The “No Selves to Defend” poetry zine was researched and compiled by Mariame Kaba and sold to raise money for Marissa Alexander’s legal defense. It was designed by Christina Gleason with lettering by Lindsay Eyth. Here’s a PDF copy of the zine as single pages. Here is a web-friendly version of the zine. You can also view a copy of the poetry zine below:

If you’ve never facilitated a discussion about poetry, you may feel intimidated and wonder how to structure the conversation. Mariame created an anti-violence poetry curriculum guide titled “Giving Name to the Nameless” in 2010. It includes some tips and ideas about how to facilitate poetry discussion circles particularly for girls and young women. Below is an excerpt of the guide to help you in organizing and planning your discussion.

Discussing Poetry

According to Literature for All of Us, a reading circle is a space where people come together to have a conversation and exchange ideas about a piece of literature (a book, poem, etc.). They provide a safe place for people to talk openly with each other and respond personally, emotionally and intellectually to literature.

There are four basic elements to a reading circle: an opening; the discussion; a writing exercise (which is optional); and a closing.

Poetry Circle Format (adapted from Literature for All of Us)

Here is our suggested format for the elements to include in your poetry circle:
1. Introductions – First names and why you have joined the poetry circle?

2. Opening Question or Activity
This helps bring the group together, to focus and start your group. It also gives the group members a chance to get to know each other. It is usually a short, interactive activity.

3. Poetry Discussion
The sooner you get your group discussing the poem, the better. Ask for volunteers to read the poem aloud. You should know everything that happens in the poem you are asking the group to discuss. Start with general questions about what happens during each section and then move to deeper discussion. You can point out specific lines to read out loud to set up your questions as needed.

4. Creative Activity (writing or art)
After discussion, you may choose to introduce a writing or art exercise/ activity to the group. This is another chance for poetry circle members to share their ideas about what’s going on in the poem and what you have talked about in the discussion. Pass out the writing or art activity asking them to write and create from their hearts and, most importantly, to tell the truth. Once circle members have finished, encourage the group to share their writing or art piece with one another. Only positive responses should be encouraged.

5. Closing
During the final minutes, you may ask a closing question or recite a quote to end the group. You can ask a question that ties with your opening or you may want to ask people to share one idea that was brought up in discussion that they will continue to think about. Often, your closing quote will relate to what you read that day – you can ask the group to read the quote out loud with you to close your poetry circle.

Tips for Poetry Circle Facilitators/Leaders (adapted from Literature for All of Us)

Be prepared to listen closely to the emotional responses of the people in your group. The goal is for them to share their feelings and listen closely to themselves as well as to each other.

A group discussion should bring about the universality of experience – a feeling that “we are in this together.” It is very important to set ground rules at the start of the poetry circle to make sure that everyone is on the same page.

Ask people to contribute their favorite poems or lyrics to the group for discussion and consideration.

Make sure to develop a set routine for the group [opening ritual, poetry discussion, follow-up activity, closing ritual]. The consistency of having a routine will settle group participants.

Critical to the success of any poetry circle session is the inclusion of activities following the group’s discussion of the poem. The effect of the poem depends on the group discussion facilitated by the leader who provides follow-up activities such as reflective writing, role-playing, creative problem solving, music and art activities, or self-selected options for participants to pursue individually. When presented in this way, poetry circles can be enjoyable while providing a time for solid introspection for participants.

Also critical to the success of a poetry circle session is designing a menu of questions for discussion. Facilitators will want to have a generated list of prepared discussion questions to pursue with the group. Along with a menu of thoughtful questions designed to elucidate the feeling responses of the participants, circle leaders will want to have key passages or lines from the poem as prompts ready for use in the discussion.