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Maureen McLane: Teaching poetry to children in East Harlem

Women's WorldWide Web


Maureen McLane portraitWomen’s WorldWide Web is proud to share with you the work of acclaimed poet and scholar, Maureen McLane. In ‘City Poems’, Maureen recounts her experience teaching poetry to children in East Harlem. Original poems by Maureen McLane will be featured on VOICES in the near future…



City Poems
Ten weeks with the East Harlem Poetry Project

Originally published in the April/May 2003 issue of the Boston Review:



“We would collaborate. Talk and share. Confabulate. Create.”

“Poetry makes nothing happen,” Auden famously wrote, but schools in theory are supposed to make something happen: to make kids learn, to make them literate, numerate, responsible junior citizens. Auden went on to write that poetry was “a way of happening, a mouth;” so too can school be a way of happening.



So when people asked “what happened in your poetry class?” it wasn’t wrong to say, “not much, but we got ready for something to happen.” And sometimes, amidst calls for bathroom breaks, groans and insults, flying chalk and tears of frustration, something did happen: 

I love mom I love dad
I love my teacher I love I love
the taste of tea


           -“I love it,” Aadil Mendez, age 7


Today is cool.
I like today.
My name is Terrence.
I love this world.
I am fun.
I like to play.
I like to dream.

          -“Free write, March day,” Terrence Barnwell, age 9


alarms like

  to go

     off      clocks

            like to


                           and TVs

                                  like to

                                      chat chat chat

                                                      like a cat.

          -“a rhyme,” Jasmin Ortiz, age 9
Same Life Book Cover, Maureen McLaneMaureen McLane is the author of two volumes of poems, Same Life (2008) and the forthcoming World Enough, as well as a prose study, Romanticism and the Human Sciences: Poetry, Population, and the Discourse of the Species. Formerly the chief poetry critic of the Chicago Tribune, Maureen has written about poetry, fiction, teaching, and sexuality for the Tribune, the New York Times, the Boston Review, and elsewhere, while her poetry has appeared in The New Yorker.  She has taught at Harvard and is currently at NYU.

© Women’s WorldWide Web 2010


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Meet the editor-in-chief

Andrea Ashworth

Andrea is an author, journalist and academic. She has studied, taught or held fellowships at Oxford, Yale and Princeton. Andrea has written fiction and non-fiction for numerous publications, including Vogue, Granta, The Times, The TLS and The Guardian. She is the author of the award-winning and internationally bestselling memoir "Once in a House on Fire". Andrea works to raise awareness about domestic violence and to promote literacy and education.