24 Fresh Ideas for the First Day of Class – Lesson Plan

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

Target Group: Graduate Seminar

Primary Texts: Poems for Focused Study

Learning Objectives

  • To build community among a new cohort of students.
  • To incite excitement about reading Black poetry and engaging in the practice of writing.
  • To engender students’ understanding of their voices alongside the voices of others.

Learning Goals

  • To consider how the act of writing poetry is solitary but also community-oriented.
  • To underscore the importance of reading others’ poetry in the writing of original poems.
  • To model the process that poets follow in finding their voices by navigating other voices.


The first day will begin with a collective creative writing assignment. The class will collaborate to create a cento using one line from one poem of the student’s choice in Furious Flower: Seeding the Future of African American Poetry (2019).

Step One: Students will watch the interview with Dr. Gabbin and Lauren K. Alleyne to get an understanding of the Furious Flower organization. Then, they will read Rita Dove’s “Foreword” (Furious Flower 2019, pp. xvii-xx).

Step Two: Introduce the form of the cento from poets.org 

  • From the Latin word for “patchwork,” the cento (or collage poem) is a poetic form composed entirely of lines from poems by other poets.
  • Early examples can be found in the work of Homer and Virgil.
  • Contemporary centos are often witty, creating irony or humor from the juxtaposition of images and ideas. Two examples of contemporary centos are “The Dong with a Luminous Nose” (annotated) by John Ashbery and Peter Gizzi’s “Ode: Salute to the New York School, 1950-1970” (Mississippi Review 31:3, pp. 111-127). Ashbery’s cento takes its title from the poem of the same name by Edward Lear and weaves together an unlikely array of voices, including Gerard Manley Hopkins, T. S. Eliot, and Lord Byron. Gizzi used the form to create a collage of voices and bibliography of the New York School poets.
  • How do contemporary Black poets engage with this tradition? Read Nicole Sealey’s “Cento for the Night I Said, ‘I Love You’ ” and Amaud Jamaul Johnson’s Hayden,” a tribute to Robert Hayden, the first Black poetry consultant at the Library of Congress (now the U.S. poet laureate). Read more of Hayden’s work at the Poetry Foundation. Here’s a review of Johnson’s Red Summer (Tupelo, 2016), where “Hayden” appears, which offers context for the poem’s engagement with Hayden’s tradition of honoring luminaries who survived chattel slavery and post-Reconstruction Jim Crow violence.

    • Check out Sealey’s “Candelabra with Heads” (Furious Flower 2019, pp. 128-129) and Johnson’s “Featuring Lonette McKee as Sister” (Furious Flower 2019, p. 295) for other poems by these poets.

Step Three: Introduce the process of creating a cento by reading “Wholly One: Still” (a cento for Furious Flower). Each student will find the poem that is the source of their favorite line from Furious Flower: Seeding the Future of African American Poetry.

Step Four: The student will choose another line from that source poem as they also learn the politics of citation and attribution, which the instructor will collate, including the source poet’s name, the source poem’s title, and the page number of their chosen line from Furious Flower: Seeding the Future of African American Poetry.

Step Five: Students will work in groups to create revised drafts of the cento.

Step Six: Students will submit cento revisions to the instructor.


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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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