National Writing Project

Reading for Their Life: Poetic Broadsides

Date: 2009

Summary: In this chapter from Reading for Their Life, Alfred Tatum shares poems and lessons in support of his argument that we should share "poetry worth reading" with African-American male students.



Poetry is fast-moving text that can engage African American adolescent males and shift their mental representations of who they are and what they can become. Reading and writing poetry helps these young males find and activate their voices. Poetry also triggers a new understanding about a wide range of topics from the political to the personal to the cultural. Sadly, very few young African American males can name a poem that informs them. Poetry is not part of their textual lineage. The power of poetry remains untapped in many classrooms....

Teachers often find it difficult to activate African American adolescent males' voices and move them beyond intellectual sterility or intellectual reticence. A teacher's "What's the matter?" is often met by a nothing from these young males—an insurmountable impasse beneath which both teacher and student seethe over the inability to build positive relationships in the classroom.

Poetic broadsides—short and to the point—can break the impasse. "Broadsides should be prepared for quick reading and should be fitted easily into the back pocket, in case the reader has to stop and be revolutionary"(Reid 2002).

Poetic broadsides have a number of characteristics.

  1. They acknowledge pain/poverty fatigue.
  2. They are anchored by purpose.
  3. They are written out of necessity.
  4. They call for the next self-appointed leader—someone to build capacity among us.
  5. They ignite protest against self or others.
  6. They reject patience and waiting.

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