Volume II - 1994

Fear of Poetry's Multicultural Cure:
A Review of A Chorus of Cultures: Developing Literacy through Multicultural Poetry by Alma Flor Ada, Violet J. Harris, and Lee Bennett Hopkins (Hampton-Brown, 1933).

by Susan Rusciano Rupp

      Susan Rupp is a graduate student and an adjunct faculty member at Jersey City State College. She holds a master's degree in English Literature and Pedagogy from the University of Delaware.

      This anthology is the central component in a program designed to awaken young students (presumably K-6 or K-8) to the joy of poetry in a multicultural context on a daily basis. The book's calendar format addresses holidays and seasonal issues across many cultures, with more personal themes growing out of these in a surprisingly organic fashion. Male and female poets from many cultures represented within the spectrum of American culture are included, and neither student poets nor traditionally anthologized poets have been ignored. The cultural and background information imparted is concisely and sensitively written with an eye towards the development of multicultural awareness, love of language, and individual self-esteem.

      What is striking about the program is its superb organization and ease of implementation. The poetry is accompanied by whole-language instructional activities (with ready-made activity sheets), which either focus primarily on literacy skills or on other subjects across the curriculum. Icons indicate which poems are written by young poets, which poems are represented in the other components of the program, and which activities have a multicultural focus. Indexes cross-reference this information, in addition to the traditional author, title, theme, first-line, and genre indexes.

      There is also an index of poems appropriate for ESL instruction indicating which poems would work best for students at pre-production, early production, speech emergence, and intermediate fluency levels of language proficiency. The activities also state whether they would be appropriate for students acquiring English. For example, the selection for March 12th, "Tommy" by Gwendolyn Brooks, is presented with a science activity on creating a classroom bean sprout garden. Below the description of the activity's equipment and procedures is a separate paragraph on "Content-Area ESL," which describes an illustrated word bank activity (utilizing gardening terms) to be implemented with the initial activity.

      While many classroom poetry anthologies now present works by men and women from a variety of cultures (thanks to canon revisionists), multiculturalism is only addressed in the selection process. Hence, the revised canon's multicultural focus is on the external component of the reading experience--in the text and not in the reader. The selections and activities in A Chorus of Cultures stress multiculturalism not only in the works presented but also in our students.

      As Archibald MacLeish wrote, "A poem should not mean / but be." In A Chorus of Cultures poetry is, in a sense, let be in that the standard : "What does Langston Hughes' 'Dreams' tell us about life without dreams? Give an example of metaphor used in the poem" is nowhere to be found. The poetry is there to be experienced, enjoyed, shared, sung (complete with sheet music), talked about, depicted, chanted, translated, and imitated--not analyzed. Exposure to poetry through this program will not only aid students in developing literacy skills and multicultural awareness, it may actually work as a vaccine against the fear of poetry we see in so many secondary students whose only joy in a poetry unit is that the works are usually brief enough to be quickly skimmed and discarded.

      This is an effective program that allows poetry a central place in our classrooms. The music of poetry from a myriad of cultures flows from this book to our students, inspiring them to "add [their] voices to the chorus." The varied selections and creative activities in this anthology might make poets out of all of us.

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