Teach This Poem: "Haircut" by Elizabeth Alexander
Produced for K-12 educators, Teach This Poem features one poem a week from our online poetry collection, accompanied by interdisciplinary resources and activities designed to help teachers quickly and easily bring poetry into the classroom. The series is written by our Educator in Residence, Dr. Madeleine Fuchs Holzer, and is available for free via email.
Aspect of Negro Life: Song of the Towers by Aaron Douglas (American 1899-1979). Date: 1834. Medium: Oil on canvas.
Credit Line: The New York Public Library, Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture, Art and Artifacts Division. www.nypl.org.
- Project the image of Aspect of Negro Life: Song of the Towers. Ask your students to write down what they see in the painting. Then, ask them to get into small groups and discuss what they think the painting represents, using what they see as evidence.
- Project the poem “Haircut” from Poets.org. Before your students read Elizabeth Alexander’s poem, ask them to look at the way the poem appears on the page. Does it look like other poems they have read? In what ways is it similar? In what ways is it different? Have them discuss these impressions in small groups.
- Introduce the idea of a prose poem to your students. What makesthis text a prose poem?
- Ask them to read the poem silently. Ask two students to read thepoem aloud to the class. Make sure they circle the words, phrases, and images that jump out at them during the three readings of thepoem.
- Although the particular Aaron Douglas painting your students observed is not the one referenced in the poem, it represents Douglas’s style. Does it relate to “Haircut” in any way? If so, how?
- Hold a whole-class discussion: What do they think Elizabeth Alexander is saying about her culture and how she fits within it? What, in this prose poem, tells them this?