Mississippi Magnolia- Southern Poems

SOUTHERN POEMS :Celebrating the South- Promoting a Positive Mississippi

POETRY LESSON PLAN SUGGESTIONS Mississippi Poems| Southern Poems

 "Poetry may make us see the world afresh,or some new part of it. It may make us, from time to time, a little more aware of the deeper, unamed feelings to which we rarely penetrate."-T.S. Eliot

"Poetry is music written for the human voice"-Maya Angelou


Poetry Unit using Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia-A Life in Poems and My Magnolia Memories and Musings - In Poems by Patricia Neely-Dorsey
  • Enjoyment - You may simply wish for students to gain an overall appreciation of poetry, so you can plan your lessons around enjoying the poetry you read. Have fun with the rhythm of the words, look for intriguing images, and find poems with inspiring messages and themes.

  • Literary analysis - You may study the poetry with an eye on dissecting its meaning with emphasis  on identifying literary techniques like simile and metaphor, ect  and evaluating the effectiveness.
  • Some elements to consider in characterization of poems in Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia

    Rhythm-flow; recurrences at equal intervals affected by pauses attribtable to consonant clusters and length of words 

    Rhyme  Order/Rhyme Scheme-What s the pattern of the rhyme?

    Mood- Is it tender, hopeful, morbid, grave, tragic, ect?

    Movement- Is it majestic, tripping, vigorous, lively, regular, halting?

    Sound- Is it alliterative, musical, sonorous, harsh?

    Theme-central idea or message


    Stanza Structure-


    Overall Considerations of  a poem (any poem) in the collection) :
    Does the poem imply a story of some sort?

    What is the beginning, middle and end?

    What was your response to the poem at first reading?

    Were there any parts that especially pleased, displeased or puzzled you?

    Does the writer reveal his/her personality, culture, values in the poem?

    In what instances? Give examples.

    Note the images in the poem. How do they add up to one complete picture?

    Is there a poem that you find especially funny, memorable or inspiring?

    Is there a poem that led you to revist  personal childhood memories or see them in a new light?

    Is there a poem that helped to  you see Mississippi in a new light?.


    Common themes in Southern/Mississippi literature



     -Mississippi literature, like the people of the state, are "obsessed" with the past.  Faulkner spoke for all of us when he said, “The past isn’t dead, it’s not even past.” 
    -   Mississippi literature is almost always concerned with racial relationships.  Even when race is not the focus of the story, details will emerge that touch on the racial relationships of Mississippians.


    -   Mississippi literature is concerned with language—dialect, idioms, names, nicknames. Students are encouraged to say the names of our counties.  They often offer the more colorful  names of some of our towns. (They all have a tale about dialect!)


     -Mississippi literature concerns itself with the land itself.  
    It can often assume the role of a character.  As Eudora Welty pointed out, setting in a Southern story is never a “minor god.”  The land yields up everything to the story: the characters, the conflicts, the themes. 

     How are these elements carried out in Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia?

     Points of Discussion

  • Discuss the role that FAMILY AND COMMUNITY play in Neely- Dorsey's poetry
  • Discuss the role that the PAST plays in Neely-Dorsey's poetry
  • How are the elements of RACE/RACIAL RELATIONS  introduced/handled  in Neely-Dorsey's poetry 

  • What is the tone in which they are handled?

  • Discuss the use of DIALECT in one or more of Neely Dorsey's poems

  • Discuss the role that LAND/PLACE/SETTING play in Neely-Dorsey's poetry

  • -Read and discuss a poem of Neely'Dorsey's wher land/setting plays a major role



    Authors usually have a purpose or reason in mind when they write.

  •  An author might want to INFORM by giving instructions on how to make or do something.

  • An  author might want to ENTERTAIN 

  • An Author may want to PERSUADE..try to convince someone to think , believe or act a certain way.

  • Sometimes an author may have more than one purpose. For instance, an author may wish to inform, but do so in a way that also entertains.

    Activity; Choose several poems from Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia and discuss what you would consider the author's purpose is in each poem. 


