

and though they were quickly gone I kept
running Maybe it was hot that August afternoon
but I ran the whole length of Main Street past
the five-and-dime where I stole Spaldeens
and rabbits’ feet past the Raritan bus depot
and Bo’s Den and the projects where Derek and them
scared the shit out of that girl I pumped
the thin pistons of my legs all the way home

 

Let’s get real: It’s been twenty-five years
and I haven’t stopped chasing them
through those side streets in Metuchen
each pickup b-ball game every
swanky mid-town bar I’ve looked for them
in every white voice that slurred and cursed me
within earshot in every pink and pretty
body whose lights I wanted to punch out

 

–and did to be honest I looked for them
in every set of thin lips I schemed to kiss
and this is how my impossible fury
rose: like stone in water I ran
all seven miles home that day and I’ve been
running ever since arriving finally
here and goddammit I’m gonna set things straight

 

The moment they drove by laughing
at a slant-eyed yellowback gook
they must have seen a boy
who would never become a man We could say
they were dead wrong but instead let’s say
this: Their fathers gave them their rage
as my father gave me mine

and from that summer day on we managed
to savor every bloody thing
that belonged to us It was a meal
constantly replenished–a rich
bitterness we’ve learned to live on for so long
we forget how–like brothers–
we put the first bite in one another’s mouths

Here is a link where you can listen to Patrick Rosal read this poem live. There are other poems which you can listen to by Patrick Rosal.

http://www.fishousepoems.org/archives/patrick_rosal/about_the_white_boys_who_drove_by_a_second_time_to_throw_a_bucket_of_water_on_me_live_bates.shtml

In this poem, the idea that prejudice and the anger that arises from prejudices is cyclic in its patterns. The end of the poem grows to this idea of feeding; the speaker is fed by the actions of the white boys. Yet, the speaker asserts that the food is also something that grows from tradition and what parents think. Therefore, the poem ties into the epigraph’s assertion that there is no rest. There is no break from the prejudice. This is emphasized by the poem’s lack of punctuation, especially periods which would give the poem a complete stop. As a spoken word poem, the rise and fall of the speaker’s voice brings back this idea of reaction. The poem is a reaction to something that happened, but it is also a call for change because it points out that which is absurd. By pointing out the cyclical sensation of this prejudice, the poem stands as a call for justice, for an awakening to the source of all the prejudice that goes on in the world. Thus, the poem stands as an interaction between audience and poet that calls awareness to the current situation in hope of change.

 

The Spoken Word Legacy: Patrick Rosal and Sarah Kay

As a major re-birth of the oral aspect of poetry, the effects of slam poetry can be seen in many living poets today. Two poets with different backgrounds offer insight into how claiming an identity and interacting directly with an audience has shaped contemporary social justice poetry.
The son of Philippine immigrants, Patrick Rosal has published three books of poetry: Boneshepherds, My American Kundiman, and Uprock Headspin Scramble and Dive. He has received many different awards and fellowships such as a Fulbright Fellowship to the Philippines. 

Sarah Kay is the co-director and founder of Project VOICE, an initiative to bring poetry to youth. The author of the book B, she works as an editor for Write Bloody Publishing and has given many talks about poetry including one presented at the 2011 TED Conference. In 2006, she was the youngest poet competing at the National Poetry Slam.

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