En la Clase: “In the Wake of Juárez–Teaching Politics, Art, and Poetry”

El cholito

El Cholito by Alice Leora Briggs

Our most recent event was the professional development workshop for educators, “In the Wake of Juárez: Teaching Politics through Art.”  Held at the UNM Art Museum, the workshop had two purposes: first, to engage with Alice Leora Briggs’ exhibit “In the Wake of Juárez” and then to discuss how to implement it in the classroom.  We’ll be posting a link to our entire curriculum guide for the workshop soon, but I wanted to share part of our curriculum with you today, as it is a poetry based lesson that would be perfect for National Poetry Month.

For those of you not familiar with the exhibit, the following excerpt from Robert Ware, Curator at the UNM Art Museum, will provide some background:

Alice Leora Briggs’ precisely descriptive sgraffito drawings provide the grim specifics of homicides, tortures, and autopsies that have recently branded Juárez and the rest of Mexico.  To bring some perspective to the horror, she appedns these graphic accounts with figures and compositions borrowed from Late 15th through 17th century prints and paintings of the Last Judgement, Crucifixion, and other sanctified martyrdoms as ample evidence of man’s persistent inhumanity to man.  The Juarez drawings, beginning in 2007, are the fulfillment of the artist’s long range reflections on our darker natures.  For more than a decade, she has been consistently involved “in some attempt to gain an understanding of what many consider less than civilized conditions.  I persist in trying to resolve why these less civilized dimensions of human life are such a critical part of ‘civilized’ life.”

For more information about Alice Loera Briggs or to see digital images of her work go to http://aliceleorabriggs.com. For those of you who aren’t local and can’t visit the exhibit on your own or as a class field trip, many of the images are available on Briggs’ site.  Our curriculum guide will also include a few of the images that can be reproduced for educational purposes.  The following lesson plan integrates poetry and art to encourage students to think more deeply about social justice issues.

Introduction and Objective:

The following lesson plan was adapted from “Creating Place-based Poems” by “POV: Documentaries with a point of view.”  The original lesson plan is based upon the documentary “El Velador (The Night Watchman)” and poetry by Dolores Dorantes.  The lesson can be found at http://www.pbs.org/pov/elvelador/lesson_plan.php.

This adapted activity uses three different resources: Alice Leora Briggs’ artwork from “In the Wake of Juárez”; Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s poetry “Odes to Juárez”; and two of Marjorie Agosín’s poems from Secrets in the Sand: The Young Women of Ciudad Juárez.  Students will use the art and poetry as the basis for creating their own place-based poems.  Both Briggs’ images and Sáenz’s poetry are available online.  Sáenz’s “Odes to Juárez” are not published yet, but he read some of his poems for a PBS series on poets and poetry, which can be watched online for free. Agosín’s poems are included below.



  1. If students are not yet familiar with the history and current state of Juárez, you may want to provide some background material. Articles are available here, here, and here.  For resources on teaching about the border in general, check out the site we created last year focused specifically on this topic.
  2. Display images from Briggs’ exhibit “In the Wake of Juárez”.  Some of the images contain violent and/or explicit content, so spend time in advance selecting the images you plan to share.  You may also provide copies of the two images included in this guide which can be reproduced for educational purposes.  Allow students time to take in the images and process what they see.  Then, guide students through a discussion that focuses on the sensory details suggested by the images.  Ask students to imagine that they are part of the image.  What do they see? What do they smell? What do they feel? How do they feel? What do they hear? What do they taste?
  3. Next, play the recording of Sáenz reading “Ode to Juárez, No. 5” and “Juárez: The Last Ode”.  Briefly discuss with students what they thought.  Then, play the recording a second time and ask students to take notes on the words or images which speak to them or which provide sensory descriptions.
  4. Then, provide copies of Agosín’s two poems.  Read through the poems with students, asking them to note the same types of things they did with Sáenz’s work.
  5. Once students have discussed all three resources, ask them to look for images or themes that the three share.  Are there common images? While all three resources are about Juárez, do they speak to different things? Do they focus on different subjects? Topics?
  6. Explain to students that they are going to write a place-based poem using the information they’ve learned from Briggs, Sáenz, and Agosín (and any other resources relevant to Juárez). A place-based poem is essentially a five senses poem written about a particular place.  In their poem students will describe what they see, smell, taste, hear, and feel in Juárez.  They can choose to write about a specific place in Juárez or Juárez in general.  They could imagine that they are in one of the images or poems they’ve analyzed.  The poem can follow as simple a format as “I see. . . I feel. . . I smell. . .I taste. . .I hear”.  Or, the sensory descriptions can be included in more complex sentences like “It was as if I was inhaling smoke, the smell of death choking and burning my insides”.
  7. Provide time for students to brainstorm and write their rough drafts.  Once their draft is finished, follow your classroom procedure for editing and revising.

Only Death
by Marjorie Agosín

Only death
Like a caress
Welcome among muteness
And lethargy
Only death
Angel of repose
Only death:
Messenger of relief
Repository of that body that doesn’t cry out
That doesn’t moan
That no longer is
Only death
Recognizes terror
And surrounds everything
Soothing her scattered remains,
It brings her to a
Nocturnal garden
Far from the desert.

Tan sólo la muerte
by Marjorie Agosín

Tan sólo la muerte
Como una caricia
Beinvenida entre la mudez
Y el letargo
Tan sólo la muerte
Angel de reposo
Tan sólo la muerte:
Mensajera del alivio
Repositora de ese cuerpo que no calma
Que no gime
Que no es
Tan sólo la muerte
Reconoce el espanto
Se la envuleve toda
Apacigua su cuerpo desbandado
Se la lleva al jardin
Lejos del desierto

I have wandered the countryside
by Marjorie Agosín

I have wandered the countryside
With your name
I have entered uninhabited cities
Where birds die at night
I have looked for you
Among the silent ones
Women who gaze toward the horizon
At their losses.
I have wandered with you and your name
In search of your light
And have repeated it until
It has become a dream on the wasteland
And no one responds, no one recognizes
No one inquires
Only your name
On my dry lips
Only your name that remembers you
To touch absences, to awaken alone
With your name like ashes that cloud the night.

He ido con tu nombre
by Marjorie Agosín

He ido con tu nombre
Por los campos
He entrado a ciudades deshabitadas
Donde los pájaros mueren en la noche
Te he buscado
Entre los mudos
Las mujeres que solo miran perdidas
Hacia el horizonte
He viajado contigo y tu nombre
En busca de tu luz
He repetido tu nombre hasta
Ser un sueño perdido en las planicies
Y nadie responde nadie reconoce
Nadie indaga
Tan sólo tu nombre
En mis labios secos
Tan sólo tu nombre que te recuerda
Palpear esencias, despertarse sola
Con tu nombre como una ceniza que numbla la luz.


2 thoughts on “En la Clase: “In the Wake of Juárez–Teaching Politics, Art, and Poetry”

  1. Pingback: El Pinocho de mis cuentos… | Tony Cantero Suarez

  2. Pingback: En la Clase: “In the Wake of Juarez”–Art as Social Justice | Vamos a Leer

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