25 Desire: Violence and Black Bodies – Lesson Plan

Authors: Tyree Daye, Meta DuEwa Jones, DaMaris B. Hill, Dana A. Williams, L. Lamar Wilson

Target Group: Graduate Seminar

Structure (Activities & Exercises)

Time and Conceptual/Pedagogical Unit Blocks:

40 min x two (with 10-minute break for recentering amid the taxing somatic learning experience)

Step One:
Have students discuss how permission is given, who gives permission or who doesn’t, to engage directly with how violence is perpetrated on the Black body.

Step Two:
Discuss the challenges of engaging Black poetry without encouraging appropriation or harm through recitation or performance.

Note: This is not about banning readings/poems/text but about, at the graduate seminar level, engaging these questions for future generations of teachers, activists, poetry lovers.

Step Three:
To literally move beyond the discussion, ask students to discuss their favorite childhood games among the following: Ring Around the Rosie; Eenie Meenie Miney Moe; and Ten Little Indians (as an option, you might play the one they choose).

Step Four:
Discuss the colonial, racist, and imperialist origins of the tropes in the chosen childhood games and review the pre-read primary texts (Komunyakaa, Weatherford, Birdsong, Harris, Simmonds) and essays (Strange, Jordan, Spillers, and Weheliye; for example, Duriel E. Harris’s poem “American Counting Rhyme” explores and exploits those to take account of the legacy and impact of violence on children).

Step Five:
Students will renovate the act of child’s play, and with this new knowledge, create poetic counter-archives through their original pieces aimed at inciting empathy and healing (through formal innovations or new rituals).

Learning Goals

Remember, goals often point to a larger purpose, a long-term vision, or a less tangible result.

  • This unit will engender dialogue about how Black poets wrestle—often through received forms—with the tropes and stereotypical representations of violences to which their bodies are always already vulnerable and/or are assumed poised to enact on themselves and others.
  • This unit will help students develop an understanding of their own biases about violence on Black bodies and their own vulnerability to violence at the hands of Black and Brown bodies.
  • This unit will challenge students to interrogate their own foundations to better understand how they have acquired knowledge, developed theories, and established their limits.

Learning Objectives

Remember, objectives tend to be time-limited, measurable actions with tangible outcomes that help push progress toward broader goals.

  • To understand how violent language that infuses historical forms (ballad(e)s, nursery rhymes, sonnets, villanelles) may be inaccessible to us as students, based upon our various embodied social locations and the climate in which we learn and teach.
  • To identify and attend to embodied and racial differences in poems’ imagery, metaphor(s), syntax, and other formal choices.
  • To use writing as a means of liberation from and transformation of experiences of violence.
  • To enter into a call-and-response dialogue with theoretical (re)framings of the white gaze on Black bodies.

Primary Texts

  • Yusef Komunyakaa, “Songs for My Father” (Furious Flower 2004,  p. 152)
  • Carole B. Weatherford, “The Tan Chanteuse” (Furious Flower 2004, p. 207)
  • Destiny O. Birdsong, “Recovery” (Furious Flower 2019, p. 162)
  • Duriel E. Harris, “American Counting Rhyme,” (Furious Flower 2019, p. 102)
  • Kevin Simmonds, “Upright.” (Furious Flower 2019, p. 265)

Additional Resources

  • Sharan Strange, “A Poetics of Empathy,” (Furious Flower 2019, pp. 396-399) and A. Van Jordan, “Try to Care about Someone Other Than Yourself: Creating Subtext through Empathy” (Furious Flower 2019, pp. 346-351).
  • Hortense Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe” and Alexander G. Weheliye’s response, “Pornotropes.”
  • Excerpts from Ntozake Shange, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide, with a special focus on Shange’s poetic incorporation of childhood rhymes, and and nursery rhymes (e.g., “mama’s little baby loves shortenin’ bread”).


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The Furious Flower Syllabus Project: Opening the World of Black Poetry Copyright © 2024 by Anastacia-Reneé; allia abdullah-matta; Ariana Benson; Mary Beth Cancienne; Teri Ellen Cross Davis; Shameka Cunningham; Hayes Davis; Tyree Daye; Angel C. Dye; Brian Hannon; T.J. Hendrix; DaMaris B. Hill; Meta DuEwa Jones; Shauna M. Morgan; Adrienne Danyelle Oliver; Leona Sevick; James Smethurst; Dana A. Williams; L. Lamar Wilson; Carmin Wong; Dave Wooley; and Joanne V. Gabbin (preface) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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