Imagine the Angels of Bread
Exploring Tone & Mood Through the Poetry of Martín Espada
There’s a reason the work of award-winning poet and essayist Martín Espada was banned from one U.S. city, censored by NPR, and considered dangerously political. This literary disrupter is a master of tone and a keen manipulator of mood. He has a vision and applies all manners of rich imagery and poignant narrative devices to establish a clear tone that lets the reader feel what he feels. What better way to explore mood and tone with your students than to analyze his poem “Imagine the Angels of Bread”. In this compelling piece, Espada not only shows us how the imagined can transform reality but gives an example of what happens when a writer has a radical and compassionate viewpoint and knows exactly what words to use to shift the atmosphere around his readers.
So much of the imagery presented in Espada’s portrait of a year where the meek inherit the earth is inspired by his life experiences and his identity as a Latino-American. By exploring his background, students will be prepared to analyze the tone of the poem in later assignments. Get into the mind of the poet and discover how his world view informs his work by sharing either of these interviews with your students.
Secrets of a Poet Spy | Yes Magazine (reading)
Martín Espada on Being a Political Poet | Poet.org (video)
Hear Martín Espada read “Imagine the Angels of Bread” at the Dodge Poetry Festival to give students their introduction to the text from the poet himself. Afterward, students can discuss their first impressions of the piece by sharing what they think the premise of the poem is and what parts gave them clues about what is going on.
This poem contains some vocabulary that students might not be familiar with but this worksheet focuses on breaking down uncommon words. It includes a copy of the text with definitions in the margins so that students can determine the meaning of words and phrases used in the text. Because Espada is speaking to specific human experiences, this activity ensures that students understand what he’s alluding to by asking for them to read specific lines in the poem and match it to the social groups, identities or types of people it pertains to.
Poetry can sometimes feel inaccessible to students because heightened language and unfamiliar vocabulary is intimidating. We suggest using this video because the combination of visuals, instrumental music and oral recitation of the poem gives visual, aural and verbal learners something to hold on to as they begin taking a closer look at how the poet’s choices in language and craft can help them understand the purpose of the poem.
Why might Martín Espada use the word “purifies” instead of “cleans” or “doubloons” instead of “coins”? This video explains why taking the easy way out when it comes to language might not get an author’s point across the way they’d intended. It explores connotation, denotation and how word choice affects tone.
Students learn how to analyze an author’s word choices and the cumulative impact of those choices to uncover their motives for writing and how they feel about the topic they are addressing.
This video defines tone and mood and then explains the differences between the two through the use of examples from poetry and prose. This resource includes discussion questions.
The difference between an adorable kitten playfight and a ferocious feline brawl is simply a shift in the mood that the storyteller through careful word choice.
While this lesson plan can be used in its entirety, we suggest focusing on a specific activity within the lesson to analyze tone and mood. The activity in the “hook” section asks students to listen to contemporary music, examining the lyrics or the mood that the musical arrangement evokes to decide whether it has the same atmospheric or tonal qualities as the poem. Please note, this lesson plan was published several years ago so feel free to choose songs that are more relevant today or that your students will find more engaging.
Martín Espada has a knack for writing poems with a clear tone so his body of work is perfect for continuing to explore the literary techniques discussed in this playlist. Have students select from one of Martin Espada’s other poems. They can annotate one of the poems to identify the connotative and denotative meanings of words then write a short response that answers the following questions:
What tone does Espada create in this poem?
What specific words and phrases help establish this mood?
Alabanza: In Praise of the Local 100 | Poetry Foundation
“soul I say, to name the smoke-beings flung in constellations
across the night sky of this city and cities to come.”
The Playboy Calendar and the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám | MartinEspada.net
“At seventeen, the laws of privacy have been revoked
by the authorities, and the secret police are everywhere”
Blessed Be The Truth-Tellers | MartinEspada.net
“This is how I learned to trust
the poets and shepherds of East Harlem”
Jorge the Church Janitor Finally Quits | Yes Magazine
“I host the fiesta
of the bathroom,
stirring the toilet
like a punchbowl.”
Using the content from the first video assignment in the playlist, this Playposit quiz assesses students for comprehension through a series of prompts scattered throughout the video. Through answering multiple choice and open-ended questions students can demonstrate their understanding of the poet’s motivations and how certain lines relate to social issues in our world.
Eboni has extensive experience in curriculum development, with a focus on culturally-responsive and arts-based approaches. Having spent years creating academic content and providing professional development to teachers, she now curates themed playlists meant to provide educators with valuable, time-saving resources.
Common Core Standards
9-10.RL.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).
11-12.RL.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)