“History has to live with what was here,
clutching and close to fumbling all we had—”
Poetry is deeply ingrained in history. It offers rich insights, stories, and images into the past that, as a result, can tell us more about our present and future. Explore the ways in which history and poetry enrich each other with the activities below.
The following activities have been adapted from “Teach This Poem: “To a No. 2 Yellow Pencil on May 1, 2020” by Kimiko Hahn.” They can be done alone or with a guardian, sibling, friend, or partner.
Warm-up: Sketch a picture of your favorite school supply or supplies. Without discussing, share your picture with your partner.
Before Reading the Poem: Look at the image of the planetary pencil pointer. What might the object in this image be, and how might it be used in schools? How is this object similar to or different from modern day school supplies?
Listening to the Poem: Listen as the poem is read aloud by Hahn, 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 partner or by yourself.
Discussion: Share what you noticed in the poem with your partner. Based on the details you just shared, how might the poem compare or contrast with your observations of the planetary pencil pointer?
Discussion: What might the significance of the date in the title be? How has life changed for you since 2020? Discuss with your partner, or respond in writing.
Extension for Grades 7-8: Read more ode poems to objects: “Owed to the Durag,” “Ode to My Socks,” “Ode to Kool-Aid.” In the final line of the poem, Hahn writes, “I declare I hold you dear.” Who or what do you hold dear? Why? What object or objects have become more meaningful to you? Why? Write an ode poem exploring this object or person. Share your poems with your partner. (You can find more information about odes here.)
Extension for Grades 9-12: Which books or media are you enjoying this summer? Choose two texts (these can be songs, poems, quotes, articles, photographs, movies, shows, etc.) and explain how they are personally meaningful to you right now. Write a poetic response to one of these texts.
All rights reserved. Excerpted from Write It! 100 Poetry Prompts to Inspire (Spruce Books, 2020) by permission of Sasquatch Books. Written by Nickole Brown and Jessica Jacobs, designed by Krzysztof Poluchowicz.
Kimiko Hahn was born on July 5, 1955, in Mt. Kisco, New York, the child of artists, a Japanese American mother from Hawaii and a German American father from Wisconsin.
She is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including Foreign Bodies (W. W. Norton, 2020) and The Unbearable Heart (1995), which received an American Book Award.
Her work often explores desire and death, and the intersections of conflicting identities. She frequently draws on, and even reinvents, classic forms and techniques used by women writers in Japan and China, including the zuihitsu, or pillow book, and nu shu, a nearly extinct script Chinese women used to correspond with one another.
About her own work and its place in Asian American writing, Hahn has said: “I’ve taken years to imagine an Asian American aesthetic. I think it’s a combination of many elements—a reflection of Asian form, an engagement with content that may have roots in historical identity, together with a problematic, and even psychological, relationship to language.”
She is a Distinguished Professor in the English department at Queens College/CUNY and lives in New York.