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Five Poems We Love At Breakthrough Providence

April is National Poetry Month! This April 25th, in honor of Breakthrough Providence's 25th anniversary, we're sharing five poems we love and often use in our programming.

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1. "Where I'm From" by George Ella Lyon

I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
(Black, glistening
it tasted like beets.)
I am from the forsythia bush,
the Dutch elm
whose long gone limbs I remember
as if they were my own.

This poem, by Kentucky's current Poet Laureate, challenges the notion of what it means to declare where you're from. Lyon highlights individuals' unique experiences, and Breakthrough teachers often kick off the summer program by having students write their own "Where I'm From" poems, inviting them and their stories into the classroom.

2. "Gentrification Is When" by Cathy Arellano

my land has more value
when you own it

you're invited to the neighborhood association
i've never seen the welcome mat

you move to my neighborhood for diversity
don't do a damn thing to diversify your own hometown

BTP 8th graders study gentrification as their social justice theme, and read and watch a variety of media about the effects of gentrification in Providence. Based on her experience in San Francisco's Mission District, Arellano's couplets convey the deep economic and emotional impacts of gentrification.

3. "Harlem" by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?

The Harlem Renaissance poet's exploration of dreams provides the title for Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, which BTP 8th graders read in the summer. In addition to his technically pristine use of similes, Hughes provides a powerful meditation to which all readers can relate.

4. "Jorge the Church Janitor Finally Quits" by Martín Espada

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No one can speak
my name,
I host the fiesta
of the bathroom,
stirring the toilet
like a punchbowl.
The Spanish music of my name
is lost
when the guests complain
about toilet paper.

What they say
must be true:
I am smart,
but I have a bad attitude.

Espada's poem examines the intersections of race, class, and language as the speaker contemplates how his profession and heritage impact others' perception of him. BTP teachers have used this poem to shed light on the similar malaise of Walter Lee Younger, a protagonist of A Raisin in the Sun.

5. "You Are a Marvel" by Pau Casals

Yes, you are a marvel. And
when you grow up,
can you then harm another
who is, like you, a marvel?

You must work--we must
all work--to make the
world worthy of its children.

Casals, the legendary Catalan cellist, was a writer as well as a musician. During teacher training, BTP teachers contrast this excerpt from Casals' memoir with various readings on current school discipline policies; the juxtaposition serves as a potent reminder of Breakthrough's vision for the inherent, infinite possibility of youth.

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