I taught this poem as part of a 3 week poetry unit (which ended up being about poetry and American politics, idealism, progress, and dissent). We started w/ Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing,” and followed w/ Langston Hughes’ “I Too Sing America,” e.e. cummings’ “next to of course God America I,” Allen Ginsberg’s “A Supermarket in California,” this poem by Baraka, as well as poems by Pablo Neruda, John Cage, and Susan Howe.
Assuming that none of my students had looked up what the title of the poem meant, I had the class play an impromptu game of pseudo-Balderdash. After reading the poem aloud, I asked them to write down possible definitions for the title, using the text as their guide. Then, we constellated on the board their various suggestions and discussed what exactly in the poem led them to write what they did. Overall, this exercise provided a fairly round reading of the poem. Finally, we considered the actual definition of the title (which was very close to some of their guesses) and thought about its significance, in comparison to their guesses, and otherwise.