Creative Writing: Poetry and Activism

ENGLISH 273: Poetry & Activism

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9:00am – 10:15am


Instructor: Lee Kava Office: KUY 215


Office Hours: T/Th 10:30am – 11:30am


What is poetry? What is activism? How do these two practices help shape and inform one another? How do movements for liberation and social change inform the craft and form of poetry? How do aspects of poetry inform activism? In this class, we engage these questions through an interweaving of poetic study and practice. We will be reading poetry and poets whose works document and practice activism within specific political and cultural movements while using those examples to create original pieces of poetry.

Each of the major poetry collections of this course engages intersectional resistance movements and liberation struggles that center body, race, ethnicity, desire, gender, sexuality, immigration, land, water, and belonging. In order to contextualize the poetry and poets included in the reading list, we will be discussing past and ongoing movements of social activism focused on (but not limited to) immigration, civil rights, indigenous rights, gender equity, LGBTQ+ liberation, militarization, climate change, and sovereignty. Students will be engaging the poetry arising from and connected to these movements in order to contextualize their own poetic practice. Ultimately, this class is meant to provide a foundation for studying and practicing poetry as a particular form—and platform—for activism.

Throughout the semester, students will produce weekly reflection pieces alongside shorter creative free-writes and poems. Each student will conclude the semester with a creative performance and a final poetry portfolio.


Required Texts

  • Ocean Vuong, Night Sky with Exit Wounds
  • Haunani-Kay Trask, Light In the Crevice Never Seen
  • Audre Lorde, The Black Unicorn
  • Solmaz Sharif, Look
  • Janine Joseph, Driving Without A License


All other supplemental texts will be posted on the class Laulima site. For certain days throughout the semester, I will ask you to print out a reading and bring to class for discussion and activities. I will give you ample warning for this ahead of time when you’ll need to bring readings to class.


Major Assignments:

  • Weekly poetry assignments (developed from weekly poetry workshops)
  • 10 short reading responses (250 words each)
  • Midterm research paper (1800-2400 words) and poetry performance
  • Poetry portfolio and final poetry performance
  • Final take-home essay (1800-2400 words)