  • Poetry Workshop

    Meet Me and Mississippi Through Poetry Prose and the Written Word

     Learning to Tell "Your Story" through poems

  • Students examine the life/contributions of the Patricia Neely-Dorsey. They create a journal, read and discuss poems by Neely-Dorsey, write a poem about themselves, and create a timeline of their own lives.

  • The teacher will ask students to consider how important their relationships with their family, friends, and neighbors are to their lives. Ask the students  to talk about  how and why these relationships are important to them.
  • The teacher will tell the students that they will learn about a Mississippi writer who focuses on human relationships in much of her work. 


  •     Read  and discuss one of Neely-Dorsey's Poems that focuses on relationships or a relationship

  •  Have students read one of Neely-Dorsey's poems and create a poem about their own lives, referring to a chosen poem.
  • A Life in Poems

  • Students will 

    Classify events from the life of  Neely-Dorsey

    Illustrate events from the life of  Neely-Dorsey

    Analyze the poetry of Neely-Dorsey



  • "MEET ME"/Exploring Self/ Who Am I ?/Who I am

    -Writing About Your Life

    1. To increase self-awareness
    2. To increase self-esteem
    3. To promote pride and unity                                                      

    4. To promote  understanding  and appreciation of diveristy

    -Poetry is a wonderful way for students to celebrate their heritage and expand their own sense of self  and sense of place  through their writing. 

     -Writing a poem , using clear details and vivid language, can bring a person, place or thing  to life

    -Students are encouraged to write, focusing on familiar   topics, such as childhood memories and important events and people in their lives

    -Students will read one of Neely-Dorsey's poems and create a poem about places, people or events in their lives, referring to the chosen poem.

    Points to Consider

    1. Which foods did the author remember from her childhood?
    2. What does she recall about religion/spiritual experiences?
    3. What special gatherings did she experience?
    4. What types of jobs did the adults in her life hold?
    5.  What were her hobbies or interests?
    6. Where might she have enjoyed spending time?
    7. How did the author use inferences within the poem?
    8. What  literary techniques does the author use in these poems?
    9. How do these poems illustrate the authors culture?

    Students will reflect on their own childhood experiences in the following areas:

    • Special foods
    • Sayings adults repeated
    • Religious/spiritual experiences
    • Special gatherings
    • Favorite place to be / go
    • Notable Events (Tragedies/Celebrations/Ceremonies)
    • Hobbies/Interests
    • Jobs of parents/guardians/family members


    Students are asked to visualize a place/scene/event from their own childhoods which is invested with meaning because of the people who were there or the experiences which they had in this place.

     -Students are asked to draw a picture of this special childhood place/scene/event.  

     They will be encouraged be as detailed as possible.

      -Students are asked to describe/explain their pictures to the class 

     -Students are asked to use their pictures as a pre-writing exercise to write a “Memory Piece” which can be prose or poetry  


    Who am I? / Who I am

    POEM: "Inside Me"

    EXERCISE: -Students will write a personal poem making a statement about who they are, who/what they want to be,how they feel 

    POEM: " Loving Me"

    EXERCISE: -Students will discuss how this poem celebrates the uniqueness of individuals. 

    -Students will write an original poem expressing various thoughts about their appearance and self confidence/self image   




    1. Students will design a journal cover using pictures, poems, drawings, ect. that is representative of a celebration of themselves. (Celebrating of oneself is a main theme in Neely-Dorsey's  writings.)

    2. Students will write a description of a quality that is a strength of theirs.

    3. Students will share with each other their strengths and values, realizing that if there are differences that it is okay.

    4. Students will write a poem about themselves

     Art Activity. From your discussion about Patricia Neely-Dorsey , explain that they are going to create their own journal covers that represent themselves.  Neely-Dorsey always encourages keeping a notebook of record  thoughts/ideas. Have magazines, poetry books, stickers, extra construction paper available to use when they are designing their covers. They may also use resources from home if they choose. Emphasize that if they were asked to hand their journals to a person who did not know them, would the person be able to figure out some things about them? Give each student a journal that is ready to decorate. (i.e., A piece of paper folded in half with lined paper in the middle and stapled.) They may cut the journal into a shape if they choose to. The students will design their covers.

