Topic: Poetry

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ELA Middle School

A Letter from Phillis Wheatley

Race Gender Poetry American Revolution

Phillis Wheatley was the first black poet in the United States. Wheatley was born in Senegal but brought to Boston, Massachusetts, as a slave. However, she was too weak for manual labor and was taught to read and write instead. She published her first poem in 1767. A two-page letter written by Wheatley, previously unpublished, was recently auctioned. Listen to learn more about Phillis Wheatley, the contents of this letter, and the reasons why it is so significant to scholars, historians, and collectors.

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ELA Middle School

Edgar Allan Poe's Mysterious "Raven"

Poetry American Literature

Author Edgar Allan Poe was a master of the creepy and macabre, with a focus on death and grim topics. His famous poem, “The Raven,” concerns a heartbroken man who is visited by a talking raven who begins to drive him mad. Despite the poem’s fame, including its catch phrase “Nevermore,” fans and historians are not sure what inspired Poe or how he wrote the poem.

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ELA Middle School

Gary Soto’s Poetry

Poetry

Poets use a blend of sounds and imagery to create an emotional response. For author and poet Gary Soto, sprinklers have a familiar sound and rhythm of the releasing water that remains timeless. Soto wrote a poem about a sprinkler from his childhood, exploring ways that the sound and rhythm of the device brought back memories and warm feelings from a summer when he was young. In the poem, “Ode to the Sprinkler,” he writes about the ways that sprinklers shaped his view of summer. Listen to the audio story as he recites his poem about a typical sprinkler during his childhood.

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ELA High School

Low

Edgar Allan Poe Still Captures the Imagination

Poetry Horror Mystery

Edgar Allan Poe, poet and American master of the macabre, was recently celebrated in Baltimore, Maryland where he sometimes lived. It was the 200th anniversary of his birth, and it was celebrated with readings of his works. Hear from actor John Astin, who played Gomez Addams in a television series, about his lifetime appreciation for Poe. Listen to find out why Baltimore played such an integral part in Poe’s life, and what types of items are left at his grave each year.

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Langston hughes 1936

ELA High School

The Life of Langston Hughes

Race Poetry

Langston Hughes, an African American writer who lived and wrote during the first half of the 20th century, remains one of the most celebrated writers in American history. He was a social activist, novelist, playwright, columnist and leader of the Harlem Renaissance. In this story, a woman is pleasantly surprised to find one of his poems among her granddaughter’s school papers. She shares with her granddaughter the many things she admired about Hughes, and the many reasons he was such an influential poet and person during his time. She speaks about Hughes’s early life, his travels, and his lyrical poetry. Listen to learn more about this famous poet, who continues to inspire younger generations today.

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ELA High School

Low

'Beowulf,' Paganism and Christianity

Religion Poetry

"Beowulf" is the oldest surviving long poem in Old English. It tells the story of a 5th century Nordic warrior who defeats monsters and becomes a king. In 2000, the Irish poet Seamus Heaney released a celebrated new translation of the epic poem. In this interview, Heaney discusses “Beowulf” and his approach to translating this famous text. Listen to learn more about “Beowulf’s” lasting appeal, and what the old poem tells us about Nordic pagan and early Christian values.

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ELA High School

Reflecting on Toni Morrison

Poetry American Literature

Toni Morrison, who won a Nobel Prize for Literature, believes in addressing reality in her writing, no matter how painful. Morrison reflects on writing about difficult realities, such as racism. Morrison’s writing offers readers rich characters and stunning dialogues, as well as vivid storytelling. Listen to hear reflections on what Morrison’s writing means to one woman, and hear Morrison reflect on the realities of racism in today’s society.

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Brown girl dreaming

ELA Middle School

Author's Experiences Led to 'Brown Girl Dreaming'

Poetry Memoir Narrative

Jacqueline Woodson’s free verse memoir, "Brown Girl Dreaming," won the National Book Award in 2014. Woodson has published 30 books and won three Newbery Honor Medals. This book explores different perspectives in a desegregating America. In this interview, Woodson talks about her experience of segregation of race and religion, and how her experiences are often similar to students who she talks with today. She talks about the need for more diverse literature in schools, along with her book being appropriate for a wider audience-- not only brown students. Listen to hear her discuss how she integrates her personal experiences into her writing.

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Seamus heaney

ELA High School

Poet Seamus Heaney

Poetry Biography

Seamus Heaney is considered one of Ireland’s greatest poets. He was prolific, writing 13 collections of poetry along with plays and books, and was the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995. Heaney grew up in rural Ireland and later wrote about the political and cultural struggles of his country. This audio story remembers the life of Seamus Heaney, who died in 2013. A fellow poet, Robert Pinsky is interviewed and describes Heaney as a generous and decent person along with being a great writer. Listen to hear Pinsky read one of Heaney’s poems and discuss the qualities of his friend.

