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.
View images from Carrie Mae Weems' Kitchen Table series in the New York Times here.
Warm-up: View images from Carrie Mae Weems’ Kitchen Table Series here. (Teachers, you can find more photographs from this series in this New York Times slideshow.) Look closely at the different images. What do you see? Look again. What else can you find?
Before Reading the Poem: Look again at the photographs you just viewed. In them, what purpose does the kitchen table serve?
Reading the Poem: Read the poem “Perhaps the World Ends Here” by Joy Harjo 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.
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. Call back the lines that you like by saying these lines aloud with your classmates.
Small-group Discussion: Share what you noticed in the poem with a small group of students. Based on the discussion from the beginning of class and what you just shared with your small group, what is the role of the kitchen table? Why? What rituals are performed at the table?
Whole-class Discussion: Re-read this line: “The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.” What might the significance of this line be? What is your favorite image or ritual in the poem? Why?
Extension for Grades 7-8: Use either the photographs you viewed at the beginning of class or the images in the poem to write an origin story of this table. How did this table come to be? What materials make up the table? How did the table make its way to the family in the poem or in the photographs?
Extension for Grades 9-12: Continue viewing images from Carrie Mae Weems’ Kitchen Table series. Compare and contrast the tables in the series and the poem. How do these compare and contrast to your own family rituals? Write a lyrical personal essay.
In this 2019 interview, U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo says, “I see and hear the presence of generations making poetry through the many cultures that express America. They range from ceremonial orality which might occur from spoken word to European fixed forms; to the many classic traditions that occur in all cultures, including theoretical abstract forms that find resonance on the page or in image.” Read more, and discover more lesson plans featuring poems by Joy Harjo.