California Poets in the Schools’ Poet-Teacher Rosie Angelica Alonso, based in L.A., always loved the colorful sugar skulls that her family put up on their ofrenda every year on November 1st and 2nd for Día De Los Muertos. Rosie wrote a poetry lesson that involves writing an offering poem and then creating sugar skills from scratch. As Día De Los Muertos approaches, Rosie and California Poets in the Schools offer this idea to you, as a way to celebrate and bring poetry to your life this season - to your writing group, your children, your grandchildren, or to a classroom near you.
Día de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a Mexican Holiday celebrated throughout Mexico, and by people of Mexican heritage around the world. In the United States this year, Día de Los Muertos will begin on October 31st and ends on November 2nd. The multi-day holiday involves family and friends coming together to pray for and remember friends and family members who have passed away, and helping support their spiritual journey. Day of the Dead altars known as altares de muertos or ofrendas, such as the one in the photo above, are set during the Day of the Dead celebrations to honor the dead.
As is typical with a California Poets in the Schools’ lesson, Rosie began by reading and discussing a masterful poem written by a well-known poet - Jimmy Santiago Baca’s “I Am Offering This Poem”:
"I am offering this poem to you,
since I have nothing else to give.
Keep it like a warm coat
when winter comes to cover you,
or like a pair of thick socks
the cold cannot bite through..."
Jimmy Santiago Baca , from "I am Offering This Poem"
Rosie read the entire poem out loud then asked her students what resonated with them and what they noticed. Most of the students picked up on and talked about the poet’s love for the world. Rosie asked her students what things or people they love in this world, and then, using Baca’s poem as an example, asked them to write an offering poem to that person or thing.
Students wrote offering poems to their parents, their pets, their siblings, the clouds, the trees, their television, their guitar, their socks, food or art...
Once the students had completed their poems, they made sugar skulls from clay. They were able to paint their skulls any way they liked and had materials such as glitter, sprinkles, fuzz balls, paper mâché, etc., to add to their own unique skull.
We offer this poetry lesson to you. Enjoy, pass it along, and let us know of your successes!
Clay (if time is short for the lesson or if you are working with younger students 1st, 2nd, 3rd), the teacher can have the skulls pre-molded so students can paint them and add to them in class)
Washable paintPaint brushes
Plastic or Styrofoam cups to hold water to soak brushes
Assortment of crafts (glitter, fuzzy balls, colored paper, etc.)
Paper and pencils/notebook to write offering poems
A copy of “I Am Offering This Poem” by JSB to read to students before the lesson
Tip: teacher can have students use the refrain “I am offering this poem” throughout their poem to guide them in their thought process