My Students Recite Poems from the Harlem Renaissance (Part Two)

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For the second year in a row, I’ve brought in my video camera at the conclusion of my class’s study of the poets of the Harlem Renaissance and allowed them to recite their favorites.  Once again, they did not disappoint.  

Last year’s group did a fantastic job with their recitations, and the blog was a big hit, so doing it again this year was a no-brainer.  What I didn’t anticipate, though, was how different the project would turn out, both in the poems that they chose and the way they chose to deliver them.  Compare last year’s reading of “I, Too”to this one.  Both capture the ageless sagacity of the speaker, but they are entirely different takes on the poem.  Or, at least I thought so.
1. “I, Too” by Langston Hughes

I, Too
Langston Hughes
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed–
I, too, am America.

2. “Harlem” by Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes

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?

3. “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by Langston Hughes

The Negro Speaks of Rivers
Langston Hughes
I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its    
     muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.
I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

4. “We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks

(Disclaimer: Of course, Gwendolyn Brooks was not part of the Harlem Renaissance, but we studied her as an example of an author who wrote in the same tradition.)

We Real Cool
Gwendolyn Brooks
The pool players
Seven at the Golden Shovel
We real cool.  We
Left school.  We
Lurk late.  We 
Strike straight.  We
Sing sin.  We
Thin gin.  We
Jazz June.  We
Die soon
5. “Incident” by Countee Cullen

Countee Cullen
Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee;
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, “Nigger.”

I saw the whole of Balimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That’s all that I remember.

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