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Poetry Craft Lesson

Deepening

Political Symbol
Works:
“The X is Black (Spike Lie)” by Amiri Baraka
“One More ‘S’ in the U.S.A.” by Langston Hughes

Teachable Terms
Symbolism Imagery
Stanza: Septet, Octave Repetition
Refrain
Purpose
This lesson asks students to identify the power of symbolism. In this case students
will see how poets use the power of symbols against themselves to deliver a political
message.

Procedure
-Read “The X is Black” aloud.

-Ask students to identify the symbols in the poem, the things in themselves. (The
flag, Red-White & Blue, Black, the letter-symbol X)

-Distribute the X and have students read the poem again on their own. This time
have them write down how the poet uses the main symbol. What does he use the “X”
to represent?
-x human (Ex-humans)
x-slaves (Ex-slaves)
“unknown” (X as variable)
“incorrect” (X as to denote wrong answer)
“Crossed out” (x as eliminator)
“Multiplying” (x as mathematic symbol)

-Discuss these representations in the context of the African-American experience.

-Now that the symbol has been defined. Ask students what the poet DOES with it.
How does the poet USE the symbol? Why does the poet create the image of an X
burned into the flag?

Assignment / Connection
Read it:
-Have students read Langston Hughes “Put One More ‘S’ in the U.S.A.” Written in
1934, the poem may need a socio-political context for the students to understand
the symbolism of the extra S. Similarly, have them identify it represents to unlock a
deeper reading of the poem, and a deeper understanding of its political message.
Poetry Craft Lesson
Deepening
-Write it:
Have students construct their own Symbol Poems.

-Brainstorm a list of symbols in the world (political, corporate, social, etc.)

-Select a symbol and define what it IS in itself. For example, The Statue of Liberty IS
a statue of a woman; the Statue of Liberty IS green because the copper has oxidized.

-Next, write about what the symbol is SUPPOSED to represent. To continue the
example, The Statue of Liberty represents liberty; The Statue of Liberty represents
freedom, etc.

-Then, write about what the symbol unintentionally represents to YOU or to


SOMEONE ELSE or A GROUP. Example, to my immigrant grandfather the State of
Liberty represented hope to escape the poverty of famine; it represented great risk,
as there were no guarantees beyond it; it represented solidity after days at sea.

-Finally, as the pet, what would you need to add to the symbol to convey the
unintended representation?

-Using either poem as a model, compose the draft.