Sequence of Activities
Introduction: 10 minutes
Give students a brief introduction to voca, the Poetry Center’s online audio/video library. Introduce the idea of “character” in poetry: poets often speak in terms of an “I,” which may or may not be autobiographical. Persona poetry, for example, usually functions as a dramatic monologue in the voice of a specific character, and slam and performance poetry also frequently incorporate defined characters.
Have students view Roger Bonair-Agard’s “the all-black penguin speaks: 17 facts you did not know about me” on voca.
Discussion: 10 minutes
Tell students that this poem frequently surprises viewers. Why is this? What does Bonair-Agard do in this poem to disrupt our expectations? How do these surprises help him to develop the penguin as a character in this poem?
Bonair-Agard uses this character to make some very specific points about the culture we live in. How would you characterize his argument and its rhetorical situation: what is his purpose, who is his audience, and what is the context? Why might the persona poem be useful in this rhetorical situation? What rhetorical strategies does Bonair-Agard use? In particular, why is the revelation of “facts you did not know about me” a powerful persuasive tool?
Split students into three groups. Play the poem again and have students listen for specific rhetorical appeals: Group 1 will focus on ethos, Group 2 on logos, and Group 3 on pathos.
Give students a few minutes to discuss their findings. Have students report to the group as a whole. How does Bonair-Agard deploy rhetorical appeals, and what effect do these appeals have on his audience?
Writing Activity: 20 minutes
Ask students to think of a character (fictional or non-fictional) who has a stake in a controversy. How (and to whom) might this person speak in order to make a public argument? Have students jot down the name of their character, the character’s audience, and a brief assessment of the tone the character might use given this audience and context.
Then have students write a list of 10 “facts you did not know about me” in the voice of this character. These facts should help to advance the character’s public argument; they should also be genuinely surprising to the character’s audience.
Closing: 10 minutes
Share student writing with the class.