Feb. 11, 2021 — The third week in January was a big week for poetry in two of NMH’s 9th-grade Humanities 1 classes.
It started with Amanda Gorman. The young writer from Los Angeles who wowed millions at the U.S. presidential inauguration with her poem “The Hill We Climb” also wowed NMH English teacher Meg Donnelly. Donnelly shared Gorman’s work with her Hum 1 students, both before and after the inauguration.
The same week, award-winning poet Kwame Alexander went on National Public Radio and invited listeners to create and share their own poems in the spirit of “I Dream a World” by Langston Hughes. The poem is said to have influenced Martin Luther King Jr. as he was drafting his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.
Donnelly thought that was pretty cool, too.
“We do a lot of poetry in Hum 1,” she said, “and so much of what we try to do with 9th graders is speak your truth, which is not a simple thing. First, you have to figure out what your truth is. What is the world you want to live in?”
The words of Amanda Gorman and Langston Hughes — which acknowledge the oppression and trauma of the past and present and aspire for people to do better in the future — seemed like provocative inspiration for students. So a homework assignment was born.
Donnelly asked her students to write their own versions of “I Dream a World” over the weekend. On Monday, they read their poems aloud to each other. This all took place over Zoom, because students were still in their dorm quarantines. But one by one, they lit up their classmates’ computer screens.
“I dream a world where hate and hubris become laughable / Like the little lump of gum glued to the sultry sidewalk.”
That’s an excerpt from Zane ’24.
Alyna ’24 wrote, “A world where we grab at the elusive, dissipating smoke, mere wisps / Of justice and democracy and love to piece them together ...”
And Claire ’24 wrote, “I dream a world ... where the right to marry whom you want is a given / not a hope of remaining tolerated / See, tolerance is never enough / One quick change of mind / one bad decision / one small misstep and you lose all you have.”
There were 30 poems in all, and Donnelly was thrilled. “It’s so fun to see you working with language and playing with sounds, and big ideas and dreams,” she told one of her classes after all the students had read their poems aloud. As they were signing off Zoom at the end of class, Gillian ’24 stayed behind. “Meg, this was my first time ever writing a poem,” she shared. Donnelly exclaimed, “I’m sorry you had to get all the way to 14 years old before you wrote a poem, but I’m happy we got to be the recipients!”
Watch more excerpts of Hum 1 poems: