Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Passing Knowledge"

This poem came out of the May 3, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] alatefeline. It also fills the "the mole" square in my 1-1-16 card for the Spies, Secret Agents, and Noir Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette.

"Passing Knowledge"

I write for those

who cannot speak
for themselves

or who could speak
but remain silent
out of fear.

I write for those

who have no voice,
or whose voice has
been stolen from them,
or is simply ignored.

I write for those

who remain silent
out of choice,

or who were taught that
silence would save them,
but it won't.

I write. I speak. I teach.

I pass between
one layer of society and
another, a bridge, a leaping spark.

I find the history books
that were written by the losers,
a library of bitter, inconvenient truths.

I find the poetry books
that were written not by scholars
but by slaves and maids and buskers.

I give them passing knowledge --
ideas handed from one to another,
fleeting thoughts that come and go,
the knowledge of what 'passing' means.

"Look," I say to my students,
"people can write about things
that are meaningful to you."

"Look," I say to my students,
"people like you can write."

"Look," I say to my students,
"you can do this too."

They look. They read. They wonder.

And some of them catch fire
as surely as if I had taken
a flame into a fireworks factory.

It is subversive. It is dangerous.
It is what knowledge is for.

If the fire spreads and burns down
the hallowed halls and the structures of
what society has become on the backs
of the many who support the privileged few?

Well, I always did like playing with matches.

* * *


Literacy is potent stuff. It was once illegal to teach slaves to read, because that increased both their power and desire to pursue freedom. I have found this tidbit of history to be an effective tool in motivating disaffected black people to improve their literacy skills, because they can quickly see the parallel between banning it outright and trapping black youth in crappy schools so they can't learn effectively. "Here's a thing The Man doesn't want you to do, but won't dare protest openly" is a very compelling argument for them.

History written by the losers is often more illuminating than that written by the winners. Which is basically the whole genre of history written by Native American authors.

Whatever audience I'm teaching, I play to their background and interest. That often means using poets of color. Among my favorites are Langston Hughes and Lorna Dee Cervantes.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, education, ethnic studies, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing

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