Monday, July 15, 2013


Do you spit?
Do you slam?

Do you perform
your poems
on the stages
of our minds--
staccato words
bouncing from verse to verse
...or oooooooozing slowly across
that last reflection

opening  the curtains
to new worlds
traveling old roads
in new vehicles

following an ancient melody
an intangible beat
an elusive whispering

bearing joy
and sorrow
and other raw materials
of life... 
new truths?

Several years ago rap became hip hop became spoken word and slammed into competition on stages nationwide...worldwide.

And young people flocked to listen, to become involved, to spit and slam their words and thoughts and feelings into a receptive wave of waiting creativity and appreciation .

This energy, the raw truth and talent  has ignited a generation, the same way that the past generation were lit up by rap.

How do we get involved?
How do we catch the words floating in the air and follow them to new wor(l)ds for our students and for ourselves?

Each year in the Columbus Area Writing Project Summer Institute, we bring speakers to talk with our participants--folks that we think we will initiate and contribute to conversations we are having that particular year.

Our theme in 2010 was Global Remix: Wondering ,Witnessing and Writing, and we brought writer/professor/ filmmaker MK Asante  to talk with us and challenge our thinking about ways to remix everything we do--what we do with students, our roles as teachers, the ways we speak, read and write-- who we are as people.  

We were immediately captured by his statement to us (also the first line in his book, It's Bigger Than Hip Hop:The Rise of the Post-Hip-Hop Generation):
When you make an observation, you have an obligation.

What are we observing in our world? in our communities?  in our schools?
What is our obligation?

That summer MK's question became our constant companion in every conversation, in every situation.

And on this day after the rendering of  the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, this question again arises in my gut-- begging me to pay attention, to observe, and figure out my obligation.

MK's book educates us about the history and importance of rap-become- hip-hop and makes this observation:
Post-hip-hop is not about the death of rap, but rather the birth of a new movement propelled by a paradigm shift that can be felt in the crowded spoken word joints... 
He further asserts:
No movement is about the beats and rhymes. Beats and rhymes are tools--tools that if held the right way can help articulate the world, a new world, in which we want to live. 
And what do we want this world to look like?

Whether we talk about rap or hip-hop or spoken word or slam poetry, there is a movement afoot that has captured our young people, as well as us old folks.  

They are riding on a wave of words that are being put together in new ways, to express old thoughts with new twists, and new thoughts with an old school remembrance embedded in the back beat.

Do you want to jump on that wave and get both your feet and  face wet?

Several resources will help you learn about  this movement, and support you as you think about ways to engage students and other writers (speaker and readers), as well.

 First, in Literacy Remix: Bridging Adolescents' In and Out of School Literacies, Jesse Gainer and Diane Lapp offer rationales and practical strategies, not for poetry itself, but for ushering our students and ourselves into new worlds, new media, and new literacies, in general.  

They offer ways to remix oral discourse, critical thinking, composition practices,  literacy instruction, and use of technology. They call for allowing more student choice-- and using what students know:

We have found in our teaching that remixing thoroughly planned instruction that moves from initial teacher modeling to independent student performance is enhanced when students are encouraged to integrate their new literacies knowledge.

One of our teacher consultants, Wyk McGowan, got involved in the world of slam poetry. (The speaker we brought  the year he was in the summer institute was slam poet Kim Brazwell.)  The Columbus (Ohio)  District Poetry Slam, which he initiated for high schools in our area, and continues to coordinate, is now in its fifth successful year. I  miss this event only if I am physically not in the city when it takes place. I have had the privilege of participating as a judge several years.  What potential!  What talent!  

If you are interested in getting involved in spoken word, performance poetry, or slam poetry,  Brave New Voices: The YOUTH SPEAKS Guide to Teaching Spoken Word Poetry by Scott Herndon and Jen Weis will get you started.  They remind us of the utmost importance of hearing our youth:

There is a direct connection between teenagers' written and vocal worlds.  By combining the two through spoken-word poetry, we encourage young people not only to think, but also to find the clearest path possible by which to communicate. We begin with this:  Whatever teenagers are saying, we want to hear it. Within a peer-workshop setting, we want to give our students the tools to justify, expand, and enrich their own processes as thinkers and writers.

The film documentary,  Louder Than a Bomb directed by Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel, allows us to follow a team of  four poets as they prepare for  the largest slam competition for young people.  I came away from this film with great respect and appreciation for the work, time, and collaboration involved, as well as an awareness of the power and potential of words in their respective lives.

For additional resources that highlight actual performances, you may be interested in either Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry Season 6 Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry and/or Russell Simmons Presents Brave New Voices Russell Simmons Presents Brave New Voices ( both series ran on television for several seasons--with most seasons now available on DVD) 

And finally, as you and your  writers begin to write, you will want to not only hear other poets perform, but also read what others have written.

Bum Rush the Page: A Def Poetry Jam by Tony Medina and Louis Reyes Rivera offers mature selections  that you may use as mentor texts and Nikki Giovanni's Hip Hop Speaks to Children with CD: A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat (A Poetry Speaks Experience) will serve up mentor texts for younger children.

What are you observing today?
What is your obligation?

How can you remix your wor(l)ds?

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

 Listen to several Hip Hop or spoken word poems.

If possible,  perform your poem in front of several folks.

If that experience is new to you, write about what it is like to perform your work. What affect did performing  have on the meaning of your words?  How did having an audience affect your work? 

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