    1. Mini-Lecture. The purpose of this mini-lecture is to introduce Patricia Neely-Dorsey to the class. Explain who she was and her major themes found in her writing (See biographical information). Discuss what she believed and valued (ie. family, education, expression of self through poetry, people, and life). As a small child,  Be sure to say that she valued people in their ordinary lives doing ordinary things.


    Exercise: Students will select a title of what their book of "life poems" would be called.

    Exercise:  Students will draw a bookcover of their book of "life poems"


     Journal Cover- Did the students create a cover that gives some information about themselves pictorially or in written form (i.e. poetry)? This will be assessed informally through observation.

     -Values Journal entry will be assessed.

    - The "Me" poem will be assessed.

    -   Author The time line activity will be assessed.

    -The personal  time line  will be assessed  

    - Dreams and goals journal entry will be assessed


    Gwendolyn Brooks New Year's Resolutions in 1934

    Journal Entries

    1. Write some poetry everyday.

    2. Write some prose everyday.

    3. Draw everyday.

    4. Improvise at least ten pieces of music.

    5. Invent several dances, including variations of the tap dance, and know them perfectly.

    6. Sing persistently and improve voice by 1935.

    7. Have at least seven stories accepted, and paid for by 1935?

    8. Have at least fifteen poems accepted and published during the year.

    9. Practice the piano continually.

    10. Use correct English.

    (From George Kent's book pg.27) (By the way, she did revise these later in the year.)


     SENSORY LANGUAGE                                                                                                     

    - Students will recognize language appealing to the senses.

    -Students will drill on the meanings of visual, auditory, gustatory, tactile, and olfactory.


    hearing/ auditory;


    taste/ gustatory;

     smell/ olfactory

     -Students write the new words in their notes-books

    -Students will create sensory details to add to their own memory pieces 

    -Students will point out sensory details in selected Neely-Dorsey poems

    NOTE: Visualizing a story or poem can help you enjoy and understand  that piece of writing better. As you read. Listen and try to re-create images or scenes in your mind. Pay close attention to details.

    Ask...what  does the image look like? What do I see, hear, taste , or  smell ? 

    An image is the presentation in words of a strong sensory impression conveying sight, sound, touch, smell or taste. It is through strong images that one is able to "show and not tell" 

    Encourage students to write poems using all the senses.

    QUOTE: "Try to be one of those people on whom nothing is lost".- Henry James 



    Exercise: Imagine that a friend is moving to Mississippi or will be visiting Mississippi for the first time. Write a poem describing things that might stand out to them, what they might see, special attractions, landscape, sounds, ect.

     Exercise: Write a poem describing a summer day in Mississippi...sights, sounds, feel, activities

     Images (photos and graphics) will accompany each poem.

     Each student will complete a written reflection on the poetry unit.


     - Additional Exercises


    - Take one of Neely-Dorsey's poems and have students identify literary elements.


     from " A Country View":

     bottle tree,  chunk, saunters, sumptuous, muscadines, quaint

    from  "Slopping Hogs":

    brood, slop, slobber, mush, concoction, trough, rooting

    from "Coutry Doctor":

    galore, stethoscope, procure, tike, stock

    term: first man on deck

    from "Right to Vote":


    -Students will discuss any unfamiliar words or phrases



    -"Southern Life"

    -"Shelling Peas"

    -"Country Breakfast"

    -"Hogkilling Time"

    -"Making Cracklings"


  • . Students will explore aspects of  Neely-Dorsey's character and background through her written prose.
  • Student's will examine Neely-Dorsey's poetry and explore how she used events in her life as the basis of her writing.
  • Student's will explore/discuss some of Neely-Dorsey's feelings and beliefs made evident through her writing. 


  • A Life in Poems
  • Students will 

    Discuss/Classify events from the life of  Neely-Dorsey

    Illustrate events from the life of  Neely-Dorsey

    Analyze the poetry of Neely-Dorsey

    Using information from her poems, students will construct a ten-line bio-poem about Neely-Dorsey .

    Students will share their responses.

    Teacher will lead the class in combining their thoughts in order to produce one bio-poem which most accurately depicts the author.  

