Carole Boston Weatherford
The Poet Professor
The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Department has a wealth of primary source images. Many are from the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information (FSA/OWI) Collection, a vast pictorial record of American life between 1935 and 1944. The collection boasts 174,000 black-and-white and 1,600 color photographs taken by government-employed photojournalists such as Walker Evans, Russell Lee, Arthur Rothstein, Jack Delano, Marion Post Wolcott, Carl Mydans, Dorothea Lange and Gordon Parks.
I first mined this collection in the 1980s—long before it was digitized or available online. Back then, I was researching my book, Remember the Bridge: Poems of a People (2002). I sought pictures to pair with poems that I had already penned. I found the desired images as well as others that spoke to me and begged for poems.
I didn’t realize it then, but I was writing ekphrastic poetry. According to the Poetry Foundation, “An ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art.” Romantic poet John Keats’ “Ode to a Grecian Urn” is a famous example.
I have since written more ekphrastic poems—two inspired by iconic images from the FSA/OWI collection. Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America and Dorothea Lange: How the Photographer Found the Faces of the Depression tell the stories behind Parks’ 1942 “American Gothic” and Lange’s 1936 “Migrant Mother.” The resulting verse biographies go beyond describing the images to paint pictures of the photographers themselves.
Parks, a pioneering African American Renaissance man, documented racism in the nation’s capital by photographing Ella Watson, a government custodian who supported her family on $1,000 a year. Lange’s photo of a migrant mother and her starving children shows the misery caused by the Dust Bowl. Newspapers published these powerful photographs, exposing poverty and injustice.
Are you ready to browse the FSA/OWI collection online? Perhaps, start here. Choose one photograph that moves you. A gaze that will not let you look away. A face full of stories. A scene that draws you in. A landscape that transports you. Then, draft your poem. Write from that time and place, in the voice of the subject, the photographer, or a bystander. Read your draft aloud to yourself. Then, revise. When finished, arrange your poem and the photograph on the same page.
Carole Boston Weatherford writes hybrid genre poetry, nonfiction and biographies. BOX: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom chronicles one of slavery’s most daring escapes.
The Running Encyclopedia
When he was a young man in his mid-twenties, future Roman leader Julius Caesar was voyaging across the Mediterranean Sea. Pirates swarmed over his ship. They took him to their base on tiny Farmakonisi Island, which lies off the coast of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), and held him for ransom.
When he learned how much the pirates were demanding for his release, Caesar laughed. Do you have any idea who I am, he asked. I belong to one of Rome’s most important families. So you can get more money for me—a lot more—almost three times as much. The astonished pirates were only too happy to oblige him.
Keeping a friend and two servants with him on Farmakonisi, Caesar ordered the rest of his traveling party to go to Asia Minor and raise his ransom. While they were doing that, Caesar acted as if he were the ruler of the tiny island, rather than a captive cowering in fright. He ordered the pirates to attend lectures and poetry readings he gave, and prodded those who nodded off as he droned on and on and on. When he wanted to sleep, he ordered the pirates to either speak in whispers or go to another part of the island. He even played games with them. He also told them that when he was released, I promise I will hunt you down and execute you. In the spirit of bonhomie he engendered, the pirates apparently thought he was joking.
He wasn’t. Though outwardly he was friendly with the pirates, he seethed inwardly at the humiliation of being taken prisoner. After the ransom was paid, Caesar sailed to a nearby port. He raised a fleet of ships and scores of armed men. He returned to Farmakonisi, captured the pirates, and reclaimed the ransom money. He threw his former captors into prison. They didn’t stay there long. Caesar crucified them. He did show some mercy. Since crucifixion was a long, lingering death, he cut their throats so they died instantly.
Jim Whiting has written on many subjects. Check out his page on Amazon.com
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "A Man of His Word." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 26 Mar.
The Master Chef of Kids’ Hands-on Science
How does a virus cause a disease? A virus is not a complete living thing. It is like a free-floating nucleus of cell. It doesn’t “grow” but under certain conditions it can make a copy of itself or reproduce. It invades the cells of other living things to use the internal structure of the host cells to reproduce. At a certain point, the number of new viruses in a cell is so large that the cell ruptures and dies, spilling out newly made viruses to continue the invasion to other uninfected cells.
One virus we understand very well is chicken pox. Chicken pox is a very contagious disease that enters the body through the air and affects mostly children. When I was young almost every kid got chicken pox but, since 1995, there has been a vaccine, which makes you immune and protects the spread of the disease to others. Is there another way to explain how this virus works? Suppose I imagine a virus could think, which it can’t. But, imagination gives me the freedom to think differently.
So I wrote a poem about an army of chicken pox viruses as they are about to attack a human being, maybe you, my reader. A “battle hymm” is a chant or a song to rally the troups just before an attack.
The Battle Hymn of the Chicken Pox Troopers
Charge forward, fellow viruses!
Invade a cell or two
Then let us join together
And make a chicken pox on you.
Let cells try to fight us
No matter what they do
Red spots of our graffiti
Make a chicken pox on you
We make the top skin separate
And fill the space with goo,
Small, itchy blisters are a stage
Of chicken pox on you.
