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Tag Archives: Langston Hughes

Gettin’ My Mojo Back

I looked at this poem a month ago and decided not to post it. As I listened to music today, a song came on called Getting My Mojo Back and felt it was time to post it.

I wrote this during a retreat on Bainsbridge Island based on the work of Parker Palmer. It was at a time I was wrestling with staying in teaching due to the politics. I felt I was not giving it my all and lacked confidence in my teaching.

During the retreat, I reflected and had candid conversations with others and concluded it was time to control what I could control. Interestingly, it was in the conversations with others that I had to choose to be all in really came to the forefront. I went back to my classroom, spent another 5 years teaching, and giving it my all.

I think, when we lose confidence, we do not realize it. It sneaks up on us, rather than being a cataclysmic shift. Recovering confidence is similar. It is done in small steps and realizing we are not alone in the moment.

I had to realize anger was born out of fear and loss. Once I acknowledged this, I was at ease with letting go and moving forward.

It just happens–

Letting go;

Speaking without anger–

Embracing one’s sadness;

For what is lost.

Staring into an abyss–

Sitting with unformed questions;

Terrifying darkness–

Sensing incompleteness,

Feeling uncertainty.

Taking stock–

Looking inwards;

Accepting extended hands–

Discarding baggage

Moving towards a place of light.

Mojo gaining momentum–

Emerging at its pace;

Creating healing space–

Living one’s own truth;

Living in each moment’s question.

I attended a John Lee Hooker concert in 1972 or 1973. I grew up listening to jazz, gospel, folk, and blues with traditional country, early rock and roll. I took it for granted that I attended a John Lee concert until an American, who shared a love for the blues, told me he never did. African-American performers toured in Canada on a regular basis at a time they did not have that same ease of movement in their own country.

When I used Langston Hughes’ poetry in my teaching, I remembered he wrote from a different understanding of what America was. This was an outgrowth of an awareness of my privilege as a white Canadian male.

In Seeming Chaos, Hope

I gave a lot of thought today about hope and its lack of it. I do not confuse hope with positivity and positive mindset. Instead, I understand hope as grounded in reality. Emily Dickinson described it as “the thing with feathers,” suggesting we cannot fully describe it. Its ineffeable nature creates a metaphoric meaning for each of us. Without dreams and hope, Langston Hughes cautions “life is a broken-winged bird/that cannot fly.” With hope and dreams of previous enslaved generations, Maya Angelou repeats the title of her poem “I Rise” as a prayer and refrain against hopelessness.

Too often, people want to pigeon-hole others in binary and dichotomous ways e.g. conservative or progressive. It appears easier and less ambiguous if we can label someone, somehow providing a sense of stability about who this or that person is. What we mis-understand is “and” means something. It acknowledges how complex each human is. We are not usually one thing or the other. Instead, we are mingling of things, experiences informing how we live, and the context within which we live. I want to conserve things e.g. Nature and, at the same time, progress e.g. equity regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. Neither is premised on political or, in our case, reality TV, sloganeering.

Paulo Freire and bell hooks write about hope, unconditional love, and dialogue in educating children, youth, and adults. I think the critical theory is incorrect. What they propose is critical pedagogy/andragogy where I ground dialogue in listening with lovingkindness to those with different lived-experiences. In mindful, non-judgemental listening, I seek to open up space where the Other shares their reality and wisdom. In acknowledgeing the humanity of the Other and greeting them in dignified silence, I might offer the fragile hope so needed in today’s world. Imagine a world where we greeted one another with dignity, rather than making up slick political mottos and creating disparaging nicknames that assault others?

I wrote this poem after a long, hard day. I thumbed through some right-brain scribbles and this was the result.

Even in chaos, hope–

Faith springing forth,

Beloved Other sharing wisdom:

What do we hold in common.

Communal rhythm,

Symphonic voices arising–

Loving harmonies;

Binding and healing.

Listening,

Giving dignity–

Acknowledging shared ground.

Holding each Other gently,

Unsure together–

Breaking bread

Being safe in this space.

This was the first secular song I heard in church. It was the late 1960’s. Today, I think we do need mountains we have bulldozed, meadows we have paved over, and water we have contaminated. Having said this, we need love and hope equal measure to make those things happen.

On Langston Hughes – Black History Month Tribute to a Great Poet

via On Langston Hughes – Black History Month Tribute to a Great Poet

Melba posted a wonderful poem, Mother to Son, written by legendary African-American poet, Langston Hughes.

I used Langston Hughes’s poetry in our poetry unit each year. The metaphor of life as a staircase, sometimes smooth and other times unevern, seemed to fit junior high students. My students responded to it well.

