Teach This Poem: "from Autobiography/Anti-Autobiography" by Jennifer Bartlett

Teach This Poem, though developed with a classroom in mind, can be easily adapted for remote learning, hybrid learning models, or in-person classes. Please see our suggestions for how to adapt this lesson for remote or blended learning. We have also noted suggestions when applicable and will continue to add to these suggestions online.

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Classroom Activities

The following activities and questions are designed to help your students use their noticing skills to move through the poem and develop their thinking about its meaning with confidence, using what they’ve noticed as evidence for their interpretations. Read more about the framework upon which these activities are based.

  1. Warm-up: Draw a picture of someone walking, moving, or being moved. 

  2. Before Reading the Poem: As a class, create a Wordle about the word autobiography. Look at your Wordle closely. What do you notice? What words, phrases or repetitions stand out to you? Why? (Teachers, if you think that your students might need more context prior to reading the poem, you could introduce the prefix “anti” here and discuss its meanings.

  3. Reading the Poem: Read the poem “from Autobiography/ Anti-Autobiography” by Jennifer Bartlett silently. What do you notice about the poem? Annotate for any words or phrases that stand out to you or any questions you might have.

  4. Listening to the Poem (enlist two volunteers to read the poem aloud): Listen as the poem is read aloud twice, and write down any additional words and phrases that stand out to you. 

  5. Small-group Discussion: Share what you noticed in the poem with a small group of students. Based on the details you just shared with your small group, and the activities from the beginning of class, how might the visual structure of the poem enact the experience of falling? Why might this be important? 

  6. Whole-class Discussion: How do you interpret the meaning of the title? In what ways is the poem an autobiography and in what ways is it an anti-autobiography? Reflect on these lines from the poem: “The able-bodied are / tone-deaf to this singing some / falling.” What might this mean? What might the connection be between the able-bodied and the “critic of the world”? 

  7. Extension for Grades 7-8: Keep a diary for one or more days. In that diary, list everything that you do, from your small mundane tasks to your larger ones. Use the diary to write your own autobiography/anti-autobiography of your body. 

  8. Extension for Grades 9-12: Choose one poem and accompanying image. In this folio, Jennifer Bartlett states “In my view, poetry is the most organic art form; it does not require money or physical labor. A poem doesn’t need to follow any particular grammar rules; it is the record of one’s own experience of the singular mind and/or body, a singular voice.  For many of us, it is also a way of ‘being in the world,’ a world that in many ways was not made for us and actively resists our participation. Through poetry, we are able to remake and reinvent that world.” Write an essay about how your chosen poem and image are remaking and reinventing the world. 

More Context for Teachers

Poem in Your Pocket Day 2021 will take place on April 29th. Initiated in April 2002 by the Office of the Mayor in New York City, Poem in Your Pocket Day is now an international celebration of poetry and community. It's easy to participate in Poem in Your Pocket Day from a safe distance—discover ways to join in the celebration!

Poetry Glossary

This week’s poetic term is caesura, referring to a pause for a beat in the rhythm of a verse, often indicated by a line break or by punctuation. Browse the glossary.