And when the blisters break, my friend
You think perhaps we’re through
But no. Now there is a scab
For each chicken pox on you
Scratch a scab so it comes off
Baring skin that’s raw and new,
A scar forever marks the spot
Of that chicken pox on you.
To the battle, fellow viruses!
We’re more noteworthy than flu
They just make you feel sick
We make our chicken pox on you!
Meet your personal superheroes - your body's cells Superhero cells rally together to battle common childhood ailments in this series in which Vicki Cobb explains how your amazing human body heals itself and fights off intruders. Here's her book on yet another virus: Your Body Battles a Cold.
One reviewer claimed that my book, The Roots of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip Hop, surprised him. “I didn’t take Carole Weatherford for a hip-hop head,” he confessed.
Maybe not. But I have designed and taught a hip-hop course for college students. I write poetry and stories steeped in oral traditions. And I was raised on family lore; street, playground and handclap rhymes; proverbs; spirituals; and the call-and-response of the black church. As a child, I also read Langston Hughes poems and chanted James Brown’s anthem, “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud.” I later tuned into Gil Scott Heron’s spoken word manifesto, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.”
Back in the day, I partied to Whodini, the Fat Boys and Run DMC, but did not fathom the power of rap until 1981 when I heard “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. The song confirmed for me that rap is rooted in resistance.
Rap originated in the late 1970s among alienated black and Latino youth in the Bronx, Harlem and Brooklyn. The genre has since come of age, and rappers have won Grammys for best album (The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in 1999) and best song of the year (Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” in 2019). In 2017, Kendrick Lamar won the Pulitzer prize for music, a first for rapper.
Today, hip hop is the language of global youth culture. Rap reveries have replaced hoop dreams, especially as a male rite of passage. A vehicle for self-expression, hip hop gives youth validation and agency. Despite rap’s rebellious vibe, the genre has form and makes use of figurative language.
Here’s how I harness the power of hip hop in the classroom. I discuss rap’s roots in oral traditions and its use of poetic elements. I show documentaries on the pillars of hip hop: graffiti, breakdancing, deejaying and emceeing. We study how rap influences pop culture, politics and commerce. Finally, I get students to write homages, confessional lyrics, social commentary and/or advertising jingles. My son and collaborator, poet/illustrator Jeffery Weatherford, amps up the excitement with a mini-studio that lets students download beats, record lyrics and mix audio. Mobile apps can produce similar results.
Like the genre itself, rap workshops convey to students that their voices deserve to be heard.
Carole Boston Weatherford has written many books inspired by oral traditions, including The Roots of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip Hop, illustrated by Frank Morrison. Here is Vicki Cobb's review.
Stephen R. Swinburne
I really like vultures. Sure, they’re ugly and they eat nasty dead things. But those are not necessarily bad characteristics.
First let’s deal with “ugly.” Vultures’ bald heads are what make them seem ugly to most people. But think about why they’re bald. Imagine thrusting your head inside the carcass of a white-tailed deer to reach the meat. A feathered head might capture bits of flesh, blood and gore and you end up with a face full bacteria and flies. Scientists believe that one reason vultures have evolved featherless heads is to aid in hygiene. A bald head stays clean and any remaining germs or bacteria are baked off by the sun. Vultures have also found that a bald head can help with temperature regulation. When it gets cold they can tuck their heads down to keep their neck covered with feathers. When it’s hot, vultures can extend their neck to expose bare skin. Their bald heads work so well that I wrote a poem about them.
It’s best to have no feathers,
When you stick your head in guts,
That way you don’t go walkin’ round,
Your noggin dripping schmutz.
Moving on to “eating nasty dead things,” the next time you see vultures eating a dead animal on the side of the road, be thankful! That carcass might be dead from rabies or contaminated with other harmful diseases. Vultures have the amazing ability to consume rotting and diseased flesh and stay healthy. It’s all in the stomach. Vultures possess very powerful stomach acids that destroy most bacteria and deadly viruses. In fact, vulture stomach acid is so strong it can dissolve metal! Except if that metal is lead shot -- many turkey vultures are killed every year by consuming shot that they encounter in dead deer. Vultures are the world’s natural “sanitation workers,” helping to stop the spread of disease.
I’m so appreciative of the work they do, I even wrote a poem about eating dead things:
I like my meat dead,
It’s best if it’s not moving.
Don’t want to see one final twitch,
I prefer it oozing
So, the next time you see a vulture circling in the noonday sky, think about the valuable and important clean up service this bird provides to us and to the environment. Maybe I’ll write a poem about that….
Steve Swinburne is a science writer, but as you can see from this Minute, he likes to write poetry too. In his book Ocean Soup, he offers verses in the voices of tide-pool animals, including the barnacle, sea urchin, sculpin, mussel, starfish, hermit crab, anemone, and lobster. For more about Steve's poetry, click here.
Steve Swinburne is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through FieldTripZoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Swinburne, Stephen R. "In Praise of Vultures." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 8 Dec. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/ In-Praise-Of-Vultures.
For Vicki Cobb's BLOG (nonfiction book reviews, info on education, more), click here: Vicki's Blog
The NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Committee is pleased to inform you
that 30 People Who Changed the World has been selected for Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2018, a cooperative project of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) & the Children’s Book Council