     Students will write a biographical poem of Patricia Neely-Dorsey   and write a bio-poem about themselves, comparing themselves/their lives  to  the author


    -Activity: Memoir


    Materials: shoe box------------ 

    Exeox, construction paper, 3x5 inch index cards, markers or colres pencils, found objects

    Imagine the the author (Patricia Neely-Dorsey)  made a time capsule to let future generations know about her life.  What items might she include? Create a time capsule and a brief description of each item. The objects included should  represent the people, places and events that were/are important in the author's life. They can represent the author's interests or aspects of her personality. 

    Brainstorm a list of important people, places, objects, and events in the author's  life. 

    For each item included in the time capsule write a short paragraph from the author's perspective about why the object is included. Include at least 5  items. Write each explanation on an index card and attach it to the appropriate object.

    Decorate the box in a way that represents the author.



    Goal : The student will critically interpret and evaluate experiences, literature, language, and ideas.

    • Objective: Analyze the ideas of others by identifying the ways in which writers:
      • introduce and develop a main idea.
      • choose and incorporate significant, supporting, relevant details.
      • relate the structure/organization to the ideas.
      • use effective word choice as a basis for coherence.
      • achieve a sense of completeness and closure

    Sentence Length (Sentence Fluency)

    Focus on Topic- Is there one clear, well-focuesd topic?  Does the main idea stand out? Is it supported by detailed information.

    Capitalization & Punctuation- Is poem punctuated well/correctly so that it is exceptionally easy to read?

    Introduction- Is the introduction inviting . Does it state the main topic and preview the following content  ? 

    Conclusion- Is the conclusion strong? Does it leave the reader with a sense of understanding what the writer is "getting  at"/ trying to convey?  

    Word choice- Does the writer use vivid words and phrases that linger or draw pictures in the reader's mind? Does the choice and placement of words seem natural and  not forced?


    Point out the strengths of a poem. Try to evaluate why certain elements are effective.

    Ask about the source of a poem, it's impulse or vision

    Ask about the writer's  choice in narrative voice, words , imagery, order, form, verb tense or punctuation.

    Did the writer SHOW instead of TELL.

    Ask whether everything in the poem is necessary.

    "Great is th art of begining, but greater the art of ending; many a poem is marred by a superfluous verse." Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

    "Poetry teaches the enormous force of a few words, and in proportion to the inspiration, checks loquacity." Ralph Waldo Emerson

    Make suggestions for revision, not by actually rewriting a poem but by pointing out how it might have been revised.

     In assessing your own poem:

    Look at verbs. How strong are the verbs? Would some other verb give a more active feeling to the poesm or a stronger picture?

    Look at nouns. Have you used strong, interesting , varied nouns?

    Look at the adverbs. Are they all really necessary? ( Adverbs can often weaken a poem. Could you find a verb that would include the meaning of the adverb?)

    Look at the adjectives. Are they all necessary and interesting? What do they add to the images? 

    Look at any word or phrase that may be overworked or cliche and try ot find a new way to express the idea or image.

    Look for unnecessary repetition and redundancy.

    QUOTE: "In writing poetry, you're interested in condensation, you do not try to put all of a particular impression or inspiration on a single page. You distill. Poetry is life distilled."  Gwendolyn Brooks





  • Comparisons:
  • Students are to compare and contrast the points of view of  Margaret Walker Alexander and Neely-Dorsey in regard to the south/ Mississippi. 
  •  Compare and contrast the different times in southern history in  which the two authors wrote

  • Compare/Contrast the lives/childhoods/upbringing of Neely-Dorsey and Walker

  • Discuss how the social/racial climates might have this affected their writings?

  • Compare poems "Southern Life" by Neely-Dorsey and "My Southern Song" by Margaret Walker

  • Compare poems"Mississippi Morning " by Neely-Dorsey and "My Mississippi Spring" by Margaret Walker

     Margaret Walker poems from This is my Century


  • -------------------------------------------------


    An Autobiographical Poem

    Grade Levels: 4 - 6


    • Students will learn to write an Autobiography Poem, which is a formula poem.
    • Students will create a bulletin board display, especially fitting for an Open House.


