“Nourish beginnings, let us nourish beginnings.
Not all things are blest, but the
seeds of all things are blest.”
As the summer ends and a new school year approaches, preparing for a new beginning can be hopeful or even intimidating. Read poems about beginnings, learn about negative capability, and explore your family history with the resources below.
The following activities have been adapted from Teach This Poem: “A House Called Tomorrow” by Alberto Ríos. They can be done alone or with a guardian, sibling, friend, or partner.
Ask your parents or guardians to tell you what they know about their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. (If you can only learn about one or two generations, that’s fine.) Write down what they tell you.
If you have a partner, tell them about the history of your family. What did you learn? What more do you wish you knew? Did you discover any surprises?
Read the poem silently, then write down the words, phrases, and structures that jump out at you.
What does the speaker in the poem say about past generations? How does this speaker think these generations relate to you? Why do you think the poet chose to write the poem in couplets? Cite evidence in the poem.
What do you think the poet means when he says “we can make a house called tomorrow”? With what does the poet say we should build this house? How should we do it?
Extension for Grades 7-12: What are your goals for the new school year? How will you build a “house called tomorrow” based on what you have learned from your ancestors? Share your goals and what you will do to build this “house” with your partner.
Nikki Giovanni was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, on June 7, 1943, and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. Giovanni is the author of numerous children books and poetry collections. In her first two collections, Black Feeling, Black Talk (Harper Perennial, 1968) and Black Judgement (Broadside Press, 1969), Giovanni reflects on the African-American identity. A lung cancer survivor, Giovanni also contributed an introduction to the anthology Breaking the Silence: Inspirational Stories of Black Cancer Survivors (Hilton Publishing, 2005).
Several magazines have named Giovanni Woman of the Year, including Essence, Mademoiselle, Ebony, and Ladies Home Journal. The first recipient of the Rosa L. Parks Woman of Courage Award, she has served as poetry judge for the National Book Awards and was a finalist for a Grammy Award in the category of Spoken Word.
Negative capability is a phrase coined by John Keats to describe a poet’s ability to live with uncertainty and mystery. Inspired by Shakespeare, Keats coined this term to describe the selfless receptivity he considers necessary for the deepest poetry.
He wrote in a letter to his brothers, “Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.”
Read more about negative capability, then write a poem about what you think the future will be like.