Another aspect of including his work and Maya Angelou‘s poetry was around the issue of civil rights. In Grade 7, we read the book The Cay, by Theodore Taylor who dedicated it to Martin Luther King shortly after he was assassinated, about the relationship of a young white boy and an elderly black man to discuss what being well-educated meant. I included my mother’s line, which was “who would you rather be lost in the wilderness, someone who read about it or an indigenous person, with no schooling, who lived it?”

In Grade 8, we exoplored civil rights through the lens of heros. I let students choose, but some struggled with this choice. Knowing my students well, I introduced them to Jackie Robinson, Willie O’Ree, and Wilma Rudolph, if they were interested in sports. Others, who came from religious families, I encouraged them to consider Martin Luther King  and Mother Teresa. If they were interested in people who stood for the rights of the oppressed, but might not be considered a religious person we talked about Nelson Mandela and Mahatama Gandhi. Regardless, I found, when I tapped into who each student was, colour, ethnicity, and gender dissolved and wonderful projects emerged.

Another Hughes’s poem we read was Dream Deferred, is sprinked with questions from beginning to end:

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Here, is a video of the poem read by the poet.

Gallery Hop – I, Too, Sing America: The Harlem Renaissance at 100 Mural Series

via Gallery Hop – I, Too, Sing America: The Harlem Renaissance at 100 Mural Series

This post is a bit longer than ones I usually press, but it brought back memories of teaching.

I taught Language Arts and, as a result, poetry. I was drawn to Langston Hughes who was critical in the Harlem Renaissance, although he was not originally from New York. He was from Joplin, Missouri, found his way to Harlem, and added a wonderful voice through poetry to the Renaissance.

One of the murals in the post is of Richard Pryor who would have begun his career in the latter stages of Langston Hughes’ life. I did not think of it that way until today as I looked at the post and realized there was an overlap in their careers.

Like Hughes, Pryor was not born in New York, but moved there from Illinois. I watched Pryor on the Ed Sullivan Show in the late 1960’s, enjoying his humour and social critique.

I leave you with a Langston Hughes poem: Dreams. I shared this one with my students each year, reminding them to have dreams and chase those dreams.

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

 

Hope

This Emily Dickinson poem reminds me of Langston HughesDreams. There are  direct and indirect metaphors to birds and a sense hope and dreams feed to lighten one’s spirit.

Being mindful of one’s dreams can give a person hope and something to look forward to. It is not to say we lose ourselves in our dreams, living in a fantasy. Our dreams nourish a hope essential to sustain our spirit and who we are becoming as a person.

Dreams call to us, even in challenging times. We share them with others and they bring hope, not to one person, but to a larger collective. Dreams and hope exist as questions, which we can reflect on alone and together.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
Here is the Langston Hughes poem.

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Types of Rose Flower by Color – Red Rose Bud

Hold fast to dreams For if dreams die Life is a broken-winged bird That cannot fly. Dreams by Langston Hughes

Source: Types of Rose Flower by Color – Red Rose Bud

When I taught, I used this poem and Mother to Son written by Langston Hughes. The two poems carry deep thematic meanings about living life, having dreams to follow, and not making excuses when we come up short. I found that for junior high students these themes were important and helped them focus on how they were becoming adults.

Dreams give us a way to imagine we can figuratively fly in life. Mother to Son reminded us that it was not always easy to follow those dreams.

The red rose buds in the pictures add to the imagery about how fragile dreams are in real-time. We need to nurture them and bring them to life as we feed them.

Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field

Frozen with snow.

Dream Boogie

Stony Creek, where I taught for almost 15 years, was a special place. It does not exist other than in name only. It was a place where parents, students, and educators met and learned together. It was a place that defied the way ‘traditional schooling’ was done. The goal was to meet each child where they were in their learning and not force the child to fit the learning. For most of the time I was there, I taught and learned (those are not inseparable if we allow them to emerge together) in a way I could only dream possible. For those years, the dream was not deferred. It was real, but fragile as all dreams are.

I enjoy Langston Hughes and his wonderful poetry. Each year, I chose a poem or two from his wonderful writing and shared it with the students. I found that if I share my passion for learning and what excited me in my learning students and parents reciprocated. We lived and learned in community not in school. This is one of the poems I shared from that place.

Good morning, daddy!

Ain’t you heard

The boogie-woogie rumble

Of a dream deferred?

Listen closely:

You’ll hear their feet

Beating out and Beating out a —

You think

It’s a happy beat?

Listen to it closely:

Ain’t you heard

something underneath

like a —

What did I say?

Sure,

I’m happy!

Take it away!

Hey, pop!

Re-bop!

Mop!

Y-e-a-h!

Dreams

It was a long day. I feel tired and I was not as close to 100% as I thought. Despite that, I had an interesting conversation and, on the way home, I wondered if many children’s dreams have exploded? Do children dream like I did when I was a child? Do some children while others are afraid or unable to dream? I turned those questions over and they reminded me of Langston Hughes’ wonderful poetry. What is my role in holding their dreams with them?

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
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