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ELA High School

Poet Emily Dickinson, An Eccentric Recluse

Gender Poetry Biography Fiction

American poet Emily Dickinson was known as an eccentric recluse throughout her life. Dickinson maintained many of her friendships through letter writing, while she wrote poetry privately. Her unusual poetry style wasn’t truly discovered until after her death in 1886, when her sister Lavinia found nearly 1,800 of her sister’s poems. Though Lavinia had promised to destroy her sister’s papers, she instead had the poems published, which led to Emily’s fame as a great American poet. Listen to learn how her poetry continues to be an inspiration today.

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ELA High School

Translations of 'Dante's Inferno'

Literature Religion Poetry World History I

Dante Alighieri finished writing the three-part epic poem “Divine Comedy” in 1321. The poem’s three parts include: hell, purgatory and heaven, and follows one man on his journey through all three places. This great work of Italian literature has survived the ages and remains a classic today. There have been many translations of Dante’s work. This story interviews Clive James, the most recent English translator, as he talks about this epic poem and his translated version of “Divine Comedy.”

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ELA High School

Poetry Reflecting World War I

Poetry Writing World War I

When World War I ended on November 11, 1918 the world sighed with relief. The death and destruction of “The Great War” was over. In modern history the first World War is often overshadowed by the second, but its legacy of war poets cannot be overlooked. From soldiers in battle to people on the homefront, poetry was used to process and communicate the realities of war and loss. Listen to learn more about these poets and hear some of their works.

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Relief of the light brigade

ELA High School

The True Story of 'The Charge of the Light Brigade'

World History II Poetry Fiction war

Alfred Tennyson, better known as Lord Tennyson, was Poet Laureate of Great Britain and Ireland for 42 years during the reign of Queen Victoria. His short lyrical poems appealed to the people of the 19th century, many of whom couldn’t read. One of this most famous poems “The Charge of the Light Brigade” describes a real event during the Crimean War. This charge, during the Battle of Balaclava in 1854, became the most well-known action of the war thanks to Tennyson’s poem, even though the poem wasn’t entirely accurate. Listen to learn more about the Crimean War, the real charge and how Tennyson’s words brought this event to life for the British people.

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ELA High School

The Real Story Behind Shakespeare's Sonnets

Poetry World History I Fiction Writing Romance

William Shakespeare wrote some of the most famous and recognizable love poems of all time, but some historians think that Shakespeare had no intention of publishing these private messages. His sonnets were largely biographical and it is believed they were written to another man. When a collection of these personal sonnets were published by a shady publisher named Thomas Thorpe, Shakespeare tried to stop their distribution. Listen to learn more about Shakespeare’s sonnets and their unwanted publication.

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T. s. eliot 1929

ELA High School

Modernist Poet T.S. Eliot

Poetry Biography Arts World War I

Thomas Stearns Eliot OM, best known as T.S. Eliot, was one of the great modernist poets of the 20th century. His work was part of a specific moment in history and art, before and after World War I, when identity, nations and art were fractured. Listen to learn more about the world in which Eliot wrote and why his poem “The Waste Land” remains one of the pillars of the high modernism movement.

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Current Event May 8, 2015

Is the American Dream Out of Reach?

Civics/Government Economics Race Poetry

How realistic is the “American Dream”? Is upward mobility a reality for everyone today? Are people still better off than their parents? These are the questions driving a study of economic mobility by economists at Harvard and UC Berkeley, as well as the radio reporter in this story. With a focus on Dayton, Ohio, its past and present, this story analyzes the modern factors that stunt economic mobility in West Dayton and other neighborhoods like it. It looks at whether the “American Dream” is truly attainable for everyone.

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Maya angelous life and legacy

ELA Middle School

Maya Angelou's Life and Legacy

Gender Civil RIghts Poetry Biography

Maya Angelou was an author, poet and icon. She grew up during segregation and used her work to empower and give voice to the African American community. Her memoir, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" changed the literary world and opened doors for African American authors and women.

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Whitman

Current Event July 12, 2014

Walt Whitman’s ‘Leaves Of Grass’

Poetry Writing

In 1855, American poet Walt Whitman published the first edition of “Leaves of Grass.” This poetry collection, which began as twelve poems, was written and re-written by Whitman throughout his life, with the final version containing 400 poems. The free verse poems present Whitman’s philosophy of life, from pleasure to the human mind and nature. Whitman explores and presents humanity through his poetry. Listen to learn why modern poet Rowan Ricardo Phillips recommends the Whitman collection and then interpret the poem “I Hear America Singing” for yourself.

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Current Event December 5, 2013

America’s First Black Poet

Race US History I Poetry Biography

Phillis Wheatley lived an extraordinary life. Born in West Africa and sold into slavery in Boston, Massachusetts, Wheatley became the first published African-American woman and poet. In addition to being a poet, Wheatley exchanged letters with religious leaders and philanthropists. Some of her letters have survived, including one in which she reflects on the American Revolution. Listen to learn about this valuable letter, which was auctioned off in 2005.

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