    • Sample of an Autobiography Poem read to students
    • Sheets with the form of the poem on it for each student, or the formula written on the blackboard
    • Photograph of each student or a self portrait


    1. Read a sample Autobiography Poem to students:

      Happy, nice, friendly, kind
      Daughter of Sarah and Mike
      Lover of my parents, dog, and reading
      Who feels summer is too short, school's great and bedtime comes too early
      Who fears being bitten by a dog, being thrown off a horse, and getting an F on a test
      Who would like to see Hawaii, the pyramids, and Disneyland
      Resident of Burnside Way, Stockton, California, USA

    2. Give students a copy of the form below or put it on the board. Walk students through each line, having them fill in one section at a time. You might create a poem about yourself on the board while explaining the format.


      (First Name of Student)


      ________, __________, __________, __________

      (Four adjectives to describe yourself)


      Son or daughter of ____________________


      Lover of _____________, ___________, ______________


      Who feels ___________, ___________, ______________


      Who fears ___________, _____________, _______________


      Who would like to see ______________, _______________, _____________


      Resident of ____________________________________

      (Street, town, state, country)



      (Last Name)



    3. Proofread students' poems and let them write a final draft, a good penmanship lesson.
    4. Mount students' poems with either a photograph that you take of the student or with a self-portrait drawn by the student



    Lesson Plan

  •  Ask students to bring in photos or mementos, collect pictures from magazines, and/or draw pictures of things that are self-representative.  

  • Encourage students to think of images or symbols that help capture the essence of who they are.

    • Provide students with a persona poem template, and ask each student to write a poem about himself or herself. 

    Extension: Have students combine their poems, pictures, mementoes, and drawings into a collage.

     Poems to Pictures- Pictures to Poems

     "Poetry is a speaking picture, painting is silent poetry"



  • Assessment

    Evaluate students on the language skills demonstrated in the poems.


     Students will present previously written original pieces to the class


    Pauses- Were effective pauses used to improve meaning and/or dramatic impact?

    Enthusiasm- Do facial expressions and body language generate a strong interest  and enthusiasm about the topic?

    Clear speech- Does the reader speak clearly and distincty and properly pronounce word?

    Volume- Is the speaker loud enough to  be heard by all audience members throughout the presentation?



     Poetry is indeed the freest form of literary expression.

  • Good poetry touches the heart and resonates in the soul

  •  Effective poetry is free of censure and "political correctness". It is raw, honest and revealing.

  • Poetry gives students a chance to express themselves in a way that cannot incur judgement of right or wrong.

  •  Poetry should arrest your readers, not hold them captive.

  • Poetry readings afford the opportunity to get immediate feedback on your work, meet and network

  • Discover what  moves you in the  poetic work of others. 

  • Keep a journal to capture ideas.



     Reflections in the Classroom:- Mooreville Middle School

     Sept 2009

    "It is encouraging to see students who don’t like to read actually get into your poetry, Patricia!"


    Oct 2009
    My students and I have finished reading the Section in your book Country Living. They really do like your book (so do I), and our librarian likes it so much (she came to my room one day when we were reading your poems) that she is going to order me a classroom set of 30 books to use with my classes.  I do plan to share one poem a day until we have covered the book. 
    Mr. Cherry, our principal, came in to observe one day last week.  We were reading your work; he told me later that he really enjoyed the class and wanted to read your book. You are a BIG HIT at Mooreville Middle School!


  •   E. Carol Rupert Mooreville Middle School




     From Dr. Alfred Tatum's Summer Literacy Program

  • We  will seek to use language to define who we are, build and nurture resilient beings, write for the benefit of others and ourselves, and use language prudently and unapolegetically to mark or time and mark our lives.


     Sometimes it's easy to think of all the things we are not, but have you thought lately about the amazing person you ARE? Are you spending your days trying to proof who you are not, or BEING who you are?  The latter is far simpler. Every mental closet you peak into could reveal a person or situation dictating to you who you will never become, what you should be, what you are not. Simplify your life. 

