(Originally from the October issue of TFF, published Oct 12, 2015.)
by Melanie Bell – Student Life Editor
To kick off the 2015-2016 school year, Debora Gianola had her students of her UW Comparative Literature class write a poem similar to that of “For my People” by Margaret Walker. Her poem explores what it is like to grow up as a black woman and how she saw the oppressed black community around her.
The poem begins harmless enough, mentioning of the hard work that she and her people known personally. Stanza two mentions this, beginning with “For my people lending their strength to the years, to the gone years and the now years and the maybe years” and exemplifies a clear cadence in Walkers writing.
In her poem, Walker tells a story. A story of the hard times that she and her people have experienced. There is an evident shift in the poem where Walker begins to recall darker times, times that have her people grasping at strings and looking for some kind of hope and acceptance.
Gianola asked her students to recreate this poem with a ‘people’ of their own. To focus on the recreation of the tone, style, diction, and cadence/rhythm to evoke a sense of feeling from the reader, but to also create awareness of author techniques. “[The point was] to begin the process of shifting students focus from mere summary to the observation of author technique, intent, and purpose.” Gianola said.
Walker’s poem also gave students a chance to warm up to the class and its overall message. “The theme of our class is “Margins and Centers,” Gianola said. “We explore the dynamics between centers of power and those individuals who are pushed aside.”