    Free yourself to be the wonderful creation that you are right now. Everything you are going to be is on the inside of you at this very moment. So why not celebrate you now?  Who you were, who you are and who you are going to be.  Develop an "I AM" list.  You know - I am wonderful friend, I am kind, I am creative, I am full of wisdom etc., etc. Some things will be true now; others will be spoken in faith.  Press on anyway.  WHO ARE YOU?  The answer is on the inside of you.



     WRITING YOUR MEMOIR-from article by author William Zinsser

  • American Scholar 2006

  • Writers are the custodians of memory, and that’s what you must become if you want to leave some kind of record of your life and of the family you were born into. That record can take many shapes. It can be a formal memoir—a careful act of literary construction. Or it can be an informal family history, written to tell your children and your grandchildren about the family they were born into. It can be the oral history that you extract by tape recorder from a parent or a grandparent too old or too sick to do any writing. Or it can be anything else you want it to be: some hybrid mixture of history and reminiscence. Whatever it is, it’s an important kind of writing. Too often memories die with their owner, and too often time surprises us by running out.

  • When you write your own family history, don’t try to be a “writer.” It now occurs to me that my father, who didn’t try to be a writer, was a more natural writer than I am, with my constant fiddling and fussing. Be yourself and your readers will follow you anywhere. Try to commit an act of writing and your readers will jump overboard to get away. Your product is you. The crucial transaction in memoir and personal history is the transaction between you and your remembered experiences and emotions.

    As for how to actually organize your memoir, my final advice is, again, think small. Tackle your life in easily manageable chunks. Don’t visualize the finished product, the grand edifice you have vowed to construct. That will only make you anxious.


  • - Reducing advice can be summed up in two words: think small. Don’t rummage around in your past—or your family’s past—to find episodes that you think are “important” enough to be worthy of including in your memoir. Look for small self-contained incidents that are still vivid in your memory


    Here’s what I suggest.

    Go to your desk on Monday morning and write about some event that’s still vivid in your memory. What you write doesn’t have to be long—three pages, five pages—but it should have a beginning and an end. Put that episode in a folder and get on with your life. On Tuesday morning, do the same thing. Tuesday’s episode doesn’t have to be related to Monday’s episode. Take whatever memory comes calling; your subconscious mind, having been put to work, will start delivering your past.

    Keep this up for two months, or three months, or six months. Don’t be impatient to start writing your “memoir,” the one you had in mind before you began. Then, one day, take all your entries out of their folder and spread them on the floor. (The floor is often a writer’s best friend.) Read them through and see what they tell you and what patterns emerge. They will tell you what your memoir is about and what it’s not about. They will tell you what’s primary and what’s secondary, what’s interesting and what’s not, what’s emotional, what’s important, what’s funny, what’s unusual, what’s worth pursing and expanding. You’ll begin to glimpse your story’s narrative shape and the road you want to take.

    Then all you have to do is put the pieces together.



     Poetry is the art of understanding what it is to be alive - Archibald MacLeish





  • Clustering- collect associated words/associations around a key word or phrase; the intended topic for writing

  • Write the word or phrase in the center of a piece of paper and circle it.

  • Write down and circle every word or pharse that comes to mind when you think of this word or phrase.

  • Let ideas flow from each other to form chains of associations. 




  • The best way for students to love poetry and want to write is to read/listen to a wide variety of poetry. The sounds provide powerful exampleof poetic expression; imagery triggers the imagination; the voices heard in reading poetry inspire writers to raise their own voices.



  • A writer's notebook includes the aim of a journal but with entries more specifically aimed  as a storehouse of not only ideas,  but feeling feelings, imaginative recreations of experiences, images and words from which to draw on in writing, encouraging one to become aware of the world around hin/her and more aware of the life he/she is living



     "A man can write at any time, if he will set himself doggedly to it" -Samuel Johnson   



     "Throughout our history, writing has been a powerful force. By writing, an author is able to share with her readers not only her own ideas and memories, but also to convey information about the time and place in which she/he lived. A memoir, for example, comments on more than the writer's life—it reveals to us a community's identity and values, and it preserves that community's history. Think about what these story says about the place and time in which the story is written."